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A Decade Of Baseball

with the Columbus Merchants

by Julian Piercefield

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A DECADE OF BASEBALL Columbus. Indiana. 1945-1954

During the years of World War II, 1941-1946, Softball became a very popular spectator and participant sport. Many industrial teams, even Leagues, were organized for morale, exercise and recreation for those workers and citizens on the home front. The game did not require a great area, nor excessive facilities or equipment. It was easily played, especially with pitching restrictions or specifications of the ball.

In the Columbus area two leagues operated with night-time double headers held four or five nights a week. Two local industries supported their own "Factory Leagues", namely, Arvins and Cummins. There was a traveling Ail-Star group (more like a semi-pro team) providing a premium product for the Columbus area fans of the sport. This team was the "Columbus Auto Supply" team, sponsored by Ray Erickson. It was both well known and regarded through out the State of Indiana and its four adjoining states. Some of the memorable players like Pete Ray, Orris Manley, Emerson Daughtery, Red Watson, Eppie Harden, Clyde Carter, and Bill Hutson among others were led by one of Columbus's most colorful sport figures, Wilber Pancake. Wilber was (kindly) rotund, with a clear, loud, hi-pitched voice. His sharp staccato wit was a show in itself. Many enjoyed Wilber's slow march to the first base coaching box and its culmination there with three sharp kicks to the wooden light pole located there. Pity the poor pole if the team needed a rally that particular inning!

The competition in these All Star games was fierce and made for an enjoyable evening out for a family. Some well known rivals would draw crowds in the range of five to eight hundred fans.An interesting note, (especially to the writer who later would do considerable officiating), was the umpiring for the nightly leagues. The All Star games were always capably and efficiently handled by a cadre of George Baldwin, Bud Enochs, Vern Doles and, every kids friend at that time, postman, Howard Wright. With little or no structured support to back them up, these umpires handled the very few real arguments with fine diplomacy and dispatch. And, yes, there were some disagreements.

The Eighth Street Ball Park was the center for most all of this League and inter­city softball play. In a simpler time, the owner: Columbus City Schools was able to have working agreements with a Softball Assn., some industries and the Auto Supply team. I wonder what paper work and hearings would be required now to effect the multi use of these facilities. Tho, as written a Junior group has been tendered use of the field.

This sport, in its form at this time was extremely popular and the "hey-day" extended from 1940 to the beginning of the fifties, a decade in its own right. WCSI-FM in its early stages, circa 1948, originated a play by play remote from Logansport, IN as the Auto Supply team vied for the State Softball Championship.

And so it was in 1946 that High School competitions changed from Softball to "Hardball" or Baseball. In the summer of 1945 a group of high school players and those just graduating, approached Earl Dickey, then Coach of the Boys Club Softball Team. They sought his wisdom and help in finding a way that this group, and others, might continue to play baseball rather than softbali, the only game in town at the time.