Bush Stadium was constructed in 1931 by the Osborn Engineering Company, the firm responsible for several famous ballparks including Cleveland’s League Park, Boston’s Fenway Park, and New York’s Yankee Stadium. Local architects added the Art Deco detailing and helped create one of the finest minor league parks in the country. Indians owner Norman Perry named the facility for his brother James, who bought the team in 1927 and died in a plane crash two years later. On September 5, 1931, the AAA minor league Indianapolis Indians (founded in 1902) played their first baseball game at the brand-new Perry Stadium in front of 5,942 spectators, which was less than a full house. The Indianapolis ABCs, an African American team, which played in several “Negro Leagues” such as the Negro National League, the Negro Southern League, and the Negro American League because of segregation, rented the stadium for its home games as well.
In 1941, Perry sold the team and leased the stadium to businessman Frank McKinney and former Indians player and manager Owen “Donie” Bush. The two men decided to hold a contest to rename the stadium. Passionately patriotic as a result of America’s recent entry into World War II, fans voted to name the stadium Victory Field. From 1946 to 1954, Victory Field hosted not only the Indians, but also the Indianapolis Clowns, who participated in the comic art of barnstorming (along the lines of the antics of present-day Harlem Globetrotters) as well as competitive play. The Clowns joined the Negro American League in 1943. Hank Aaron made his professional baseball debut with the Clowns when he was only 18. Several African American women also became noted members of this team. Mamie Johnson was a pitcher with the Clowns from 1953 to 1955, and Toni Stone and Connie Morgan played the infield. Although segregation in professional baseball ended by the 1950s, the Clowns existed well into the 1980s as a barnstorming team.
The City's Beloved Baseball Diamond
In 1967, the city of Indianapolis purchased the stadium and renamed it in honor of Bush, the Indians’ long-time president, who was known as “Mr. Baseball” to Hoosiers. However, the stadium was not solely used for professional baseball. During the 1960s, it was home to two short-lived minor league football teams. It also hosted the 1987 Pan American Games baseball tournament and became a film set for the 1988 movie “Eight Men Out,” about the 1919 Black Sox scandal.
Deterioration and New Life
In 1992, Major League Baseball’s inspection of Bush Stadium revealed that the structure did not meet league standards. The league was ready to move the Indians to another city unless Indianapolis committed to creating an upgraded facility. The costs to renovate Bush Stadium were high, so the city built a new stadium downtown on land obtained from White River State Park. When the Indians moved to the new Victory Field in 1996, they left behind a venue that had served generations of Indianapolis baseball fans for 65 years. In 2013, after years as a race track and used vehicle storage site, the historic Bush Stadium grandstand reopened as the Stadium Lofts apartment complex. Many historic features still remain, including the Art Deco columns and turnstiles at the entrance. The structure remains a symbol of Indianapolis’ sports heritage.