Before there was Baseball there was Base Ball

1891 illustration courtesy of Paw Paw District Library


    Base Ball came to Paw Paw with Dr. Henry Field.  Dr. Field had played baseball for a club known as the Early Risers in Detroit.  The Early Risers were a club of young men employed in stores and offices with jobs that prevented them from taking any recreation during the day. After graduating from medical school and shortly after the Civil War ended, Dr. Field came to Paw Paw to begin a practice.  The Lay-fette Base Ball Club of Paw Paw, the area’s first ball club, was established in 1866, with Henry Field as President.  
    One Fourth of July, the Layfette Base Ball Club and the Decatur Base Ball Club were invited to play as part of the celebration in Law-rence, and to compete for a purse of 10 dollars. Upon arriving, the players were informed they were expected to pay a 25 cent admission fee. Both teams argued that more people were coming to watch the base ball game than the horse races and admission for the players should be free.  
    The Layfette Club won the game against the Decatur team, 61-31.  The club then headed to the Dowagiac fairgrounds,  where a large crowd had gathered to watch the Dowagiac team defeat the Spear Club of Niles, 57-27.  After that game, the Layfette Club played another short game against the Cassopolis Club, and won, 28-21.
    John O’Leary came to Paw Paw in 1897 as Paw Paw High School Superin-tendent. “Professor” O’Leary also taught zoology and mathematics at the high school, but base ball was his passion. O’Leary was des-cribed as, “A short, stocky man with a handlebar mustache…usually seen in a suit, bow-tie, and top hat.”  
    In a 1922 article written about Coach O’Leary, the Duluth News-Tribune said, “The professor’s forte was base ball; he studied it; he taught it…As a result the Paw Paw team won two state championships. For every year that O’Leary was pilot his teams were a continual threat to all others…”
    John O’Leary left Paw Paw in 1916. He had coached the Paw Paw High School team for 19 years for an overall win-loss record of 147-31.
    In January of 1916, the Kala-mazoo Gazette wrote, “He (O’Leary) was one of Michigan’s prominent educators as well as a leading base ball authority.  It is due to his somewhat uncanny knowledge of baseball that several young men from this vicinity forsook starvation…for riches in baseball.”
    The Paw Paw Historical Commission and Paw Paw Library are presenting the exhibit “Past Times in Paw Paw: A History of Baseball in Our Hometown” at the Carnegie Community Cen-ter, 129 S. Kalamazoo St., Paw Paw.  There will be a grand opening for the ex-hibit on Sunday, June 9, 2019 from 1 to 4 p.m.  

    The information in this article comes from histories written by Robert “Butch” Hindenach and Charlie Weatherby.

The Courier-Leader & Paw Paw Flashes

The Courier-Leader & Paw Paw Flashes
32280 E. Red Arrow Hwy. • P.O. Box 129
Paw Paw, MI 49079
(269) 657-5080

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