One hundred years ago this month, the Indianapolis ABCs defeated their rivals, the Chicago American Giants, for the mythical championship of black baseball–mythical because this was four years before the advent of the Negro National League, and what made one series rather than another be for the “colored championship of the world” was popular acclamation and media hype more than anything.
Regardless, the ABCs claimed the title. Has any Indianapolis institution this year taken notice of the centenary? Not to my knowledge.
The ABCs championship was a big deal back in 1916, Oscar Charleston’s second year in the Negro leagues. Everyone who followed black baseball knew it would be an intense and emotional matchup. Serious money was laid down, with the favored American Giants getting 2 to 1 or 5 to 3 odds. The Giants’ lineup featured Pete Hill in center field, Bruce Petway at catcher, John Henry Lloyd at shortstop, Frank Duncan in right field, Leroy Grant at first base, and Jesse Barber at center field. The first three hitters in this list would become legends, and in 1916 all were in their prime.
Indiana’s changeable October weather did not cooperate. The opening Sunday doubleheader at Federal Park on October 22 took place in “football weather conditions.” Only 2,300 fans saw the American Giants win 5–3. The second game was called after three and a half innings on account of darkness, with the American Giants up 3-0; that game therefore did not count. The next day, the ABCs won 1-0 behind the reliable sidearmer and future Buck O’Neil mentor Dizzy Dismukes.
It was in the third game, on October 24, when the fun started.
Starter Dicta Johnson had the ABCs up 1–0 in the seventh inning when Giants’ manager Rube Foster objected to a call. He argued with the umpires for some time, and when they finally ordered him back into the dugout he refused to leave the field. Finally, when the police were called down from the stands, he pulled his team off the field. The umps then forfeited the game to the ABCs.
The fourth game was won 8–2 by the ABCs. Oscar Charleston led the charge, going 4 for 4 at the plate. The series now stood at 3–1 in favor of the ABCs. The doubleheader scheduled for Sunday, October 29, would decide things–unless the American Giants won both ends.
In game one of the scheduled doubleheader, the American Giants jumped off to a quick 3–1 lead against Dismukes, but the ABCs roared back with three in the third, which featured a Charleston triple, and seven in the sixth. They led 12–3 before Foster’s club scored five in the last two innings to make the final score 12-8.
Charleston went 2 for 5 in the decisive contest. With hits in first two plate appearances, he had six straight hits in the series, and went 7 for 18 in total. The Indianapolis ABCs were the champions of black baseball, and Oscar was on his way to becoming a legend.