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At Shawnee Town, it was ‘Take me out to the (1920’s style) ballgame’

Carl Metz Jr., pitches for the Minneapolis Millers during the game. All the players from both teams were volunteers from the Kansas City Men’s Senior Baseball League.
Carl Metz Jr., pitches for the Minneapolis Millers during the game. All the players from both teams were volunteers from the Kansas City Men’s Senior Baseball League. Special to The Star

Two teams rewrote a bit of baseball history on a sweltering Saturday afternoon in August. The 1920s-style game, put on by the Shawnee Town 1929 Museum, featured the Kansas City Blues playing the Minneapolis Millers.

Temperatures soared into the mid-90s with a heat index firmly above 100 as the Millers defeated the Blues 3-1 in seven innings. Exactly 89 years earlier, on Aug. 25, 1929, the real teams played a game together — except the Blues were victorious.

It’s the second year the museum has staged the baseball game with members of the Kansas City Men’s Senior and Adult Baseball League volunteering to play as members of the Blues and the Millers.

“There’s nothing more 1920s than baseball. They definitely go hand in hand,” said JoJo Palko, museum assistant at Shawnee Town. “I think it really has to do with Babe Ruth. That’s kind of the whole inspiration behind the game. He kind of took over baseball in the 1920s. It definitely became the national pastime.”

The museum’s grounds lend themselves to such an activity, with a grassy park right next to its many 1920s-oriented buildings.

Baseball itself, outside of the commercialism, hasn’t changed that much in almost a century.

“The primary difference you’ll see is the ball. Back in the 1920s, even a major league game very seldom used more than two or three balls for an entire game. … Back in the 1920s, it was not unusual for a ball to be almost black, lopsided and unraveling” by the end of the game, said Mike Holmes, Kansas City Men’s Senior Baseball League commissioner.

Holmes served as the official scorer for the game and representative of the league.

Pitchers were allowed to put substances like spit or pine tar on the ball to change the way it flies through the air. The ball didn’t have the cork center it does now.

The uniforms and the equipment also are significantly different today than they were in the 1920s. For safety, players in this year’s August game wore batting helmets, though their historical counterparts wouldn’t.

With the extreme heat, they also had the option of wearing the authentic wool uniforms or sticking with lighter, contemporary garb. About half the players chose the latter. The heat also kept the game capped at seven innings instead of the usual nine.

Baseball gloves of the time were more like normal gloves with extra padding than the webbed version we know today.

Although the Shawnee game was striving for authenticity, the budget did limit how much period-specific equipment they could have.

“We weren’t able to take it that far. That would require more money,” Palko said.

Baseball aficionados might know that the infield fly rule wasn’t in effect at the time, for example, but for casual fans, the game was just good fun.

“It’s a nice atmosphere. It’s something different, too,” said Stephanie Taylor, who came from Independence to watch the game.

Taylor said it was the first baseball game she’d ever attended.

Jim Livelsberger, of Overland Park, had many contemporary games to compare this one to.

“It was a lot less complicated and played for a lot more fun than it is today,” said Livelsberger, one of the few dozen fans cheering the players. “The pace of the game itself wasn’t quick, but the games weren’t four hours long.”

The museum chose the Blues and the Millers as its teams partly because the two minor league teams did actually play each other — but also because they can use the logos without copyright worries.

Palko said a lot of her research came from reading accounts of baseball games of the era in The Kansas City Star archives.

Holmes said the baseball league had participated in a game with 1880s rules several years ago. He was happy to see Shawnee Town reviving the interest in historical baseball.

The game is closer to “the form of baseball that was most popular in the 1920s: Town ball or community ball, (featuring) guys who work all week and maybe play for their town on the weekend,” Holmes said. “It’s cliché, but they play for the love of the game.”

Dean Witmer came all the way from Peculiar to play second base for the Blues.

“The rules have changed (since the 1920s), but it’s still a guy throwing a ball,” Witmer said. “It’s still a guy with a bat.”

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