BY STEVE KRAH
The National Road connecting the east to the west passed through the heart of Indiana. Near the eastern end of the state is Richmond.
Dayton, Ohio, is 46 miles to the east Indianapolis 73 to the west. Fort Wayne is 92 miles to the north and Cincinnati 74 to the south.
A place that has been called the “Rose City” has long been sweet on baseball. In his research, Richmond resident Alex Painter discovered that the town was booming with baseball in the late 1800’s.
Local interest in the diamond and Richmond’s place on the map means that many ballplayers — famous and otherwise — have displayed their skills in this Wayne County community.
Sometimes traveling clubs played a local semipro or minor league team. Sometimes two teams met in Richmond.
“It’s an advantageous location,” says Painter, whose particular curiosity in black baseball had him digging through digital files and he learned that 19 baseball Hall of Famers that played in the Negro Leagues came through town — men like Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson, Buck Leonard, Biz Mackey, Turkey Stearnes and Willie Wells.
Negro Leaguer Buck O’Neil also graced the diamond at Richmond as did Choo Choo Coleman, Sam Hairston and Sam Jethroe.
His “eye-crossing, detail-oriented work” — looking at old issues of the Indianapolis Freeman and other publications — revealed more than 100 Negro Leagues games that took place in Richmond. Another pass turned up more than 350 players.
Baseball Hall of Famer Oscar Charleston played for a professional-caliber Richmond team in 1918 and managed a game here 100 days before he died in 1954. The Indianapolis chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research bears the name of former Negro Leaguer Charleston.
The 1933 Chicago American Giants came to Richmond with four future Baseball Hall of Famers. On the local amateur team — the Lincos — was a Richmond High School graduate and future Pro Football Hall of Famer Weeb Ewbank.
For quite awhile, Painter — a big Cleveland Indians fan — knew that Satchel Paige and Bob Feller came to Richmond on a barnstorming tour in 1946.
Hall of Famer Phil Rizzutto took to the field in Richmond.
Painter, who is Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at alma mater Earlham College in Richmond, also heard stories about how Negro Leaguer Josh Gibson was supposed to have clouted a home run down the left field line over the 415-foot barrier at what is now known as Don McBride Stadium.
The park is now home to Richmond High School baseball and the summer collegiate Richmond Jazz.
Enthralled with the story of former Negro Leaguer and big leaguer Luke Easter, who also came through Richmond in 1946, Painter self-published “Folk Hero Forever: The Eclectic, Enthralling Baseball Life of Luke Easter” in 2018 (Lulu.com).
“It was feat not duplicated for nine years,” says Painter. Easter, who is said to have clouted 650 homers in various circuits, played for the Homestead Grays in 1947 and 1948 and made his Major League Baseball debut with Cleveland in 1949 at 34 (though at the time it was widely reported that he was six years younger).
A few weeks ago, Painter followed that up with “Blackball in the Hoosier Heartland: Unearthing the Negro Leagues Baseball History of Richmond, Indiana.”
“It’s kind of the story of Richmond told through the Negro Leagues and the story of Negro Leagues told through Richmond,” says Painter, who starts at the earliest parts of local baseball history and brings many tales to light.
“It should absolutely be a point of pride for Richmond,” says Painter. “I don’t think people realize how many guys came through here.”
Painter’s latest book is available through Lulu.com and at Amazon.com.
He put out his latest work to coincide with the 100th year anniversary of the Negro National League.
Painter continues to enjoy research there may be more books in the future. A possible subject is John “Snowball” Merida, who integrated baseball in east central Indiana in the early part of the 20th Century. A catcher, he was the only black player on the Spiceland Academy team. In 1905, he was with a Dublin, Ind., team playing a game in Richmond at a field that Painter found out to be just blocks from where he now lives with his wife Alicia and three children — Greyson, Eleanor and Harper. Merida played for the famed Indianapolis ABCs 1907-10 and died and spinal meningitis at 31.
Painter credits Paul Debono’s “History of a Premier Team in the Negro Leagues: The Indianapolis ABCs” as being a big help in his research.
The second oldest of a family of 10, Painter comes from a football family. He and five of his six brothers played at Fort Wayne Snider High School, where he graduated in 2006. Alex played defensive end at Earlham.
Painter is the founder and producer on “Onward to Victory: A Notre Dame Football Podcast” and has been researching the life and career of Fort Wayne native Emil “Red” Sitko, the only man to lead Notre Dame in rushing for four seasons.
The Painter family (from left): Greyson, Alicia, Eleanor, Harper and Alex. Alex Painter is the author of two baseball books — “Folk Hero Forever: The Eclectic, Enthralling Baseball Life of Luke Easter” (2018) and “Blackball in the Hoosier Heartland: Unearthing the Negro Leagues Baseball History of Richmond, Indiana” (2020).
Alex Painter’s first book, “Folk Hero Forever: The Eclectic, Enthralling Baseball Life of Luke Easter” (2018).
Alex Painter’s latest book, “Blackball in the Hoosier Heartland: Unearthing the Negro Leagues Baseball History of Richmond, Indiana.”