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Barnstorming, baseball, and bluegrass music.

I'd have liked to be a baseball player. I love baseball. But you have to have good eyes to play baseball and my eyes never was good. I could hit good and could've been a good player.

Bill Monroe

In 1963, sportswriter Furman Bisher recalled that "There was a time in this country when every village and crossroad had a baseball team. Some were 'town' teams. Some were 'pickup.'" (1) Despite official opposition, barnstorming among major league ballplayers reached its apex during the first half of the twentieth century. (2) Robert Cole and Thomas Barthel have each documented the mixed character of baseball barnstorming and shown that often those ballplayers engaged local amateur and semiprofessional teams. (3) Musicians and other entertainers also barnstormed during those years, and one group of country musicians in the 1940s and early 1950s featured a baseball team who played local competition.

Bisher reminisced of the rural south, but baseball was popular throughout the country, and local teams were everywhere: many were sandlot groups, some were associated with businesses and industries, and others were composed of accomplished semiprofessionals. The small town of Rosine, Kentucky--where Bill Monroe (1911-96), destined to become known as the "Father of Bluegrass Music," grew up--was no exception. Its team, the Red Legs, survived from the early 1900s until the late 1940s. (4) Although poor eyesight precluded his playing the game as a youth, from the mid-1940s into the early 1950s, Monroe used baseball as a promotional device for his developing musical career.


Although political candidates are sometimes said to barnstorm, the term usually suggests traveling entertainment troupes. Many associate barnstorming with baseball, but different entertainers delivered their wares to the public this way, and they had done so from at least the early 1800s. Barthel's assertion that "Barnstorming is a phenomenon peculiar to baseball and to American sports," is overly restrictive, and the criteria he uses for his Major League Baseball-centric definition of the practice are shaped to support the data he presents. (5) This suspect framework does not diminish the value of those data or his core contention that baseball barnstorming was pursued principally for economic reasons and secondarily for enjoyment, but barnstorming was never the sole province of major leaguers, and the same motives applied to other touring entertainers. (6)

Musician Bill Monroe barnstormed to deliver his music to the public, and for several years, he complemented shows with baseball games. His teams played local competition wherever they toured. He was a barnstormer musically, and he was a baseball barnstormer. His experiment was singular in that it occurred, evidently without precedent, in the field of county music.

But it was not without precedent in the music industry. Many Big Band leaders of the late 1930s and early 1940s, including Cab Calloway, Tommy Dorsey, Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong, and Harry James, employed ballplayers to supplement their tours. They played against local teams and against each other in what became known as "The Big Band League." But these groups served more as diversions than as a commercial strategy. (7) Aside from the musical genre and the explicit financial motive, what set Monroe's union of baseball and music apart from the Big Bands was having his musicians play ball. (8) In later years, this changed, as he hired men strictly to play baseball.

Barnstorming was a generalized method of disseminating entertainment. Baseball barnstorming--except in the Negro Leagues, where the practice was virtually an institution--typically occurred only when a team's regular season was completed. But players and teams not associated with organized baseball--for example, the House of David teams--often traveled throughout the year. If anything, with respect to the long and diverse tradition of barnstorming, Major League Baseball was an aberration, rather than the norm. Among country musicians, touring had long been a way to entertain, to gain a reputation, to refine skills, and to earn an income. Performers like Monroe, who became established stars with Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, participated in traveling summer tent shows. These tours accord with a general understanding of barnstorming as itinerant entertainment.


Barnstorming is a slippery, amorphous term that carries a lot of baggage. The practice is thought to have arisen with respect to traveling theatrical groups and lecturers of the nineteenth century who carried their products from urban centers to remote, rural locales, often performing in barns. The term soon was applied to various forms of traveling entertainment, many of which were no longer associated with urban, and presumably more sophisticated, America. In the late 1800s, when baseball was becoming a business, and the National League was gaining power, ballplayers from all regions traveled the country, taking on local teams wherever they found them, and they were said to be barnstorming. Many of these were League teams, whose owners often felt no compunction about raiding the best talent of the local teams they played. (9)

This facet of barnstorming receives little attention, and the capers of traveling amateur ballplayers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are seldom discussed. Other traveling groups, such as the various Bloomer Girl teams of the 1890s and early twentieth century, and the House of David teams of the 1920s and 1930s, are generally noted as curiosities. (10) Barbara Gregorich asserts that "all bloomer teams were barnstormers," but Barthel explicitly excludes Bloomer Girls and the House of David as examples of barnstorming "properly understood," namely, the postseason touring of major leaguers." Within his definitional confines, he does admit African American players and teams who competed with, and against, postseason major leaguers. But this begs an obvious question: were the Negro League teams, many of which played more games against local amateur and semi-professional clubs than within their leagues, and did so during league seasons, barnstorming? (12) If not, then what, apart from a seemingly arbitrary definition, with artificial criteria and boundaries, disqualifies them? In fairness to Barthel, Cole and others who have written about barnstorming in baseball similarly limit consideration to postseason major league tours. One reason surely is that data concerning those exist, whereas the data is sparse for amateurs and others, including most Negro League ballplayers. (13) But a lack of citable evidence is not a sufficient reason for restricting our perception of baseball barnstorming in these ways.

Similarly, in light of the term's history, constraining barnstorming as a practice to particular activities, such as baseball and aerial shows, seems indefensible. A generic understanding of barnstorming as itinerant entertainment informs my review of Blue Grass Boys baseball, and the associated method used to promote Bill Monroe's central product (music) is alleged to be a barnstorming activity as well. But apart from nineteenth-century manifestations, the term has not often been extended to traveling musicians, or to other entertainers, and doing so poses challenges to its usefulness. There is a risk of overly generalizing the phenomenon, thereby rendering it so nonspecific that it loses analytical, and even descriptive, power. Should circuses, medicine, minstrel, or tent-repertoire shows, such as those sponsored by the Opry, be considered barnstorming? Where are lines to be drawn? It is difficult to determine markers, and barnstorming is probably one of those terms that defy rigorous definition. Yet, it does convey meaning, if obliquely--much like Justice Potter Stewart's opinion in the 1964 Jacobellis obscenity case that "hard core pornography" was something he could not define, but knew when he saw it. (14)


For several years, Bill Monroe toured with baseball teams composed of band members, hired "roadies," sometimes college, semipro, and a few former professional ballplayers, as an additional attraction to his shows, and those teams competed against local ball clubs.(15) The sport he could not enjoy as a youth had played an important role in his escape from the depression-wracked Kentucky farm economy. When Bill moved to the Chicago area around 1929, his older brother Charlie parlayed his status as a star player on the Sinclair Oil company team to gain his younger brother a job. Both were accomplished musicians (Bill on mandolin, Charlie on guitar), and, in 1934, they decided to see if they could carve out a musical career. They found they could, but by 1938 their partnership ended. Bill soon formed a band he named, with homage to his home state, his Blue Grass Boys, and in November 1939, he successfully auditioned for the Grand Ole Opry. Its summer tours under tents could be lucrative, and Bill joined that circuit in 1941, initially as a secondary act. This was an apprenticeship, and by 1943, Bill was a star attraction. The following year, he led his first tour.

Tent-repertoire performances were remnants of nineteenth-century medicine and minstrel shows, traveling variety showcases of music, with dancers and sideshow comedy acts. If any activity was to be added as a promotional attraction to tours that already included considerable variety, baseball was a natural choice. The game was immensely popular among Monroe's prospective audiences by 1944, when it seems this venture began, and he needed to maximize proceeds from his touring.(16) From August 1942 to November 1944, the American Federation of Musicians was on strike, closing recording studios, and the financial impact was felt deeply. Baseball games preceding performances helped ease the stress, as each activity commanded a separate ticket.

But there is an intriguing history of Monroe's flirtation with baseball before 1944 that reveals his affection for the sport he could not enjoy as a youth.(17) Between 1939 and 1944, his band experienced numerous personnel changes. As Monroe worked to refine his music, he was also seeking to gain an edge on his competitors. Although there is no indication that Monroe contemplated fielding a ball team before he could control his own show, it is notable that two band members hired before 1944 had more than passing baseball abilities, and these talents probably appealed to Monroe. (18) Both played ball for him that year.

In September 1940, Clyde Moody, who had played ball professionally in the mid-1930s with the Class B Asheville Tourists of the Piedmont League, became Monroe's guitarist and lead singer. (19) Moody performed with the band intermittently through 1944. Then, in July 1942, Monroe hired his first banjo player, a man whose credentials included a reputation as an accomplished semipro ballplayer. But David Akeman (known popularly as "Stringbean") was principally a comedian. (20) He remained a Blue Grass Boy until September 1945, and frequently appeared with Monroe as a comedian, ballplayer, and coach in later years. Information regarding Stringbean's career in the year or so before he became a Blue Grass Boy is sketchy, and conditions surrounding his hiring subsequently injected confusion about Monroe's dalliance with baseball.

Monroe later asserted that he hired Stringbean because "I Just wanted to get a feller that could sing and not play too much banjo, just to fill in with it and let them hear the sound of the banjo." (21) Elsewhere, he stated that "I wanted the five-string banjo touch and Stringbean was the only man around.: (22) That claim seems disingenuous. In 1943, Monroe auditioned Don Reno, a rising banjo talent. But Reno was drafted, and Stringbean remained with the band. Instrumentally, String proved a poor fit as a Blue Grass Boy. He played in an older, two-fingered style and could not keep pace with the band's signature fast, high-energy presentation. But he did provide "the sound of the banjo," he could sing harmonies, he was an accomplished comedian (a talent relished on tours), and he was a good ballplayer. Of these, the least credible argument for his three-year stint would seem to be his instrumental capabilities.

A dearth of data clouds the advent and early character of Blue Grass Boys baseball. But a dense fog descended on this already hazy understanding with the 1982 publication of an article about Stringbean. For that article, the esteemed historian of American vernacular music Charles K. Wolfe interviewed Robert Akeman, Stringbean's youngest brother, who advanced the opinion that Monroe had hired String principally as a baseball player. "Bill went up there to get him to play baseball for his team. He first hired him as a baseball pitcher. Bill didn't even know that he played banjo when he hired him."(23) This assertion seems patently mistaken, since Stringbean became a Blue Grass Boy two years before Monroe fielded a ball team, but the claim unfortunately has been perpetuated.(24) Nonetheless, he was a valuable asset on stage and on the ball field.


In the baseball literature, there is limited understanding that barnstorming was not strictly a postseason practice of major leaguers. Robert Cole noted that minor league teams toured this way during the 1930s, and he also pointed to barnstorming by amateurs, especially in baseball's unorganized era, when town teams would travel to engage clubs in other towns."(25) It might be argued that the House of David teams exemplified the latter, although their claim to amateur status is compromised by their recruitment of major league "ringers" like Grover Cleveland Alexander and Chief (Charles) Bender.(26)

A similar challenge could be brought against Bill Monroe's postwar teams, when he was hiring players, some of whom had been, or would become, baseball professionals. But, unless one considers the 1944 participation of Clyde Moody to have breached their amateur standing, the early Blue Grass Boys' ball teams clearly fit that category, and aspects of the sole testimony regarding those teams echo Hall of Famer "Wahoo" Sam Crawford's recollections of his amateur travels during the 1880s. Crawford said that "One of our boys was a cornet player, and when we'd come to a town he'd whip out that cornet and sound off. People would come out to see what was going on, and we'd announce that we were the Wahoo team and were ready for a ball game ...,"(27)

Jim Shumate, Monroe's fiddler in 1945, provided a description of Blue Grass Boys baseball, and the way games were arranged, that does not seem to have differed greatly from Crawford's day.

We had quite a ball team back then. We'd go to town early, usually around three or four o'clock. I'd go the pool hall or somewhere where I could find some young guys and ask them if they had a ball team there in town. Most of them did, and I'd tell 'em who we was and that we had a bluegrass team and we'd like to challenge 'em. Oh man! They'd get busy and get their gang together and meet us at the field. Sometimes we had good crowds just for a ball game. We had a lot of fun. We played for keeps and had a good team. We had uniforms and everything." (28)

The only additional evidence of early Blue Grass Boys baseball is an often republished photograph of the band in their uniforms from 1944.

It appears that baseball was on a two-year hiatus from 1946-47, the years of Monroe's most famous band, featuring Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt. That group was exceptionally busy, with a return to the studio following the strike settlement and an intense personal appearance schedule. They also traveled with other high-draw country entertainers, such as Hank Williams, Hank Snow, and Ernest Tubb, in the newly-established Opry format of "hit-star" package tours. There is no indication that baseball was played those two years. (29)


Early in 1948, all members of this "classic" band left, and Monroe had to assemble a new group. He did this quickly, and banjoist Don Reno was the first to sign on. From Reno, we know that, although no longer the extravaganzas of earlier years, Monroe resumed his tent show and again featured baseball. But he was now hiring men to play ball, and he was not traveling with a road crew. Reno said that he, Monroe, and guitarist Joel Price usually handled the raising and lowering of the tent themselves. Combined with musical performances, playing ball, and doing much of the driving, he recalled the exhausting nature of the regimen: "[H]e liked to kill me playing ball. We would work a show one night and drive to the next town, and usually get in at an early morning hour, and he'd have a ball game set up by ten o'clock with the local team!" (30)


Reno also observed that "Bill was more interested in ball than he was in music at this time. I reckon this was a way of resting his mind from music." (31) Monroe was so involved that he formed a second team, based in Nashville, composed of local sandlot and Vanderbilt University players, and he again traveled with a ball team in 1949. (32) Most players were hired strictly to play baseball. Ad copy from Billboard magazine for April 10, 1949, stated that

Bill Monroe will carry a baseball team with him again this summer in conjunction with his personal appearance tour. Monroe intends to line up 15 players, some of who will double in his show, to play all comers on afternoon dates, with his show set for the evening. (33)

But this is not quite how the season played out. The juxtaposition of the show and baseball was reversed. Monroe described the scenario:

When we came to town the ballclub would get out early and practice up until about seven-thirty and then the show would go on and it would go on for about half an hour before the game would start. And the game would start at eight o'clock. (34)

The show was now shorter than in the past, though newspaper advertisements allotted an hour for the music and comedy portion. Baseball was now commanding a considerably greater percentage of the entertainment package.

The tent did not survive 1948. From 1949 onwards, summer shows and ball games took place in the open air of host ballparks. The incredible baseball boom following the war led many towns to replenish old fields with more suitable facilities, some used by minor league teams, which had proliferated like proverbial rabbits (though that rapid growth would soon prove unsustainable). (35) Guitarist and lead singer Jimmy Martin said that "we usually would sing and play on the pitching mound .... And, when we'd get through playing we would take it all down and start playing ball." (36)

Operating in a setting where his dual activities could not command separate tickets, Monroe needed to economize. There were fewer supporting entertainers, and the show was compressed accordingly, but he also had baseball players to pay. Crowds were usually strong in 1949, but the take at the ticket window was proportionately less. His solution was to reduce reliance on outside performers and bolster his retinue with musicians who could keep his show, and his ball games, active when he was away. He needed all the revenue he could muster, and forming a new group, the Shenandoah Valley Trio, was his answer. (37) Monroe told Rooney that

We played about six games a week. Saturdays I would have to go into Nashville to play the Opry. But if the Shenandoah Valley Trio was out and there was enough show, then they would go right ahead and play seven days a week. Wasn't no trouble to get plenty of bookings. (38)

Bookings were prevalent in 1950 too, and by then Monroe had an advance man to make arrangements. But attracting large crowds became increasingly difficult. Entertainment tastes and opportunities were beginning to change.

What we know of 1950 (with any certainty) comes from a hired ballplayer named Russell Petty. (39) His account supports what we have been able to say of 1949. From Petty, we learn that Jimmy Martin and Stringbean were not on the tour, that the Nashville-based team had apparently dissolved, and that (despite Monroe's later assertions) the traveling team did not have a specific name. Petty also confirmed Martin's statement that the band played on the ball field before the game, and that Monroe was an actively encouraging presence, but that musicians did not play ball. Petty could not recall any other players' names, though he did say that some had played at advanced levels of minor league baseball.


No records were kept of these casual exhibitions, but Monroe's 1950 song book reports that the 1949 team had an 80-50 record. (40) Petty said of 1950, "Oh, we had a real good ball team. I'd say 80-85% of the games we won." (41) Superlatives also came from Monroe and his banjo player of the time, Rudy Lyle. Monroe told Rooney

The club I had on the road I don't think was beat but only a couple or three times all season. They was really a wonderful club. There was a couple of teams in Kentucky and West Virginia that beat 'em. And the umpire beat 'em one place in Kentucky and one place in West Virginia. You know, you can't beat an umpire. (42)

Lyle's comments were similar, and he mentioned three pitchers.

Bill had the baseball team, the Blue Grass All-Stars. They were made of a group of guys that played good baseball. I mean good baseball. Some of them went on to the majors .... Bill would always let Stringbean start out pitching. Then if they got too hot on him and start beating us he would call in his other pitchers like G. W. Wilkerson. They called him Ziggy, he was great .... One of the other pitchers was Roy Pardue from there in Nashville .... They were all great. String was really playing ball. He was a super pitcher but he lacked a little bit of the speed that Ziggy and Roy could put on it. He was a good straight honest pitcher and loved baseball.43

Monroe added a few more names, including his guitarist and shortstop, Jackie Phelps.

We had some good names in our ballclub. We had Jim Kirby who played for the Cubs--he played center field for us. And we had a fellow by the name of Mac Faron who played for the Cotton Belt in Arkansas. And a catcher named Allen who caught for Bluefield, West Virginia, in the Appalachian League. We had pitchers who were scouted by Pittsburgh and the St. Louis Cardinals. (44)

Lyle's contention that "some ... went on to the majors" cannot be confirmed, and of those mentioned, only one ever played at that level. Jim Kirby had played in the Class A Texas League from 1946-48, and was signed by the Chicago Cubs in 1949. He had "a cup of coffee" in the majors from May 1-13 that year, appearing in three games, with no time in the field, one walk, and one hit in three official at-bats. He was then assigned to the Nashville Vols of the Class AA Southern Association, and he left professional baseball in 1957. (45)

Nothing is known about the "catcher named Allen," but the Bluefield Blue-Grays was a class D team at the time. Monroe probably referred to the Class C Cotton States League when he mentioned Mac Faron, and there were three Arkansas towns--El Dorado, Pine Bluff, and Hot Springs--that had entries in that league when Faron likely played. We have no further information about either player.

We do know about Roy Pardue, though nothing that pinpoints which season he pitched for the Blue Grass Boys' team. His professional career came later. He played with the Nashville Vols in 1952, and from 1955-57. His appearances in 1952 and 1957 were brief and undistinguished, but in 1955 he posted a 17-10 record with a 4.34 ERA, and the next year went 12-12, with a 4.01 ERA. (46) In late 1956, he was signed by Havana (then known as the "Sugar Kings"), of the AAA International League, and pitched in one game. On a staff boasting future major league stars Orlando Pena and Mike Cuellar, his appearance was dismal. In one inning, he struck out the side but walked as many and allowed nine runs. (47)

Information regarding Blue Grass Boys baseball after 1950 is indirect and inferential at best, but a team was probably fielded in 1951. If Petty was right, Martin's recollections could not have been of an earlier year, and he might even have been remembering 1952. There is one mention in the secondary literature that suggests ball was played in 1952. Charlie Cline, who joined the band as a fiddler and recorded with Monroe that July, is mentioned as a Blue Grass Boy who had played baseball. (48)

As a touring attraction, Blue Grass Boys baseball was definitely finished after 1952--if it lasted that long. In January 1953, Monroe was seriously injured in a head-on automobile collision. He was hospitalized for weeks, and his recovery was slow. He resumed performing in a few months, but it was some time before he could recommence a full schedule. The summer of 1953 saw no touring. His union of music and baseball had come to a close. (49) It would likely not have continued much longer in any event. Commercial for tunes were ebbing, the entertainment landscape was shifting, and Monroe was considering alternative performance venues. In 1951, he and his brother Birch had placed a down payment on an old country music park known as the Brown County Jamboree in Bean Blossom, Indiana, and Bill was looking toward it as his performance center.


At the onset of a short article about the House of David ball teams, C. Philip Francis noted that "the word barnstorming is seldom used today." (50) Its time as a promotional practice, notwithstanding the particular entertainment activity to which it might be applied, has passed. Aerial barnstorming (with which the term most often is identified) was a short-lived post-World War I activity that faded from the scene by 1927. (51) Baseball barnstorming was experiencing ill health by the mid-1950s, and was on death watch by the end of the decade. (52) If one admits the term to the field of country music, barn-storming's demise was sealed in the late 1940s, when the Opry shifted its promotional focus to multistar package shows. Barnstorming tours continued for a time, but after the early 1950s, their character, and their significance, had shifted radically.

Explanations for the demise of barnstorming in baseball and country music are similar, each citing complex social and economic changes that characterized the onset of the new decade and continued to its close (and beyond). Many were direct, albeit latent, effects of World War II, the country's rebounding from its stresses and privations, and industrial and technological advances the war had spawned. Although barnstorming never had been an exclusive province of urban-to-rural cultural transmission, as many discussions imply, that had always been a characteristic. In the new decade, rural America became less isolated, as increasing affluence, the postwar baby boom, and the growth of suburbs conspired to draw people away from central cities. These shifts made for a more mobile society and prodded the development of the new interstate highway system. At the same time, the rise and expansion of television brought entertainment into homes, impacting that industry in ways radio never had. New opportunity structures in almost all aspects of American society brought new public preferences and behaviors. Nowhere were these shifts felt more acutely than in the entertainment industry, and live entertainment of all sorts suffered. Adjustments were necessary, and barnstorming was not part of this new scenario.

The popular decline of professional baseball during the 1950s has been well documented, (53) and the struggles of country musicians to survive the onslaughts of rhythm and blues, followed by rock and roll, are also well understood. In neither entertainment arena could barnstorming be successful, and in both it died. Each activity would eventually recoup its losses, but barnstorming, as it had occurred for decades, could never again be a viable performance strategy.

Baseball and Bill Monroe's music coexisted as an entertainment tandem for several years, yet information regarding the phenomenon remains scanty. Scholarly attention to this music was slow in coming, and when it finally did, it (rightly) focused on the music itself, not on details of Monroe's early barnstorming activities. In most respects, historians and folklorists have provided a quite satisfying understanding of the early development of blue-grass. But neither journalism nor the popular press ever regarded the subject addressed in this paper as more than a curiosity, and scholarly interest in this singular entertainment association has never peaked. Yet, it is a story worth relating and interpreting.


I thank John Herd Thompson of Duke University for his encouragement and advice. Epigraph. James Rooney, Bossmen: Bill Monroe and Muddy Waters (New York: Dial Press, 1971), 56.

(1.) Furman Bisher, "Last Blow to the Minors," Baseball Digest, September 1963, 55.

(2.) Owners had long decried the practice because they had nothing to gain, and (they argued) much to lose, should a player be injured. In 1910, American League President Ban Johnson announced a new contractual clause forbidding barnstorming, as a practice not in the interests of organized baseball, stating, "It doesn't look good for a professional baseball player to be beaten by an amateur or a semi-professional. It discredits the league players, and if they are defeated causes remarks to be made about their inability to beat a town nine" ("Barnstorming in Baseball," New York Times, January 19, 1910, An edict issued in 1914 officially banned postseason major-league barnstorming. Newly-elected Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a "hard-liner" and staunch defender of baseball's color line, invoked it in 1921 against Babe Ruth (and others), principally in response to Ruth's having played against Negro League teams following the 1920 season. But, the edict was generally more ignored than enforced, until it was finally repealed by Landis's successor, Happy Chandler, following the 1944 season. Thereafter, Major League Baseball sanctioned barnstorming but retained the authority to dictate when it would be allowed to occur.

(3.) Robert Cole, "Ersatz Octobers: Baseball Barnstorming," in Baseball History: An Annual of Original Baseball Research, vol. 4, ed. Peter Levine (Westport, CT: Meckler, 1992); Thomas Barthel, Baseball Barnstorming and Exhibition Games, 1901-1962: A History of Off-Season Major League Play (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007).

(4.) In the late 1940s, one of Bill's older brothers, Speed, managed the team. Speed's daughter Rosetta died in 2005 at her home, a little white house next to the ball field (

(5.) Barthel, Baseball Barnstorming and Exhibition Games, 3.

(6.) In the literature, the activities that have gained most attention as barnstorming are traveling aerial stunt shows during the 1920s. That such a relatively shortlived practice is so widely identified as barnstorming (not just as an instance of barnstorming) speaks volumes about relationships among history, language, and popular culture.

(7.) Cab Calloway's former band member Benny Payne asserted that their team boosted morale during long, tiring tours (Tom Nolan, "A Sick but Stunted Star," review of Trumpet Blues: The Life of Harry James, by Peter J. Levinson, January Magazine blog, posted January 2000, petblues.html; Neil V. Rosenberg, Bluegrass: A History [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985], 60).

(8.) The sparse literature does suggest that performers occasionally played ball and that Harry James in particular considered baseball ability in his hiring. But these seem to have been exceptions.

(9.) Neil J. Sullivan, The Minors: The Struggles and the Triumph of Baseball's Poor Relation from 1976 to the Present (New York: St. Martin's, 1990), 11. Some years later, Negro League barnstormers would similarly recruit local star players (Leslie A. Heaphy, The Negro Leagues, 1869-1960 [Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2003], 153).

(10.) Bloomer Girl teams--each of which included at least one man (Smoky Joe Wood and Rogers Hornsby are two who began their professional careers on such teams)--were truly itinerant, having no home ballpark and belonging to no league. House of David teams, which also sometimes featured professional ballplayers, had a commune in Benton Harbor, Michigan, from which they traveled to compete against amateur, semiprofessional, and professional teams. But that they were a religious cult and that their ballplaying members sported beards (in which they sometimes hid baseballs) is what attracts most attention.

(11.) Barbara Gregorich, Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball (San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1993), 12; Barthel, Baseball Barnstorming and Exhibition Games, 9.

(12.) It was not unusual for Negro League clubs to play over one hundred barnstorming games each season, in addition to the forty to sixty scheduled league games (Heaphy, Negro Leagues, 149).

(13.) Much of what is known of Negro League barnstorming rests on memories of players and fans, as it does for Blue Grass Boys baseball (Heaphy, Negro Leagues, 155).

(14.) Jacobellis v. Ohio, 478 U.S. 184 (1964). Relying on the 1957 decision in Roth v. United States, the court overturned Ohio's ruling that the film Les Amants, judged obscene by the state of Ohio, could thus be censored. Stewart's famous statement was:
  I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I
  understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard
  core pornography"]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly
  doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture
  involved in this case is not that. It bears noting that nine years
  later in Miller v. California, Stewart recanted his Jacobellis
  opinion, terming it untenable.

(15.) Information is sparse, and the evidence that can be brought to bear must be examined critically. Fragmentary personal testimonies that often lack distinct temporal reference and frequently smack of rhetorical hyperbole, together with secondary reports that draw selectively from those testimonies, are suboptimal data. Unless one works with this imperfect evidence, a story worth telling would be lost.

(16.) Thomas Ewing, in his article "Howard Watts: Better Known as Cedric Rainwater," Bluegrass Unlimited, May 2002, 46, convincingly argued that the ball team first appeared as an attraction in 1944, the first year Monroe controlled his own tent show.

(17.) By the early 1930s, Monroe had undergone surgery that partially corrected his vision, and his recollections of his job unloading and cleaning empty barrels at Sinclair Oil drew on a baseball analogy. "I got to where I could throw a drum like you'd throw a baseball, right-handed or left-handed, so it would slide right up to the next man, and he could throw it on farther" (John Rumble, The Music of Bill Monroe from 1936-1994, booklet for compact disc box set, MCA-MDAD4-11048 [Universal City, CA: MCA, 1994], 15; Cf. Rooney, Bossmen, 26). According to Boyden Carpenter, a comedian who performed with the Monroe Brothers in 1937, "A lot of times they [Bill and Charlie] liked to play ball before the shows" (Neil V. Rosenberg and Charles K. Wolfe, The Music of Bill Monroe [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007], 13).

(18.) Bob Black, Blue Grass Boys' banjoist from August 1974 to August 1976, recalled that "Bill often told me how [in the 1940s) his selection of band members would be based more on their baseball talent than their musical ability." It bears noting that he described the baseball-music pattern of Monroe's tent show days (1944-45, and possibly 1948), not the reversed pattern of 1949, onwards (Bob Black, Come Hither to Go Yonder: Playing Bluegrass with Bill Monroe [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2005], 57). In later years, Monroe made many statements of questionable veracity about his past, but this may hold as much truth as fiction, considering that, in those years, talented musicians clamored to join his band.

(19.) Just when Moody played for Asheville is uncertain. He was playing music professionally with a childhood friend, J. Hugh Hall, by 1933. In 1937 he was playing fulltime with Wade Mainers Sons of the Mountaineers. He played ball two consecutive seasons and was a power pitcher with control problems, who had a decent debut but a poor sophomore outing (Ivan M. Tribe and John W. Morris, "Clyde Moody: Old-Time, Bluegrass & Country Musician," Bluegrass Unlimited, July 1975, 28). We know that the Tourists disbanded in July 1932 (when Moody was 17), and did not reform until 1934, when the Columbia, South Carolina, team was moved to Asheville, so 1934 and 1935 (or 1935 and 1936) seem likely (Wikipedia, s.v. "Asheville Tourists,"

(20.) A lanky man, Akeman was known as "String Beans." Later this became "Stringbean"; by friends, he was simply called "String."

(21.) Rumble, Music of Bill Monroe, 29.

(22.) Rooney, Bossmen, 41.

(23.) Charles K. Wolfe, "String," Bluegrass Unlimited, June 1982, 48.

(24.) Richard D. Smith, Can't You Hear Me Callin': The Life of Bill Monroe, Father of Bluegrass (Boston: Little, Brown, 2000), 72. As a biographer, Smith might be expected to have critically considered Robert Akeman's assertion, especially since Monroe had stated that it was Stringbean who had written asking for a job with the band (Rooney, Bossmen, 36).

(25.) Cole, "Ersatz Octobers," 89.

(26.) Babe Didrikson Zaharias and Satchel Paige also played for a House of David team at one time or another, and both unquestionably were professional athletes.

(27.) Lawrence S. Ritter, The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball, Told by the Men Who Played It (New York: Macmillan, 1966), 67. Others interviewed by Ritter, including "Smoky" Joe Wood and Edd Roush (a member of the 1919 "Black Sox" team), mentioned touring as amateurs. Rube Marquard reported traveling with the Cleveland Bronchos (in the Nap Lajoie era), when he was about thirteen: "After the regular season was over, a lot of them would barnstorm around the Cleveland area, and sometimes I'd be their bat boy" (Ritter, Glory of Their Times, 2).

(28.) Wayne Erbsen, "Jim Shumate, Bluegrass Fiddler Supreme," in The Bluegrass Reader, ed. Thomas Goldsmith (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 113. Erbsen's piece was originally published in Bluegrass Unlimited, April 1979 and is also available at

(29.) In the immediate post-war years, baseball was everywhere in America, and the public clamored for the sport. Certainly, there was money to be made in continuing the baseball team. Baseball at all levels was thriving, as William Marshall documented in Baseball's Pivotal Era, 1945-1951 (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1999). No other reasons seem to explain a hiatus at that time.

(30.) Rooney, Bossmen, 59.

(31.) Rooney, Bossmen, 59.

(32.) Whether this Nashville team was formed in 1948 or 1949 is uncertain, and it does not seem to have had a relationship with his traveling team, although some men may have played for each. It did not last long and was disbanded probably by 1950.

(33.) Don Cusic, Baseball and Country Music (Madison, WI: Popular Press, 2002), 55-56.

(34.) Rooney, Bossmen, 58.

(35.) Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, eds., The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (Durham, NC: Baseball America, 1993), 219; Marshall, Baseball's Pivotal Era, 255ff.

(36.) Derek Halsey, "Jimmy Martin--Mr. Good 'n Country, the King of Bluegrass,", June 2005, Martin's brief testimony is a prototype of the sort of recollection that simultaneously informs and obscures. He was hired in late December 1949, so he could not have been speaking of a summer before 1950. But he was as frequently away from Monroe as with him (even during recording sessions), and according to the statement of a ballplayer reviewed below--who knew Martin personally--he evidently did not travel on the 1950 tour. If so, this is, ironically, the most solid indicator in the literature that base ball continued after 1950. Indeed, unless he quite seriously conflated experiences as a Blue Grass Boy throughout the years (a distinct possibility), he may well have been referring to 1952.

(37.) The trio was a fluid group of musicians who could spell a regular band member when the need arose, and which provided its own segment during shows, offering a more "mainstream" country sound. In 1949, at least, some members also played ball occasionally. Monroe also had former Blue Grass Boys as supplementary performers, including Doyle Wright and Jack Thompson, and he often featured G. W. Wilkerson--a singer who also pitched on the ball team. And, of course, there was Stringbean, who was his star supplementary entertainer.

(38.) Rooney, Bossmen, 58.

(39.) Musician and writer Dick Bowden reported his interview with Petty in his article "Russell Petty: One of the Blue Grass 'Boys of Summer' Or The Crowds Wouldn't. Have Come if They Didn't Like the Music," Bluegrass Unlimited, March 1995, 30-34.

(40.) Cusic, Baseball and Country Music, 56.

(41.) Bowden, "Russell Petty," 33.

(42.) Rooney, Bossmen, 56-57.

(43.) Doug Hutchens, "Rudy Lyle--Classic Bluegrass Banjo Man," in Goldsmith, Bluegrass Reader, 119-20; this was originally published in Bluegrass Unlimited, April 1985.

(44.) Rooney, Bossmen, 58. The mention of Phelps indicates that Monroe was recalling people who played in different years. Phelps was with the band in 1948 only; Wilkerson might have been on the tour that year, but we know he was in 1949. We have no certainty when the others played.

(45.) Hy Turkin and S. C. Thompson, The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball (New York: Barnes, 1963). See also, and the August 8, 2005 entry at

(46.) Marshall D. Wright, The Southern Association in Baseball, 1855-1961 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2002). The Nashville Vols's Web site provides helpful information but mistakenly states that Pardue played there in 1952-53 and 1956-57 (see the August 8, 2005 entry at He likely played elsewhere before debuting with Nashville, and also from 1954-55.

(47.) Jorge S. Figuerdo, Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2003).

(48.) John Bowman and Joel Zoss, Diamonds in the Rough: The Untold History of Baseball (New York: Macmillan, 1989), 382. This claim cannot be dismissed, though the evidence is that only hired men played ball after 1949. If Cline did play, it suggests Monroe was "pulling out all stops" to keep the activity alive.

(49.) The demise of his ball team did not end Monroe's love affair with the game. Lyle reported playing ball with Monroe at "Long Hollow," the farm outside Nashville Bill purchased in 1954 (Hutchens, "Rudy Lyle," 120). Lyle was then in his second stint as a Blue Grass Boy. And, some twenty years later, it seems the fire lingered. Black noted having played catch with Monroe (who then was in his mid-60s), and that his bus typically was loaded with baseball equipment (Black, Come Hither to Go Yonder, 57).

(50.) C. Philip Francis, "Balls, Bats, Beards, and Barnstorming," Chatter from the Dugout blog, posted May 1, 2006,

(51.) Marisa Brook, "Barnstorming", Damn, August 14, 2006,

(52.) Cole ("Ersatz Octobers," 98) and Barthel (Baseball Barnstorming and Exhibition Games, 192) agree that the death rattle of baseball barnstorming came in 1962. Less than a year before Furman Bisher's nostalgic article was published, Willie Mays led a postseason tour that proved to be major league barnstorming's final gasp. The trip was aborted after four games.

(53.) Charles C. Alexander, Our Game: An American Baseball History (New York: Holt, 1991), 217ff; Marshall, Baseball's Pivotal Era, 426ff; Sullivan, Minors, 235ff.
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Title Annotation:Bill Monroe and baseball
Author:Jackson, David K.
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2009
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