Sports have been engrained in college life in the United States since the early 1860s, and in those early years the sport of choice was baseball. It was no different on the Ames campus where games were played between classes, students and faculty, and exhibitions with other Iowa colleges.
In March 1892 Iowa Agricultural College (Iowa State University), the State University (University of Iowa), Grinnell College, and Drake University joined together to form the Iowa Intercollegiate Baseball Association (IIBBA), and a year later Cornell College joined the league. A $40 silver bat was purchased to keep the competitive spirits burning with each yearly state champion to temporarily retain the bat, and permanently if a team kept it for three consecutive years.
The inaugural season of the IIBBA in 1892 saw IAC capture the silver bat, through wins over Grinnell 8-5, Drake 20-1, and State University 10-2. They also played two games against Highland Park College of Des Moines, winning both. The 1893 season started with IAC visiting Mt. Vernon for a game against Cornell College, which IAC won 20-5. Their next two league games saw losses to Grinnell (16-4) and UI (5-4) before finishing out league play with a 16-2 win versus Drake. Additional research shows that all of the teams in the league suffered two losses, with the exception of Grinnell who appears to have only lost to Cornell. Grinnell additionally made claims that the Drake and UI teams brought in ringers; pro players who had not been enrolled in college classes. Interestingly though, league officials couldn’t decide on a league champion, and the bat stayed with IAC.
The 1894 season only saw IAC play one league game as they struggled to field a team after losing most of the starters from the previous season, and were soundly beaten by Grinnell 29-8. Grinnell having won all other league games obtained the silver bat. It would be 10 years before it would return to Iowa State’s possession. The 1903 season saw Iowa State and Grinnell both enter the season finale with 4-1 records, but rainy weather prevented a game to be played. Initially it was agreed that a game would be played in the fall to decide the conference champion, but Grinnell pulled out of the agreement under the premise that the players were committed to the football team and couldn’t be torn away to play a baseball game. They ended up playing a championship game in May 1904 with Iowa State winning 11-0. The 1904 season would see Iowa State go undefeated in league play and retain the bat.
By spring of 1905 tensions in the IIBBA were starting to surface again. At a manager’s meeting in February University of Iowa representatives suggested conference rules, which prohibited professionalism. Specifically, UI officials were looking at Iowa State ace pitcher and team captain Charles “Buster” Brown, who like many other players during those days played semi-pro or pro ball during the off-season. Ironically there were a number of U of Iowa players who had professional ties, but they felt these players were not at the level of Brown, who was believed to have Major League potential (in fact, he would go on to play with the St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies, and Boston Braves). UI threatened to withdraw from the league if Brown were allowed to play, following through before the season started, joined by Cornell. Ironically, Brown missed much of the season battling an illness.
With the essential folding of the IIBBA, and with Iowa State having been the holders of the bat from the previous season, the bat remained in Iowa State possession. Questions arose on the owners of the bat, and it was placed in a vault in Beardshear Hall by Treasurer Herman Knapp. For close to the next 30 years, the bat was lost to the annals of history until a story in the April 1935 issues of The Alumnus brought the bat back to light, though it again soon slipped from the collective memory. In 1980, work began on the installation of an automated filing system in the vault, and the silver bat was unearthed and eventually made its was to Special Collections and University Archives. Additional information can be found in the Iowa State University Baseball records (RS 24/4).
Engravings on Silver Bat:
* The 1894 engraving does not match up with the historical record, which shows that Grinnell won the bat that year. Additionally, the 1892 and the 1903-1904 champions are missing from the bat.