When most sports fans reflect upon the history of baseball, they usually go to the golden age of the 1920’s when Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and others made the game into the Great American Pastime. Yet, many don’t realize that the game of baseball was being played across America in the 1850’s with the earliest known account of an Iowa baseball club being formed on May 28, 1858 — the “Pastime Base-Ball Club No. 2” of Davenport.
When the Civil War ended in 1865, Union soldiers – including many brave Iowans – returned to their hometowns, bringing a love of the game with them. War, you see, had taught these soldiers camaraderie, discipline, order and management — traits also essential to putting together a successful baseball organization. Numerous baseball clubs sprang up, for example, in Dubuque with teams such as “Hawkeye,” “Fourth Ward,” “Third Ward,” “Up-Town,” “Key City,” “Down-Town,” “Dubuque Nine,” “Dubuque Juliens,” and “Dubuque City”. Not to be outdone, Davenport fielded the “Scotts” and “Pasture” baseball clubs, and by 1867, nearly every newly-settled town across Iowa, after building a school and a church, wanted to field a baseball team to put itself on the map.
By the mid-1880s, baseball was being played everywhere across Iowa. In bigger cities and small towns, it was a point of community pride to field one or more teams. Tournaments were played regularly to determine the “state champions” each year. The rules that had become the accepted norm were the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (NAPBBP) 1871 rules. Equipment had evolved and now gloves, catcher’s masks and standardized balls and bats were available through sporting goods companies such as Spalding or Peck & Snyder.
Iowa City was certainly no exception when it came to baseball. So here on this post, allow me to introduce you to three Iowa City baseball clubs that left their mark in our city – all before Babe Ruth ever swung a bat in the major leagues. Let’s start with…
Playing on a baseball diamond laid out on an open field in the southwest corner of Iowa City – where today’s airport stands (see map below) – the 1885 & 1886 Iowa City Neversweats were a dominant force in Iowa baseball.
According to an Iowa City Daily Press article – written in 1926 – the Neversweats enjoyed the reputation of being the “City’s Most Famous Team” – achieving one amazing record, losing only once during the 1885 season! Read more below…
Here’s the entire article from The Iowa City Daily Press – June 12, 1926.
The Neversweats were composed of twelve young men – Charles C. Shrader – 1st base, George A. Sueppel – 2nd base, Robert Glenn – short stop, Frank Lorenz – 3rd base, Louis Gearkee – left field, Will Xanter – center field, Wellington Gaynor & Charlie Scott – right field, Mell Humphrey & Albert Trub – catcher, “Chick” Wydenkoff – pitcher, and Carl Epeneter – manager/scorekeeper.
At the time of the Daily Press article (June 1926), many of the 1885-1886 ballplayers had passed, with only Postmaster Charles C. Shrader and George A. Sueppel still living in Iowa City. According to the article, this version of the Neversweats played together for only two or three seasons before disbanding, but records show that the name continued on, with newspaper articles mentioning the Neversweats in 1901 and 1904 (see above). By this time, baseball games were being played in Iowa Field – the football, track and baseball stadium built by SUI just west of Old Capitol (see pic below).
Now, let’s fast-forward to Monday, March 21, 1910. In a very close vote – the residents of our fair city decided to double the size of Iowa City – annexing new areas on the west side of the Iowa River, and the Rundell neighborhood and East Iowa City to the east (see maps below).
You can read more details here, but when this annex to Iowa City happened in 1910, it was decided that the Rundell neighborhood would be an excellent location for a community-wide baseball field. As a result (see below), Rundell Park was born, and in 1912, the Iowa City Gold Sox baseball club was formed.
Below are articles from The Iowa City Daily Press announcing the new team and the opening date plans…
Final Score? Iowa City Gold Sox 10 – Trenton, MO Trentonians 2.
While the 1912 Gold Sox fared well on the field, the cash box didn’t do likewise, so by 1913, the Sox were purchased by Iowa City’s well-known cigar salesman – Fred Racine – becoming now…
Welcome the new Racine Ramblers to Rundell Park in Iowa City!
Read more about Fred Racine and Otto Fink – Iowa City’s best-known cigar salesmen – who eventually joined forces in the 1920’s & 30’s.
Sadly, the Racine Ramblers didn’t last long either, leaving Rundell Park empty and soon sold for housing developments. Here’s the full story…
So, like Shoeless Joe Jackson at Iowa’s own Field Of Dreams – The Iowa City Neversweats, The Iowa City Gold Sox, and The Racine Ramblers – gone – but never forgotten.
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.
Opening Day, Baseball History, American History And You, National Baseball Hall of Fame
Covering the bases: Baseball’s origins and small town stars, John Liepa, Iowa History Journal
Baseball’s early years: Part 1 of 3, John Liepa, Iowa History Journal
Baseball’s early years: Part 2 of 3, John Liepa, Iowa History Journal
Baseball’s early years: Part 3 of 3, John Liepa, Iowa History Journal
Remember the Neversweats?, Iowa City Daily Press, June 11, 1926, p 9
The Neversweats – City’s Most Famous Team, Iowa City Daily Press, June 12, 1926, p 9
Charles C. Shrader, Find-A-Grave
George A Sueppel, Find-A-Grave
Fourth of July – West Liberty, Iowa City Daily Republican, June 27, 1901, p 8
Invincibles Still Invincible, Iowa Citizen, May 30, 1904, p 8
Gold Sox Is Name Of Nine, The Iowa City Daily Press, June 5, 1912, p 1
Many Purchase Ball Tickets, The Iowa City Daily Press, June 7, 1912, p 5
A Slaughter In Opener, The Iowa City Daily Press, June 15, 1912, p 1, 7
Big Opening Is Planned For Sunday, The Iowa City Daily Press, June 6, 1913, p 12
Baseball Tomorrow, The Iowa City Daily Press, June 7, 1913, p 4
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