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Louisville Colonels Baseball

In this Et Cetera, we’re up to bat about a group of hard-hitters in the River City – the Louisville Colonels.

In the late 19th century and much of the 20th Century Louisville’s professional and semi-professional baseball teams were known as the Colonels.

The major-leaguers won the American Association’s 1890 pennant, but that league dissolved in 1891. However, the pros continued to play in the National league until the turn of the century.

In 1902 the Louisville Colonels baseball team became a charter member of the new American Association, which was a minor league ball club.

In 1909 the Colonels won the American Association championship – their first of 15 league titles. Those wins include both 1944 and 1945, when the Colonels were one of just a few minor league teams to continue playing during World War II.

After the American Association folded in 1962, the Colonels played in the International League from 1968 to 1972. The team was then moved to Rhode Island.

It would be a decade before minor league baseball returned to Louisville. This brought the arrival of the Bats, then known as the Redbirds, to the city.

Although the Louisville Colonels are just a memory in the big scheme of the sport, the team had its fair share of memorable baseball stars over the years.

Big leaguers who played for the team include Hall-of-Famers Billy Herman of New Albany, Ind.: a second baseman for the Chicago Cubs and the Brooklyn Dodgers; Harold “Pee Wee” Reese of Louisville: Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop; and the unparalleled Joe McCarthy, who later led both the Chicago Cubs and the New York Yankees to world championships, was an infielder and manager for the Louisville Colonels.

Even “Mr. Baseball” himself - sportscaster, comedian, and actor Bob Uecker - is a former Louisville Colonel.

Another famous player was the legendary Pete “The Gladiator” Browning, for whom the Louisville Slugger baseball bat was created and whose name lives on at Slugger Field through Browning’s Brewery.

Etc.:

  • The Louisville Base Ball Club was the first organized (although amateur) baseball team in Louisville. The team began playing in 1858. According to "The Encyclopedia of Louisville," Louisville was one of the twelve largest cities in the country at the time.
  • The first “stable” major league association was the National League, which, according to "The Encyclopedia of Louisville," held its first organizational meetings in Louisville in 1875. The League’s opener was played in Louisville on April 25, 1876.
  • As a member of the American Association, the 1889 Louisville Colonels were the first pro team to stage a strike, when the team owner/manager imposed extreme fines of players for making errors during a game.
  • The 1890 Colonels, a professional team, were the champions of the original American Association.
  • For much of its American Association membership the Louisville Colonels baseball team was affiliated with the Boston Red Sox farm system.
  • Several local ball fields hosted the Louisville Colonels. Parkway Field, the city’s first steel and concrete stadium, was the team’s home from 1923 to 1956. Home games then moved to the Fairgrounds.
  • In 1944 the Colonels played in the Junior World Series against Baltimore and the game drew attendance of 52,833 – 16,265 more than any single World Series game that year. (Wikipedia)
  • The Louisville Colonels and their grandstand were racially integrated in 1962.
  • "The Encyclopedia of Louisville" states that after the American League dissolved in 1962, the River City went without a professional baseball team for a decade. This was the first time this had happened in the twentieth century.
  • According to "The Encyclopedia of Louisville," William “Billy” Jennings Bryan Herman signed with the Louisville Colonels in 1928 … and played for $250 per month.
  • Bob Uecker played for the Louisville Colonels in the 1960s.
  • Bob Uecker went on to play for the Milwaukee Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves. Late night TV host Johnny Carson dubbed him “Mr. Baseball”. According do Wikipedia, he appeared on Carson’s Tonight Show some 100 times.
  • Earle Combs, an outfielder and Kentuckian who played for the Yankees, was also a Louisville Colonel and a Hall of Fame inductee.
  • More notable Colonels players include Fred Clarke (outfielder-manager), Hughie Jennings (shortstop), Rube Waddell (pitcher) and Honus Wagner (shortstop) - all in the Baseball Hall of Fame. In fact, Honus Wagner was one of the original five inductees in 1936. Wagner, who spent the majority of his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, received the second-highest vote total for the Hall of Fame, behind Ty Cobb and tied with Babe Ruth. Wagner is considered by many to be the greatest shortstop to ever play the game.
  • The Louisville Colonels baseball club was bought for $195,000 in 1939. According to "The Encyclopedia of Louisville", this was done to obtain Pee Wee Reese’s contract. Reese joined the team in 1937. The club then sold Reese to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1940.
  • Harold Henry “Pee Wee” Reese” is noted for helping to ease the integration of baseball through his friendship with fellow Dodger Jackie Robinson.
  • Following the 1972 season the Louisville Colonels moved to Pawtucket and became the Pawtucket Red Sox. (Rhode Island).

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Program 514
"Louisville Life" profiles Dan Gediman of the “This I Believe” radio series, brushes up on regional portrait painters, revisits Louisville Colonels baseball and more. (#514)