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On This Day in History, April 17: Blue Laws Meant Blue Baseball Fans

Charles Ebbets, owner of the Brooklyn baseball team in 1904, announced in early spring that his team would play Boston on Sunday, April 17. But Brooklyn laws forbade the playing of Sunday baseball games “at which admission was charged.”

So admission to the game would be free, Ebbets announced. However, fans arriving for the game were met with a little surprise once they passed through the turnstile. Each spectator was required to purchase a color-coded scorecard, the color determining whether the “free” seat was in the bleachers, the grandstand or the box seats. Ebbets won the first round when taken to court and a few more Sunday games followed. But the “blue law” was upheld on appeal, and Sunday baseball did not return to New York until Al Smith became mayor in 1918.

Blue laws were established along with the New World colonies. The laws varied from colony to colony, but generally required church attendance and proper dress on the Sabbath. Work was prohibited as well as amusements and travel. As the years passed, stores were required to close, as well as any amusement establishment. The fact that theaters were required to close is evidenced in ads in the Sunday editions of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in the early 1900s. All ads were for attractions beginning on Monday and playing through Saturday. Musical concerts were not banned, as there were ads for Sunday performances.

Before the blue laws were gradually repealed, Sunday baseball games continued to get countless teams and players into trouble. For instance, a game on Sunday, July 21, 1889, between Worcester and Jersey City attracted 2,500 hushed fans but despite their quietness the police learned of the Eastern League game. There was a raid in which 18 players were arrested and fined $2 each by Justice of the Peace Moore, and warned that police would prevent further Sabbath violations.

The NY Giants were successful in trying out a new plan to get around the law that forbade their playing Sundays in their own park, the Polo Grounds. On Sept. 11, 1898, the Giants played the Washington Senators at Weehawken, N.J. A crowd of 4,000 had journeyed across the Hudson River to see the Giants beat the Senators 8-2 at the West New York Club Grounds. One week later the Giants were the visitors as Brooklyn hosted a game rained out at Washington Park and moved to Weehawken. The Giants won 7-3 before an even bigger crowd (more than 5,000).

Another typical but more subdued incident by law enforcement was that of Sunday, August 19, 1917. Managers John McGraw of the Giants and Christy Mathewson of the Reds were arrested at the Polo Grounds because the Giants played Cincinnati in violation of the law.

Accommodating cops arranged for the arrests to be processedat the ballpark so as not to interfere with the playing of the game. The ceremonial arrests of the high-profile McGraw and Mathewson was part of the continuing battle between sports fans and promoters on the one hand and religious groups on the other. Cincinnati won the game 5-0, attended by more than 34,000 fans. It was a benefit game for the famed 69th Regiment, which shipped out the following day to join the WW I forces in France.

The Sunday blue laws were gradually repealed, until Sunday became a very popular and lawful day for baseball games.

April 17, 2012 - 10:08am


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