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  • Rocky PointA Lone Outpost of Sunday Baseball in Sabbatarian New England
  • Charlie Bevis (bio)

Baseball games played on Sunday at Rocky Point, Rhode Island, from 1891 through 1917 illustrate the dichotomy that Sunday baseball once presented in New England society.

The term Sunday baseball was once as divisive a term as abortion is today, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when the nation struggled with Sunday changing from a day of rest to a day of leisure and ultimately to a day of recreation. Many citizens, particularly the more prosperous and influential ones, held a deep religious conviction that baseball detracted from the sanctity of the biblically specified day of rest. Where Puritan influence was reflected in the statutes, such as the laws of most states in the eastern portion of the country, Sunday laws were used to prohibit professional baseball games.

Before 1900 the Sunday laws posed a huge problem for many people who desired to view a match of the increasingly popular game of professional baseball. At the turn of the century the typical workweek for most working people was at least six days of ten-hour days, with Sunday and the infrequent holi-day the only time off. "Sunday stood in opposition to relentless work for the majority of nineteenth century Americans," Alexis McCrossen wrote in Holy Day, Holiday: The American Sunday. "The six working days blended into one unit—the workweek—in contrast to Sunday, the day of rest."1

Patrons of ballgames played on Monday through Saturday needed to have the flexibility in their work schedules to find the time to attend an afternoon contest, since baseball was then played exclusively during the daytime. Baseball owners appealed to middle-class patrons to fill seats in their ballparks, not only because the middle class had the time and money to attend games but also because they helped deem baseball as respectable recreation. Workers in the burgeoning industries of America generally were excluded from the opportunity to observe a ballgame. As one historian wrote: "The result of an onerous work load was that it was difficult for craftsmen and almost impossible [End Page 78] for unskilled personnel to attend a ball game unless they worked unusual hours like a baker, took time off from work, were unemployed, had a rare holiday, or lived in a city that permitted Sunday baseball."2

In the 1890s the unavailability of Sunday baseball within a 150-mile radius made Rocky Point, Rhode Island, a popular destination for many New England citizens seeking to watch regular games of the Providence Minor League club, as well as exhibition matches with Major League teams. For a quarter century until World War I, Rocky Point was a tiny island of illicit professional baseball on Sunday within the vast New England ocean of strict Puritan observance of a Sunday day of rest.

Open Air and Sunshine

"The same set of laws govern both Providence and Rocky Point and by statute Sunday baseball is illegal," the Washington Post described the situation in 1918. "But the latter happens to be under the jurisdiction of a set of county officials who do not believe that healthful recreation in the open air and sunshine will corrupt the public morals just because it is taken on the first day of the week."3

While Massachusetts law prior to 1929 prohibited the Boston Major League teams in the National and American Leagues from staging games on their home grounds on Sunday, Rhode Island officials permitted a Minor League team in Providence to conduct Sunday games at the Rocky Point resort located fifteen miles south of Providence in Warwick, Rhode Island. Providence played more than 100 Sunday games at Rocky Point in Eastern League competition (which was renamed the International League in 1912) as well as dozens of exhibition games against Major League teams.

"The New England descendants of the Puritans looked down upon the little state of Rhode Island as a sort of annex to Satan's hideout, because the lax officials of that state made it possible for the baseball fans of Providence and vicinity to revel in professional games on Sundays by traveling on crowded excursion boats...