Bush Stadium

Early History: On September 5, 1931, the AAA minor league Indianapolis Indians (founded in 1902) played their first baseball game in front of 5,942 spectators—a less than full house—at the brand-new Perry Stadium. 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.

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. The Clowns were accepted into the Negro American League in 1943. Although segregation in professional baseball had ended by the 1950s, the Clowns and many other Negro League teams continued to play into the 1960s. 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.

The City's Beloved Baseball Diamond

In 1967, the city of Indianapolis purchased the stadium and renamed it honor of Bush, the Indians’ long-time president, who was known as “Mr. Baseball” to Hoosiers. Yet the stadium was not used only 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.

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 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, which was initially built by Osborn Engineering, the firm responsible for several famous ballparks including Cleveland’s League Park, Boston’s Fenway Park, and New York’s Yankee Stadium, remains a symbol of Indianapolis sports heritage.

Images

Art Deco Flair

Art Deco Flair

Bush Stadium features an Art Deco style facade, visible in this photo of the stadium entrance. Carved detailing depicting baseball players, bats and gloves, and “PS” (for Perry Stadium) is found on the five entry bays. Photo Courtesy of Indiana Landmarks. | Creator: Indiana Landmarks View File Details Page

Bush Stadium

Bush Stadium

As is typical in baseball field design, the Bush Stadium stands were designed to face northeast in order to minimize interference from the summer sun. The stadium could hold 13,000 spectators in the covered grandstands. Photo Courtesy of W.H. Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society. | Source: W.H. Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society. | Creator: W.H. Bass Photo Company View File Details Page

Victory Field

Victory Field

On the evening that this photo was taken (date unknown), the crowds at Victory Field purchased $55,900 worth of war bonds and stamps to support America™s troops during World War II. Photo Courtesy of The Indianapolis Star. View File Details Page

Members of the Indianapolis Clowns, 1947

Members of the Indianapolis Clowns, 1947

The Indianapolis Clowns became part of the Negro American League in 1943. In 1950, the Clowns won an Eastern Division Title. They played at Victory Field into the 1960s. Photo Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society. | Creator: Ernest C. Withers View File Details Page

Toni Stone

Toni Stone

Toni Stone played second base for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1953. She was signed as a gate attraction, but she also became the first woman to play in the Negro American League. In 1954, the Indians traded Stone to the Kansas City Monarchs. In 1993, she was inducted into the Women™s Sports Hall of Fame. Photo Courtesy of The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Inc. | Source: Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Inc. View File Details Page

Mamie "Peanut" Johnson

Mamie "Peanut" Johnson

Mamie “Peanut” Johnson was a pitcher for the Indianapolis Clowns. She was nicknamed “peanut” because of her size, but was known to throw just as hard as many male pitchers. Before signing with the Clowns, she attended New York University, where she studied medicine and engineering. Photo Courtesy of The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Inc. | Source: The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Inc. View File Details Page

Connie Morgan

Connie Morgan

Connie Morgan played second base for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1954. She replaced Toni Stone after she was traded to the Kansas City Monarchs. Before signing with the Clowns, she played five seasons with the North Philadelphia Honey Drippers, an all-female team. Photo Courtesy of The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Inc. | Source: The Negro League Baseball Museum View File Details Page

Bush Goodbye

Bush Goodbye

On July 3, 1996, the Indians played their last game at Bush Stadium against the Nashville Sound. In this photo, ten-year-old Ben Cook keeps an eye out for foul balls. Photo Courtesy of The Indianapolis Star (photo by Kelly Wilkinson). | Source: Indianapolis Star | Creator: Kelly Wilkinson View File Details Page

16th Street Speedway

16th Street Speedway

After the Indians relocated to Victory Field in 1996, Bush Stadium became a dirt race track. Despite the efforts of local citizens who opposed the creation of the 16th Street Speedway, it existed as a venue for auto racing for about two years. Following its use as a speedway, the stadium fell into disrepair. Photo Courtesy of Indiana Landmarks. | Source: Indiana Landmarks View File Details Page

Cash for Clunkers

Cash for Clunkers

Between 2008 and 2011, Bush stadium became a storage facility for vehicles given up in the Cash for Clunkers program, which offered financial incentives for Americans to purchase fuel-efficient vehicles after trading in old, less efficient vehicles. Photo Courtesy of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology. | Source: Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology. View File Details Page

Audio

Mamie Johnson Oral History

This is a segment of an oral history interview with Mamie "Peanut" Johnson, an African American woman who played pitcher for the Indianapolis Clowns. She reflects on how she was recruited by the Clowns, as well as the challenges she faced as a minority athlete. Courtesy of the The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Inc. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Elena Rippel, Abby Curtin, “Bush Stadium,” Discover Indiana, accessed April 24, 2017, http://indyhist.iupui.edu/items/show/52.

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