1900-1909: THE ERA OF OPTIMISM
Cubs battled their way to league title on diamond
Betting on horse races also was a popular pastime.
By BLAKE SEBRING of The News-Sentinel
During the early 1900s, baseball was still king in Fort Wayne. The Fort Wayne Cubs were strong members of the Central League, which included teams from such cities as Evansville, South Bend, Grand Rapids, Dayton, Terre Haute and Youngstown. According to local baseball historian Robert Parker, the games were filled with intense play.
"Good sportsmanship was practically unheard of on the diamonds of that day, culminating in grimly fought contests where the smallest mistakes of the opposition were quickly capitalized upon," Parker wrote in the Old Fort News in 1967.
The Fort Wayne squad won 18 straight games to open the 1900 season, but the city's first championship came in 1903 when the squad cleared $3,000 at the gate. Under the direction of Bade Meyers, Fort Wayne won Central League championships in 1904 and 1905, but left the league in 1906 when local organizers failed to renew their league franchise. Fort Wayne returned to the Central League in 1908 as the Billikens but finished fourth that season.
Some early Fort Wayne baseball heroes included future major-leaguers Charlie Babb, Charles "Bumpus" Jones and George Mullin, who won 229 games as a pitcher in the big leagues.
Semi-pro baseball was also big back then, led by the Fort Wayne Shamrocks, who were noted for being the oldest semiprofessional team in the state.
Horse racing was also a major pastime, with purses ranging from $300 to $500. A crowd of between 5,000 and 6,000 set a record for the city Oct. 10, 1901.
Perhaps not entirely by coincidence, the Fort Wayne Weekly Sentinel ran a large story titled "Ignorance of Gaming Law: Penalties for violations heavy" on the day before the horse races took place.
The Indiana High School Athletic Association formed Dec. 5, 1903, with Fort Wayne Central as one of 15 charter members. There have been 31 schools from Allen County who have been members at one time or another. The first competition was in boys track in 1904.
The men's city tennis tournament also began in 1909 and is the longest consecutive-running sporting event in the area. Dr. Miles F. Porter won the first of his seven straight titles that year before Clinton Burton beat him for the 1916 title.
The Fort Wayne Automobile Club was organized in 1906. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened in 1909 but had to be closed when the macadam surface couldn't handle the pounding and a 300-mile race had to be called off. The track was then resurfaced with bricks and the rest is history.
Sports reporting of the time was also in its infancy: "The baseball team representing the Carpenters' union yesterday defeated the painters' nine at Lawton park by a score of 23 to 11. The game was interesting in spite of the big score, and furnished much amusement for the spectators. The umpires were Jack and William Raidy.
"The painters will play the cigarmakers next Sunday at 9 in the morning at the park, and the carpenters have received a challenge from the Linemen's union for a game to take place soon."
SOURCES: Robert Parker, "Batter Up! Fort Wayne's Baseball History." The Old Fort News, 1967; Robert Parker, "Opening day... It happens every spring and it all started in Fort Wayne on May 4, 1871." The Old Fort News, Winter, 1971; Michael Hawfield, "Fort Wayne Sports Yesterday and Today." 1994; John Ankenbruck, "Twentieth-Century History of Fort Wayne." 1976.