Israelite House Of David Baseball
Sportsman's Park, St. Louis, September 12, 1933...
The National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals, playing under the lights before about 10,000 fans, are trailing after one inning, 4 to zip. Leo Durocher and company will come back onto the field as the 19-year old lady pitcher and her longhaired and bearded teammates retire to their dugout with a masterful first frame.
George Anderson and the House of David ball club were in town to meet up with "Dizzy Dean and the pride of St. Louis", in which Jackie Mitchell, "the only girl in the world playing professional baseball", would show "a fair curve, not too much speed and all the necessary poise" to start and complete her sole inning of play. Her only at bat saw her pop to Durocher at short, in her first inning appearance. The sports column of the following morning read: Benton Harbor's nomadic House of David ball team, beards, girl pitcher and all, came, saw and conquered the Cardinals, 8 to 6, last night at Sportsman's Park.
The early origins of the Israelite House of David ball club is still unclear as to exact dates, however, the year 1914 is certain and 1913 is possible as a starting date. There are indications that the childcare program (what would be called Christian day-care today) at the House of David was responsible for the organized recreational activities at the Israelite community in Benton Harbor, that used baseball as a means of supervised activities and free time for the children at the community after school hours, and in the summer time.
It is also certain that at least three individuals played a leading role in the organization of and the push forward of baseball as not only a recreational activity, but a promotional aspect of the Israelite community: Francis Thorpe, the original manager of the team, Benjamin Purnell, the colony founder, and the Tally family that arrived from Mississippi in 1914. The Israelite team's competition in the Berrien County League qualified them for the 1915 championship games, which they won in the fall of that year. During 1916, Francis Thorpe assembled an all-star team of the best of Israelite athletes, began advertising the club, got connections and began touring outside of the SW Michigan area into northern Indiana, Chicago and Wisconsin. From there the legend began, and would continue into the early 1950s.
Among the colorful collection of Israelite players are the names of Walter "Dutch" Faust, Dwight "Zeke" Baushke, Jesse Lee "Doc" Tally, David Harrison, Paul Mooney, Percy Walker, John Tucker, George "Andy" Anderson, Austin "Tex" Williams, and Frank Wyland.
Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Monarchs called them "Jesus' Boys". This colorful ball club would create a legend in its barnstorming career for over 3 decades. Jesse Lee "Doc" Tally would create the famous "peppergame" exhibition that the Israelite club would feature at fifth inning to the delight of baseball fans across the continent; they would become pioneers of night light baseball, and first to integrate with the black league teams in their travels from coast to coast.
From 1919 through 1928, the Israelite teams would barnstorm the nation with an amazing record of average winning seasons of 75%, while the greater majority of team players were colony personnel. The infamous court trials that dogged the House of David and Benjamin Purnell for the entire decade of the 1920s did not deter the team's performance, and certainly not the crowds that turned out to see this uniquely original baseball club. However, upon the death of Benjamin in 1927, there was a bitter power struggle within the Israelite community over leadership and direction between the cofounder, Mary Purnell, and Judge H.T. Dewhirst, who had become both legal counsel for the colony and its chief executive of the Board. By 1929 this factional dispute had split the community into two almost equal halves, and likewise produced two baseball teams, each representing the nearly equal factions. By 1930, Mary Purnell would dissolve the entire organization and leave the original properties to judge Dewhirst and his adherents, walking 2 blocks east and starting anew with 217 in fellowship with her. Thus there came into being a second Israelite community, The Israelite House of David as Reorganized By Mary Purnell, or Mary's City of David for brevity and clarity between the two neighboring Israelite communities. Francis Thorpe, the families of the Andersons, Tuckers and Tallys would walk with Mary into the building of an entire new community, and the continuation of the most colorful and eventful days of Israelite baseball.
At the time of the division in the House of David there remained four of the Israelite's greatest athletic products still in uniform: "Dutch" Faust, John Tucker, "Doc" Tally, and George Anderson. "Dutch" would remain with Mr. Dewhirst's House of David, while Anderson, Tucker and Tally would come along with Mary Purnell, and create the perfect pepper game exhibition along with a decade (1930-1941) of the finest and most professional Israelite teams. The House of David would cease sending out traveling teams after the second World War, while Mary's City of David would field traveling teams into the early 1950s, most of whom would be players hired. John Tucker would retire from Israelite baseball in 1941; Tally would play to the year of his death, 1950; Anderson would continue in an Israelite uniform to around 1955.
During that decade of the 1930s, the City of David team would set several postings in baseball history: they would play in the very first night baseball game at Independence, KS, April 17, 1930. They would be first to sign a female athlete to a professional contract, Jackie Mitchell, 1933. John Tucker set an unofficial baseball record with 23 putouts at first base, April 20, 1935. They would set the tone for later baseball integration, in 1936, playing the Kansas City Monarchs and Satchelfoot Paige all across the U.S.A. and Canada.
Baseball history has come along way from its earliest inception of a recreational outing for ladies and gentlemen. From that day to this, the changes to the sport have made it unrecognizable to its original formatting/rules, and the history has found a lasting niche in popular culture of America, that today has become the multi-million dollar business of public entertainment. Along with the great names that created the colorful trail in popular American history, names such as Gehrig, Aaron, Dimaggio, Feller, Williams, Babe, Koufax, Banks and Young; hopefully will soon find a place of recognition for one of the game's most colorful and professional exhibitions, during the most interesting era of its play; the Israelite House of David Baseball Clubs, and their 40 years of legendary barnstorming teams.
Our sincere Thanks and Appreciation towards both Joel Hawkins and Terry Bertolino for their help in creating this page, and also their help in creating the most complete baseball record and pictorial exhibit in the world at Mary's City of David Museum, located at the City of David community in Benton Harbor, MI.
NEW BOOK - "The House of David Baseball Team"
"An entrepreneurial group of worshippers ... " The Colonies formed bearded, barnstorming, traveling baseball teams that were very successful and toured throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico. "The House of David Baseball Team" details this remarkable era with stories, scores, and nearly 200 rare photos.
We are proud to feature this wonderful new book on our Gift Shop Page!
NEW City of David Base Ball Field & Base Ball Team:
After completion of the new Colonel Harry and Elizabeth Eastman Baseball Field, it will indeed be exciting to once again field a Home Base Ball Team. For more information, visit our Present Day Page.