“Father of Sunday Ball”

22 Jan

After becoming president of the Waco Tigers in the Texas League, Henry Fabian allowed himself to be arrested in order to challenge a law that was costing Texas League owners money: The blue law that didn’t allow them to play games on Sunday.

The state statute forbade “Sunday amusements” that charged admission.  Texas League teams had lost money in each previous incarnation of the league and the inability to schedule games on Sunday was a contributing factor.

Whether challenging the law was part of Fabian’s plan from the beginning is unknown, but by June his Tigers had played three Sunday home games, and three times Fabian was arrested for violating the statute, posting $60 bond on each occasion.

After being found guilty at the local level Fabian challenged the statute in Texas’ Court of Criminal appeals, arguing that the law was passed before baseball became a professional sport and did not apply to the game.  The court ruled in Fabian’s favor, and while local ordinances still prevented Sunday games in Dallas, Sunday baseball became the norm in the Texas League. In his obituary, 35 years later, The Dallas Morning News’ headline called Fabian “Father of Sunday Ball.”

Fabian sold the Waco club to local businessmen in 1906 and took a job with a sporting goods company, but it was his interest in ballpark design and grounds keeping that would become his vocation.

Fabian participated in the layout and design of several local ballparks in Texas from 1888-1910, and was credited with creating the first “ Turtle-back diamond” at Oak Cliff Park, the Dallas Hams’ home field in 1888.  The pitched design and elevated pitcher’s mound allowed for quick drainage.

By 1910 Fabian had designed diamonds in Dallas, Waco, Galveston, New Orleans and Atlanta, when he was hired as head groundskeeper for the Saint Louis Browns.  He stayed with the Browns for three seasons until his old friend John McGraw hired him to be the groundskeeper for the New York Giants

By 1915 The Sporting Life said:

“Visiting ballplayers declare that the diamond Henry Fabian has built up at the Polo Grounds is the best in the country.”

Fabian was considered the premier groundskeeper in baseball for the next 25 years and in 1939 he was put in charge of the Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) project to prepare Doubleday Field in Cooperstown for baseball’s centennial celebration.

Doubleday Field renovation, 1939

Doubleday Field renovation, 1939

Fabian died the following year on February 25, six years to the day after the death of his friend John McGraw.

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