The religious sect that became baseball's answer to the Harlem Globetrotters
They understood that lights could extend their game day and add to the spectacle. Their first night game was played April 17, , in Florence, Kan. That was a full five years before the first Major League Baseball game was played under the lights in Cincinnati.
The House of David traveling teams were known to align themselves with another group considered outcasts by many people in America. They frequently invited Negro League squads to travel with them from town to town. Siriano said that deal backed many promoters into a corner. After all, there might be 10, people at a ballpark anxious to see the House of David squad play. Famous House of David ballplayers included Babe Didrikson, who is recognized as one of the greatest female athletes of all time.
The team would play two or sometimes three games a day in heavy wool uniforms, and it might be a few days between showers. Much of the story of the House of David and the way the group used baseball to spread the word of their colony and faith is chronicled in a book Siriano completed in The House of David began playing organized baseball by as a weekend activity drawing impressive crowds at their home field in Benton Harbor, and by they were a regular feature on the American barnstorming circuit. The baseball team served several functions, the two primary purposes being to raise money for the community, but also as a means of recruiting new members to the faith.
The basic tenets of the House of David included physical labor, celibacy, refraining from haircuts and shaving, and a strict vegetarian diet. The athletic teams were seen as a way to develop both the physical and spiritual discipline required by the religion.
Donning a variety of House of David uniforms, and playing with flowing locks of hair and unshaven faces, the team stood out among the many barnstorming operations and their reputation as an excellent baseball team was known throughout North America. By the late s the House of David began hiring professional players to further enhance their program, and included such luminaries as Grover Cleveland Alexander, Chief Bender and Satchel Paige.
While not required to convert to the full faith, these contract players were asked to grow facial hair, or to at least where a false beard. There may have been one exemption to the no shaving rule, as the team signed year-old Virne Beatrice Mitchell to a contract in Known as Jackie, and having earned some fame for striking out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in an earlier exhibition contest, Mitchell became one of the first women if not the first to sign a professional baseball contract.
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This pay scale also serves to indicate the financial value the team held for the colony. The program would expand to include as many as three different teams. However, by the earlys, legal troubles and internal religious differences began to take their toll, and the colony split into several factions, each of whom continued to sponsor baseball teams.
Although mainly consisting of contract players not associated with the religious colonies, the House of David teams would continue to barnstorm throughout North America until the mids. Then, like so many other baseball programs, they faded from national memory.
Artifacts collected by the Hall of Fame pertaining to the House of David barnstorming team.
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