Indianapolis Clowns

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The Indianapolis Clowns were a professional baseball team in the Negro American League. They began play as the independent Ethiopian Clowns, joined the league as the Cincinnati Clowns and, after a couple of years, relocated to Indianapolis.


The Ethiopian Clowns were an independent barnstorming baseball team. There is evidence indicating that the team was founded in Miami, Florida, in 1935 or 1936 by Hunter Campbell and bootlegger Johnny Pierce.[1]

Syd Pollock was instrumental in promoting and popularizing the Clowns and developed them into a nationally-known combination of show business and baseball that earned them the designation as the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball.

In 1943, the Clowns joined the Negro American League, beginning a 12-year membership in the circuit before withdrawing following the 1954 season. Also in 1943, the team was relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio, where they became the Cincinnati Clowns. The team operated between Cincinnati and Indianapolis in 1944 and 1945 before officially moving to Indianapolis in 1946, playing as the Indianapolis Clowns for the rest of their existence.

The team won the league championship in 1950.


While still fielding a legitimate team, the Clowns also toured with several members known for comic acts - sort of a baseball version of the Harlem Globetrotters, including Joe "Prince" Henry. After the decline of the Negro Leagues, the team continued operations on barnstorming tours into the 1960s.

After many years of operation as a barnstorming team, the Clowns finally disbanded in 1989.[2]

Connection to Hank Aaron[edit]

By 1952, Pollock signed Hank Aaron to his first professional contract, at $200 a month. Aaron played about three months as the Clowns' shortstop and cleanup hitter before being sold for $10,000 to the Boston Braves organization.

Other significant players[edit]

The Clowns fielded such stars as Buster Haywood, DeWitt "Woody" Smallwood, showman "Goose" Tatum, and future Major Leaguers John Wyatt (Kansas City Athletics), Paul Casanova (Washington Senators), and Choo-Choo Coleman (New York Mets).

Women players[edit]

The Clowns were the first professional baseball team to hire a female player. Toni Stone played second base with the team in 1953, in which she batted .243. [3] The following year the Clowns sold her contract to the Kansas City Monarchs. They hired two women replacements: Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, pitcher, and Connie Morgan, second base. Women also served as umpires for the team.

Movie reference[edit]

The 1976 movie The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, starring James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, and Richard Pryor, is loosely based on the barnstorming of the Indianapolis Clowns.


  1. ^ Neil Lanctot, "Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution." U. Penn. Press, 2004, p. 108.
  2. ^ "History of the Indianapolis Clowns" (PDF). The Center for Negro League Baseball Research. Retrieved 2014-09-20. 
  3. ^ NLBPA (April 21, 2007). "Toni Stone". NLBPA. Retrieved 2007-04-21. 


  • The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues – James A. Riley. Publisher: Chelsea House, 1996. Format: Paperback, 124pp. Language: English. ISBN 0-7910-2592-6

Further reading[edit]

  • Heward, Bill. Some are called Clowns: A season with the last of the great barnstorming baseball teams, ISBN 0-690-00469-9.

External links[edit]