The Indianapolis ABCs were a Negro league baseball team that played both as an independent club and as a charter member of the first Negro National League (NNL). They claimed the western championship of black baseball in 1915 and 1916, and finished second in the 1922 NNL. Among their best players were Baseball Hall of Fame members Oscar Charleston and Ben Taylor.
Originally organized by the American Brewing Company (thus "A.B.C.s") in the early 20th century, the team was managed by Ran Butler in 1911. It was then purchased by Thomas Bowser, a white bail bondsman, in 1912. Two years later, C. I. Taylor, formerly of the Birmingham Giants and West Baden Sprudels, purchased a half-interest in the ABCs, and became the team's manager. Taylor stocked the ABCs with his brothers Ben, John, and Jim, all among the best African-American players in baseball. Taylor was a noted judge of young talent; some of the well-known players he brought to the big time included center fielder Charleston, second baseman Bingo DeMoss, third baseman-outfielder Dave Malarcher, outfielder George Shively, and pitchers Dizzy Dismukes, Jim Jeffries, and Dicta Johnson.
Split and hiatus
By 1915, the ABCs were already challenging Rube Foster's Chicago American Giants for supremacy in black baseball. That year they defeated the American Giants in a series for the western black championship, though Foster disputed the title. That year, Taylor cut a deal to use the park left when the city's entry in the Federal League dissolved; Bowser disagreed with the deal, and two owners parted company, each organizing a rival ABCs squad. Taylor had the better of the contest for talent, retaining the core of the 1915 team, and again claiming a disputed championship over the American Giants.
In 1917, Bowser sold his club, generally known as Bowser's ABCs, to a black businessman named Warner Jewell. Jewell's ABCs, playing at Northwestern Park, continued as a sort of farm club to Taylor's team. Federal League Park was torn down, and Taylor turned to Washington Park, the home of the minor league Indianapolis Indians. The Chicago American Giants were generally recognized as western champions for 1917, finally ending the ABCs' two-year claim on the title.
Reorganization and league play
In 1920, after a year-long absence from baseball, Taylor reorganized the ABCs and entered them in the new Negro National League (NNL), finishing in fourth place with a 39–35 record. The following season Oscar Charleston left for the St. Louis Giants, and the ABCs sagged to 35–38 and fifth place, despite a great season from Ben Taylor.
During the off season in 1922, C. I. Taylor died and his widow Olivia continued as the club's owner, and Ben Taylor became the playing manager. He reacquired Charleston, who led a rejuvenated ABCs squad to a 46–33 record and second-place finish. The young catcher Biz Mackey enjoyed a breakout season in 1922, and with Taylor, Charleston, and third baseman Henry Blackman keyed a prolific offense.
Both Ben Taylor and Biz Mackey jumped to the Eastern Colored League for the 1923 season, but Charleston continued to hit (.364, 11 home runs, 94 RBI in 84 games), and the ABCs finished 44–31, good for fourth place. Charleston, however, jumped east himself in 1924, joining the Harrisburg Giants. 1924 saw the ABCs struggle to a 4–17 record before they were dropped by the league at mid-season.
Decline, demise and reincarnates
Warner Jewell organized a new version of the ABCs for 1925, which finished a dismal 17–57 in the NNL; in 1926, they improved to 43–45, but folded at season's end.
Indianapolis ABCs (II): Five years later, Candy Jim Taylor returned to Indianapolis and organized another new franchise called the ABCs, which played in the NNL's last season in 1931, then joined the Negro Southern League for 1932. In 1933, Taylor brought the ABCs into Gus Greenlee's new Negro National League; but low attendance led Taylor to move the club to Detroit and rename them the Stars shortly after opening day.
Indianapolis ABCs (III): The name "Indianapolis ABCs" was also used by a Negro American League team in 1938, but it relocated to St. Louis for the 1939 season.
Indianapolis ABCs (IV): The name "Indianapolis ABCs" was also used by a Negro American League team in 1939, but it folded in May before the season ended. This team relocated from Atlanta where they played as the Black Crackers and won the second half title of the 1938 NAL.
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- "Leading Baseball Clubs" Indianapolis Freeman, Indianapolis, IN, April 1, 1911, Page 7, Column 5
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- Negro League Baseball Players Association
- Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
- 1920 Indianapolis ABCs Calendar