Youth baseball has always been big in Anderson, at least since I’ve lived here. It used to be even bigger than it is now. And the year 1965 was probably the culmination of local interest in the sport as Memorial Field hosted the Babe Ruth World Series.
I was a young sportswriter at the time, and I cut my teeth on all the preparations for a national event right here in Anderson.
Memorial Field got a major makeover. The field didn’t even have a pressbox before 1965, and the bleachers were in need of renovation. Not only was a three-row pressbox installed, but a new grandstand was added and temporary bleachers installed all the way out both foul lines to give the place a capacity of more than 5,000. The field was reworked and new fences added, including a temporary 13-15 Babe Ruth-distance outfield fence.
Players from the visiting teams stayed with foster parents in private homes. That assured large crowds for each game, and attendance at the BR World Series pretty much exceeded nightly attendance at Indianapolis Indians minor-league games.
The Anderson Nationals were the automatic host team. They ended up losing their first two games for a quick exit. New Orleans gained the title, with Manchester, N.H., the runner-up. Other teams included Mobile, Ala.; Phoenixville, Pa.; Brookfield, Ill.; Stockton, Calif.; and Vancouver, British Columbia.
All sorts of celebrities made appearances, not the least of them being Anderson’s own Carl Erskine, not that far removed from his stellar major league career. I was involved in my first big-name press conference with National League president Warren Giles.
Babe Ruth International officials were in full charge of the games themselves. A couple of them were characters. The official scorer, I believe his first name was Harry, was an inveterate cigar smoker, which I’m not sure would be acceptable in today’s enclosed pressboxes. He let it be known he was in full charge. On one close play at first, a late throw from the shortstop got to the first baseman, who stopped the ball but didn’t make a clean pickup just as the runner crossed the bag. “6-E3,” Harry barked, giving the shortstop an assist and the first baseman an error on what could have been ruled a hit. His authority established, he was less vociferous later in the tournament: “Aw, give him a hit,” he muttered on a couple of similar plays.
It was the last national tournament to be held in Anderson. And some of the prestige in youth baseball has been diluted by adding multiple levels of competition, as well as summer competition in many other sports. Now the trend toward near-year-round school limits the time available for youth baseball tournaments.
But Andersonians, though perhaps in dwindling numbers, will remember when people across the nation flocked to Memorial Field for one week in August 1965.
Jim Bailey’s reflections on Anderson’s past appear on Sunday. His regular column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.