The Block Island Times

This week in Block Island’s history, May 5, 1920

By Robert M. Downie | May 09, 2012
About 1920 young men from the island had their own baseball league, and some players posedhere against a corn field --- on their own "Field of Dreams." Fred Benson, for whom the TownBeach pavilion is named, is second from right --- considered then to be a fine catcher.

This week in history 92 years ago — in May 1920 — a reporter chronicled the annual Block Island financial meeting. At that time the state ‘s laws decreed that each town could decide what activities to allow on Sundays.

At issue here was whether islanders could play baseball on that seventh day of the week.

Baseball, you see, was once a great tradition on the island. Hotels, beginning in the 1880s, sponsored teams that played against each other.

And the playing fields were highly visible.

One was behind the Narragansett Inn, where navy sailors stationed on the island — as well as those from visiting naval vessels — played during World War I. They even had “Block Island” uniforms.

Another field was next to the Spring House annex, where tourists from hotels throughout Old Harbor, particularly the Spring House and Ocean View hotels, would root for their teams. They had uniforms too.

At least one Ocean View hotel player, Johnny Cooney from Cranston, R.I., soon joined the major leagues, playing for the old Boston Braves in 1921, and ending with the New York Yankees in 1944.

In May 1920 when the item on the agenda — to play ball on Sundays or not to — was finally addressed by the Town Council, the newspaper reported:

"Right off the bat someone moved indefinite postponement, which was instantly seconded.

"Councilman Sharp arose in protest and stated 'The Council's sole idea of this referendum was to ascertain the sentiments of the taxpayers on the question . . . I do not see why the question should now be postponed indefinitely, when so many are assembled here to express their views upon the question.'

"Upon a hand vote the motion to postpone was swamped by nearly a 2 to 1 majority. The result of this vote nearly swept the anti-Recreationists off their feet . . . and continued shouts of 'Play Ball,' 'strike one,' and 'Put 'em over,' could be heard across the crowded hall . . .

"Seeing that defeat stared them in the face . . . one of the anti-Recreationists whispered a motion to adjourn, which must have been seconded in a deaf and dumb alphabet, because not a score of the entire assembly heard a sound . . .

"The taxpayers started to march to the clerk's desk for blank ballots with which to settle the question . . . and as they neared the platform the Moderator smiled and explained that the meeting had adjourned."

Although playing baseball on Sundays was effectively banned that day, in later years it was allowed.

For 20 summers in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, we played nearly ever Sunday afternoon at the school, where families could gather and do other things while watching — and passersby on High Street who hadn’t planned to see a game might stop and relax for a while too.

You could even recruit players from friends who happened to come along the road.

One favorite thing for the outfielders was talking to Frank or Doris Payne at their house near left field. A quarter of the players had probably worked for them over the years down at the dock.

I was lucky. I played left field — and I had worked for them.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Suzanne D Cotter | May 10, 2012 10:16

I do wish, Mr. Downie, that you could put a clickable picture in that could be enlarged enough to actually see who is in the picture.  Seems like you used to and never do anymore.  What's showing is small and blurry, and no, I don't need new glasses!  Thanks!

Flag as inappropriate

If you wish to comment, please login.