Barnstorming: Bringing Baseball To Small-Town America
Barnstorming is when teams or individual athletes travel to play exhibition games, typically in small towns that do not have an established athletic team. It gave fans in small towns the opportunity to see their heroes play. The first barnstorming tour probably took place in 1860; an amateur team, the Brooklyn Excelsior traveled around New York State playing games.
One of the best-known teams was the Kansas City Monarchs. As they traveled, they took their portable lighting system with them so that they could play night games. They beat out the MLB in terms of artificial light, as they were using it five years before the first MLB game was played with it.
Professionals Were Not Allowed To Barnstorm For Years
However, as professional leagues spread, barnstorming was only allowed outside of the regular baseball season. By the 1880s, barnstorming was limited further to the postseason. In 1903, the World Series began, and, according to new player contracts prior to 1910, the players were not to play in exhibition games without the consent of their major league team, essentially banning them from playing with the barnstorming teams. The teams were concerned that, if a player was beaten by an amateur, it would harm the reputation of the team. The Baseball Players’ Fraternity President, David L. Fultz, made an argument in 1916 that players should not be fined for playing games outside the normal season, as long as they were not claiming to represent their club.
Some Broke Those Rules
In 1921, when Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel, and Bill Piercy finished the season after winning the American League pennant, they played exhibition games and were fined their World Series shares and suspended until May 20. Babe Ruth stated that he was “out to earn an honest dollar, and at the same time give baseball fans an opportunity to see the big players in action.” By July 1922, the barnstorming rule was removed, leading to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig touring with the Bustin’ Babes and Larrupin Lous in the mid-1920s.