INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - The Indianapolis Clowns were best known for their showmanship, for entertaining the crowd, providing laughs, all while displaying amazing baseball talent, and telling a story. How do you get people to pay attention? How do you get more than your own two eyes to see your vision, listen to your story?
If there's anything I've learned from the Indianapolis Clowns, it's this.... you gotta hit the road, you gotta grab their attention, and then you gotta put on a show, and when you make it to Indianapolis, make it home.
Indiana Historical Society - The Indianapolis Clowns were a baseball team that played in the Negro American League. Although the team played serious baseball, it was best known for its showmanship and flamboyant style. The team was considered to be baseball's equivalent to basketball's Harlem Globetrotters. Barnstorming the country during the 1930s and the first half of the 1940s...
The Clowns, like us, had many talents, but what made them unique is that the team wasn't afraid to put all those talents on display. It's okay to be good at a lot of things, I personally wouldn't mind if I was good at everything, I love to put on a show.
This team, the Clowns, put on one hell of a show. Founded in Miami, they spent a dozen years without a "home", barnstorming their way through a segregated society. They played and performed as the Ethiopian Clowns, a name that reminds me, reminds us, that we're all from Africa anyway. The Clowns then sat down in Cincinnati and officially became members of Negro National League in 1943.
The Clowns began as what many would describe as a traveling circus, going anywhere to perform, while still realizing that they'd need to find a home. Cincy was that home for a year, however Indianapolis began to host Clowns home games in 1944, and by 1946, the team officially settled here in Indy.
After embracing the circle city, making it home, black teams, talent and titles quickly made their way to the old Victory Field. Victory Field, which was known as Perry Stadium from 1931 to 1942, and Bush Stadium from 1967 until 1996, was home to the Indianapolis Clowns and many other black baseball teams during the ballpark's early years.
Although the last Negro League World Series was played in 1948, the Clowns continued to compete in what would remain of the league, winning the American League title in 1950. The organization would go on to win 4 of the next five Negro American League titles. In 1953, the team signed a seventeen year old shortstop from Mobile, Alabama. That young shortstop, Hank Aaron, would later go on to hit 755 home runs in the MLB.
MLB.Com - The future MLB home run king signed his first professional contract with the Clowns in 1953, for $200 a month. Aaron batted cleanup and played shortstop in Indianapolis until the Clowns sold his contract to the Boston Braves for $10,000.
The Clowns clearly had an eye for talent, and after Aaron went on to the majors, the team had their eyes on another talent that been overlooked, Toni Stone. Stone would be the first woman signed to real professional baseball contract.
MLB.com - The Clowns were also the first baseball team to hire a woman to play competitively. Toni Stone (video) played second base for the Clowns in 1953 hitting .243 before her contract was sold to the Kansas City Monarchs. Mami “Peanut” Johnson and Connie Morgan followed in her footsteps as Clowns second sackers.
Toni Stone, Hank Aaron, Peanut Johnson
Indianapolis Clowns Statue at the Indianapolis Children's Museum
In 1955, the Clowns left the Negro American League and would begin barnstorming full-time again, slowly disbanding until their last game as an organization in 1989.
The Negro National League gave the boys from Indiana, that look like me, a place to play. The greatest baseball player to EVER come from Indianapolis was a black boy by the name of Oscar Charleston, and from I what I've read.... he's the greatest baseball player EVER, from ANYWHERE. I visited his grave and highlight what others had said about him during the short video I produced for this story.
The teams of the Negro National League are represented on the back of this jacket, my hat is a gift signed by former Kansas City Monarch, Ira McKnight. Telling these stories are my passion, and I'll tell them anyway I can. You gotta hit the road, you gotta grab their attention, and then you gotta put on a show, and when you make it to Indianapolis, make it home.
Old Victory Field - Former Home of the Indianapolis Clowns
I've never officially dedicated an article to anyone before, but this is dedicated to Susan Gard, Bob Berry (who owned this jacket before me), and of course, Ira McKnight. Thank You.