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Take Me In To The Ball Game

By Garth “Duff” Stoltz, Sr.

We are all familiar with the 1908 song “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” Probably few are aware that, starting in 1907, you could go in to the ball game here in Battle Creek. The games were played in the Sanitarium gymnasium, located in the center of the three wings leading off the palm garden area of the 1903 building. Today if you wanted to play ball in that same area you would need to remove a number of Federal Center offices, although the gallery around the area is still in place. This article will explore this little-known portion of the history of the San – a unique institution now known as the Battle Creek Adventist Hospital, which celebrated its 125th birthday on September 5, 1991.

 

There were four teams in the first San league of 1907: the Bau Bees from the mechanical department, the Crescents from the business office, the Shamrocks from the men’s bath, and the medics from the American Medical Missionary College. The ball was larger than a softball and the bats were considerably smaller than regular bats. This combination didn’t produce long range hits and it was probably just as well, for the playing area was only 66 feet wide and 120 feet long; also, the rafters were not very high. The winning team was usually awarded the game ball, but when Fred Gamenthaleo, a big, burly, tough-as-oak pitcher from the Bau Bees would grab it – win or lose – and lay on it, none of the opposing team could retrieve it.

 

A song written by Dr. Benton Colver, Sanitarium physician, and sung to the tune of “Smiles” described this recreational activity:

HITS

There are hits that make us happy, There are hits that make us blue,

 

There are hits that shoot in the raftrs,

 

And rebound at angles all askew.

 

There are hits that give a prouder feeling,

 

When the game is going all your way,

 

But the hits that fill your heart with rapture,

 

Are the hits that will win the day.

 

 

The first San league continued until the fall of 1910 when the closing of the American Medical Missionary College eliminated the Medics. This ultimately caused the league’s demise. The second San League started in 1921 and lasted for five seasons. Dr. Colver wrote its history in the booklet, Sport San Script:

After the World War ended in November 1918, after the Peace Conference had sat and sat, after demobilization had slowly taken place, our boys came home. What to do with all their martial fervor? So we thought and thought, when suddenly the answer came. An answer so logical, so satisfying. Why did we have to think so long to catch this idea? Just dumb, simply stupid, possibly shell shocked, that’s all. At any event the answer was, ‘let us carry on over here what we began over there,’ a war, a baseball battle . Baseballs for hand grenades, bats for bayonets, golf sox for leggings, coaching for battle cries, umpires for enemies. So it began.

In the Fall of 1921 a leader, possibly, nay, a mass movement, was aroused. There was formed an A league of four teams and a B league. Let us print them alphabetically or we may stir up old embers of war even yet. The Cardinals, the Meteors, the Royals, the Tigers, (first the worst, second the same, last the best of all the game. Author: He was a Tiger!)

Well, we played ball, if you know what I mean. No split season for us! We didn’t have time to stop, get our suits pressed, and line up all over a second time. And we played for five seasons straight. In those five seasons each team, remarkable to state, won at least one pennant. And every season the result was in doubt until the last 3 or 4 games. More often the last game was the deciding game. And maybe even a playoff was necessary to decide. Incidentally just as an important point, the Tigers, except for the year they won the pennant, were the runners up each year. Each year? Yes, each year, or practically each year. The author remembers very clearly. At least he remembers one year. He ought to; he was a Tiger!

As noted above we had a B league, and it was a good one, but we cannot chronicle all its glories for lack of printers ink. From it were graduated stars, one by one, to the A league. In it were trained the teams that followed on.

The five Board members who most closely followed the Baseball fortunes and helped in various ways were: J.H. Kellogg, Charles E. Stewart, M.W. Wentworth, W.F. Martin, and B.N. Colver. During a part of this period of Baseball at the San there was organized an all-doctors team. Among the doctors who played were John Heald, Charley Heald, Sam Barnhart, Carl Wencke, Charley Stewart, R.F. Wafer, Peter Verity, Ken Murray, W.B. Lewis, and Ben Colver. As far as the records show, it never won a game but it never lost a game without a real battle that the other team remembered.

Among the other friends were Archie Flannery, who was keenly interested in this Civic activity in applied gymnastics. We note also that Floyd Kienast was already active as door keeper and ticket taker. But we had not advanced to the 1939 stage of having Candy Girls. Therein we admit that we failed completely. And our score keeper was our 1939 expert, Harry Babcock. Last but not least was our faithful and expert musical director, dear old Billy Drever.

What good did we get out of it all? We became better acquainted playing together. We entertained a lot of our San friends. We had a good time together. We learned to take it on the chin with a smile. We learned to fight, to fight hard whether ahead or behind. We learned that “you may lose the game but you haven’t lost the pennant.” We learned the truth of the coaching cry: ‘There’s only two out’, or as it came to be condensed, ‘O’nee two gone.’ More games were won after two were out than before.

 

The third San league started in 1938 and the first game was played on December 7. That same date three years later would be the beginning of World War II, which would soon put the third league into memory. Once again there were four teams, this time called Aces, Jays, Cubs, and Wings. To officially begin the 1938-39 season the four teams paraded into the gym in formation and “marched to the flagpole,” imitating the ceremony at the major league opening games. Fancy speeches were made by Howard Bayley and Dr. Heald. Vern Ganson pitched the first ball to Howard Bayley at the plate with Al Steinel catching.

 

Though major league baseball lasts into October, it would seem strange today to go to a ball game in December. Stranger still would be the chance to sing a baseball song to the tune of “Jingle Bells,” but that’s what they did! Try singing the “Bee Cee San Rally Song” next Christmas. Here are the words to the first verse and chorus, as printed in the program for the 1939 Indoor Baseball Players’ Banquet:

Throw your shoulders back,

And Stick out your chest,

Get your feet in step,

Come on, Do your Best!

All together now

We will, and we can,

Bring back good old days again

To dear old Bee Cee San.

Chorus: Bee Cee San! Bee Cee San!

We are all for you!

All for health and happiness,

And a standard clean and true!

 

I’m not sure if this was for group singing or was presented by the male quartet, “The Discord Four.” I personally knew two of the “four” -- Harold Moore and Frank Foote and they were excellent singers. Frank was choir director at the Battle Creek Adventist Tabernacle for many years and Harold sang in the choir.

 

The banquet menu that year featured among many other items, including gluten swiss steaks, a good old San meat substitute, followed by ice cream ballbats and baseballs for dessert. Awards were presented. Individual and team trophies were given to the winners and runners-up. The most “up and coming” team award was earned by the Wings, who received felt ovals inscribed “San Wings.” Miniature baseball bats were given to all players and patrons. I wonder if any of these are still in existence. They would make interesting additions to our San history collection.

 

The following comments by Carter Cox of the Cubs regarding the starting of the third league appeared in the Sport San Script:

It was a happy thought that prompted the call for a general meeting of all those interested in indoor baseball last Fall. The turnout of baseball enthusiasts to the meeting was a tribute to that favorite of all Sanitarium sports. Chairman Herman Heald had touched off the spark that was needed to explode the full enthusiasm of players and fans alike in a revival of indoor baseball for the Sanitarium family…It was apparent from the very beginning that indoor baseball was on the way back and that old team rivalry was sure to exist. Officers were chosen and team managers were immediately elected. The business of recruiting players from the Sanitarium staff was the next step in the formation of the league. We won our first game of the season, and having tasted victory on the first encounter, we were ready to take on all comers. That first victory was sweet; in fact, it was the sweetest thing we encountered during the first half of play in the league, for it was the only victory we were able to eke out in those seven games played. We had only the scars of those battles and the sympathetic applause from the gallery ringing in or ears as reminder of our best efforts along baseball lines.

 

David Spooner of the Wings wrote that his team was having an up and down season. They wanted to go out in a blaze of glory in their final game with the Cubs, so they rigged up a mop cart with slogans such as “CLEAN-UP WEEK BEGINS TONIGHT,” “MOP UP THE CUBS,” and “DUST ‘EM OFF.” Spooner remembers:

The noise we made was as we rolled our contrivance out on the floor and displayed the signs on our backs horrified the otherwise shy Cubs. If there had been a noise meter in the gym that night we would have broken it! And so the poor Cubs went down to defeat before a raging, invincible group of little boys. We did go out in a blaze of glory!!

 

Lyn Owen of the Jays wrote about his team:

The Jays, from the beginning, have been full of fight and spirit, playing and winning some good games, losing only one out of the first seven games in the first round. We have not done so well in the second round, but win or lose, the fellows have all had their share of fun and experience. One thing was sure: when we saw the ‘Mighty’ Witzski, the Cripps brothers, the four young hustlers from the dining room, the three little ‘Midgets’ from the pharmacy, lawn and farm, we were sure of seeing a good ball game. We hope that in some small way we have done our share to contribute to bringing back the good old sport of softball.

 

The Aces were described by team members Willis Bartleson and Buster Casey:

Many months have passed by since the first ball was pitched across home plate, thus opening anew that grand sport of softball in B.C. San. There was a large crowd on hand to watch the four teams march onto the field, and one of these four teams was ‘The Aces,’ with their green and white uniforms. The Aces had organized and elected Lynn Owens manager. We were confident that with Lynn as manager we would come out on top. But disaster struck. Lynn was needed to strengthen the dining room team know as the Jays. These boys were without previous baseball experience. Did this discourage us? No! We got right out and soon found one to take his place, in the person of Guy (Pappy) Hunt, the grand old man of baseball. Guy has had years of experience in baseball, having given the best years of his life, plus most of their hairs on his head, to the game. So with Guy Hunt managing, ‘We the Aces’ started the season with the following lineup: Guy Hainlin c, Ernie Fall p, Bus Casey 1b, Willis Bartleson 2b, Mac McDonald 3b, Clarence Robert rs, Al Griffin ls, Walt Clayman lf, Ralph Hastings rf…These are the ones who compose ‘The Aces’. We wish we could go on playing together for years to come, for we have had some great times.

 

The preceding is but a small picture of the Third San League showing the friendly rivalry and good time had by the varied employees of the Battle Creek Sanitarium. We know that those halcyon days of yesteryear can never be repeated but we can reminisce, can’t we?

Take me in to the ball game,

Take me in with the crowd,

 Buy me some Bromose and Malted Nuts…

 

 

ENDNOTES

Published sources:

The Sport San Script, 1938-39. A booklet produced by the Battle Creek Sanitarium for the 1938-39 indoor baseball season. (no publication or copyright information)

“Battle Creek Sanitarium Indoor Players Banquet.” A program for the annual banquet, April 20, 1939, produced by the Battle Creek Sanitarium. (no publication or copyright information)

Unpublished sources:

Interviews and printed material from Willis Bartleson, Horace Bennett, Jim Shilling and Frank Sperti.

 

NOTE: This article originally appeared in Heritage Battle Creek Journal of Local History, Vol. 1, Fall 1991, pp.20 – 23 (Heritage Battle Creek, Battle Creek, MI)