Reminisce: Lima’s 1942 baseball season had big attractions

Following a feel-good February 1942 meeting of the owners of the six teams in the Ohio State League, Lima News sports editor Bill Snypp was confident the class D minor league would survive to play ball that season despite the specter of World War II.

“Once more the Ohio State league has righted its sails,” Snypp declared in a February 11 column, about a month and a half before World War II took the wind out of the league’s sails. On March 28, with only three clubs – Lima, Fremont, and Tiffin – solvent for the season because of travel restrictions, a player shortage and other problems brought on by the war, the league suspended operations.

In mid-April, as if to emphasize the finality of it all, the Lima Pandas team bus was sold to a team in Erie, Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, the team’s home field, Halloran Park would “be maintained, and probably utilized for high school baseball, softball games and exhibitions,” a team official told the News.

And that likely would have been that for professional baseball in Lima in 1942 but for Toledo-based promoter Hank Rigney, who had been a backer of the Pandas when they entered the Ohio State League in 1939. The team was sold to Lima investors after the 1939 season for $27,250.

“From June to mid-September 1942, Rigney fed local fans’ hunger for the national pastime by booking a series of touring Black teams for almost weekly appearances at Halloran Park, the minor-league ballyard tucked into a residential neighborhood on the city’s north side,” Mike Lackey wrote in a May 2021 story for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

So, instead of just softball and high school baseball games, Lima’s fans that season saw future Baseball Hall of Famers like pitcher Ray Brown, a native of Alger, and his batterymate Josh Gibson, a power hitter often compared to Babe Ruth. Then there was future Brooklyn Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella, and Buck O’Neil, a player, manager and scout, whose engaging stories about the Negro Leagues graced Ken Burns’ documentary on baseball. And there was ageless pitcher Satchel Paige, who played in Lima a half dozen times, including a September 1941 exhibition promoted by Rigney and pitting the Kansas City Monarchs against a team from Glandorf. Paige started that day and O’Neil played first base for a Monarchs team that won 13-0 before a crowd of 1,500 fans at Halloran Park.

According to Lackey, Lima was an attractive stop for black barnstormers for two reasons. “First,” he wrote, “the town was suddenly facing the unaccustomed prospect of a summer without professional baseball; and second, the local Black population was increasing significantly with workers recruited in the South to fill wartime jobs at the Ohio Steel foundry and the Lima Locomotive Works, which was converted to produce Sherman battle tanks for the military.”

During the 1942 baseball season, notable black touring teams and Negro League teams like the Chicago American Giants, the Memphis Red Sox, the Indianapolis ABCs, the Ethiopian Clowns, and the Chicago Brown Bombers (sponsored by heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis), played at Halloran Park, which was in the 200 block of East Murphy Street where Lane’s Moving and Storage is located today.

The biggest attractions that season, Lackey wrote, were official league games featuring clubs from the Negro National and Negro American leagues. The first was set for June 8. “With the lights on for the first time this year at Halloran Park,” the News wrote June 7, “the sensational Baltimore Elite Giants will meet the New York Cubans Monday night at 8:30. The same clubs play (tonight) at Detroit before an anticipated crowd of 25,000.” The Giants, the News added, “are headed by Catcher Roy Campanella, regarded as successor to the great Josh Gibson as a backstop.” Campanella would join the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948, the year after Jackie Robinson.

Lima fans, unfortunately, saw very little of the assembled talent. “With the score 1-0 in favor of the Baltimore Elite Giants over the Cuban All Stars at Halloran Park here Monday night, the game was called at the end of the second inning when a transformer was blown out as the lights were turned on,” the News reported.

Rigney refunded the admission price (usually under a dollar) to those who wished it and offered a rain check to those who didn’t. The first chance to use the rain check was on June 12, when the House of David, a team of bearded ball players representing a Benton Harbor, Michigan, religious commune, were to meet the Ethiopian Clowns, a black barnstorming team that sometimes played 200 games a season. Both clubs were known for their entertaining antics.

“Probably never in the history of Halloran Park have two such splendid novelty attractions faced each other in friendly competition,” the News wrote on the day of the game. On the night of the game, it rained. The game was postponed.

“Promoter Rigney had better luck on June 26, when the Birmingham Black Barons trimmed the Kansas City Monarchs 3-1 in a NAL (Negro American League) game that was completed in a brisk 89 minutes,” Lackey wrote. “Birmingham pitchers Alvin Gipson, Robert Pipkin, and John Markham surrendered only five hits to a Kansas City lineup that included Willard Brown and Buck O’Neil.”

Rigney’s luck with the House of David was no better in July than it had been in June. The News reported that a July 10 game between the “bearded beauties” and a team representing Toledo Spicer Manufacturing was called off when the House of David team, thinking it was a night game, arrived just after Rigney announced the game was called off.

The Spicer team returned to Halloran Park on July 20 for an exhibition game against the Chicago American Giants of the Negro American League. The Giants won 10-6. The winning pitcher for the Giants was 40-year-old Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe, so called because he was both a pitcher and catcher. In 1932, while a member of the Pittsburgh Crawfords, Radcliffe caught the first game of a doubleheader (a shutout by Satchel Paige) and then threw a shutout in the second game.

The biggest attraction of the summer came in late August. “Nearly all of the leading stars of the National Colored League will be on the field Friday night at Halloran Park when the Homestead Grays meet the Philadelphia Stars at 8:30,” the News wrote August 27.

Leading the Grays, who, the News noted, were bringing “their full squad of 16,” was Gibson. The “famous Homestead catcher,” the newspaper wrote, “has knocked at least one homer in every major league park” and “in several instances, he holds the record wallop for distance, particularly in the National loop, where Babe Ruth was not available in his heyday.” Recent research, Lackey noted, indicates that, at least at this point in Gibson’s career, he had not homered in every Major League Park.

And he didn’t homer in Halloran Park, either. Gibson went hitless. The star of the game, an 11-5 Homestead victory, was Gibson’s batterymate, Ray Brown, who pitched a shutout and had two triples. Brown, who was born in Alger, pitched 14 seasons for the Grays and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. “In an era where every ticket sold meant that much more job security, Raymond Brown was the pitcher of choice in the Negro Leagues,” according to the Hall of Fame web site.

As the 1942 season wound down, Rigney planned an exhibition game between the New York Cubans and the House of David for early September. The game was rained out.

In 1943, Halloran Park was used mostly for Industrial League Baseball. The following year, the Ohio State League returned with a franchise in Lima named the Red Birds. Rigney, a Williams County native, died in a traffic accident in Oklahoma in 1958 while promoting Goose Tatum’s Stars.





This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Allen County Museum and Historical Society.


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Reach Greg Hoersten at [email protected].