When Baseball Was Legion
More Than Just a Game
By Mike Blackbird
It was the bottom of the last inning in a seven-inning American Legion baseball game and our visiting Kellogg team led by one run—but St. Maries had the bases loaded with no outs. All they needed was a single to drive in two runs for the win. The odds weren’t looking good for us. This was a sunny Sunday afternoon in June 1958, and I was playing left field for Kellogg. A large number of St. Maries fans in the stands colorfully razzed our players, especially the left fielder, as he was closest to the grandstand along the third-base foul line. And why not razz him?
As I stood in the outfield that long-ago summer day, focused on the game, I didn’t know that baseball was a significant part of the interstitial glue that held communities together all across Idaho, beginning even before statehood and extending well into the 1950s. During the Civil War, Union soldiers across the United States played baseball, and its popularity grew when the veterans returned to their homes and brought the game with them. In small towns across the land, a dusty pasture and a chicken-wire backstop were sufficient to field a team. The game became so popular that it often was the principal source of community entertainment. Its popularity was given a big boost in 1905 by a Sunday Closing Law in Idaho, which kept not only saloons firmly shuttered on the Lord’s Day but also theaters, variety shows, dance halls, racetracks, bowling alleys, and pool rooms. But the law permitted baseball teams to play on Sundays and holidays. In other words, on Sunday, baseball was the only game in town.