There is not much of a baseball scene in New Orleans since the Zephyrs/Baby Cakes moved to Wichita but oh there is a legacy! This town had a major impact on the game, and it all started 135 years ago this season. A businessman named Toby Hart secured a franchise for the city to play in the fledgling (minor league) Southern Association. The team would be known as the New Orleans Pelicans. Included on the roster was a player named Abner Powell, who was also the team’s captain. Powell was a decent pitcher but what proved to be even more important was that he was a factory-like idea man. No one knew it at the time; in fact, hardly anyone knows about it now, but he would be one of the most important people in the game’s history.
Powell knew that to grow the game’s popularity, the stands would need more than cigar chomping men. There had to be women in the seats, too.
In 1883, the major league New York Giants had established Ladies Day to which, on certain days, females, accompanied by a male, were allowed in free.
Powell convinced the Pelicans’ bosses to establish several Ladies Days spread across the season. Presumably, the sweet smell of perfume could mingle with the smoked leaf aroma of cigars. The idea caught on throughout baseball – but it was popularized in New Orleans.
Because the city rests in a semi-tropical zone, it is prone to scattered showers, especially in the summer. Too many games ended suddenly with home plate being in a puddle. Powell had the idea of covering the infield with a canvas tarpaulin during a rain delay. Now fans could go to the concessions area for a beer with the confidence that the game would be able to continue, at some point.
However, what if the rain lingered and the game had to be cancelled? Irate fans complained that they did not get the amount of baseball that they paid for. Not so in New Orleans. Powell improved the concept of a “rain check.” A game ticket would be perforated and the stub redeemed for another game in the future. Here, too, the baseball world was watching.
In 1887, the Pelicans finished the season 74-40 in the won-loss record, and 3-0 in the great ideas department. The team won the Southern League and Powell was one of the standouts.
He was certainly a man of vision. I wonder if he ever thought that one day the city might have a professional basketball team and that Pelicans would be a good name for that, too.
On this the 135th anniversary of the Pelicans’ name being attached to a New Orleans team, at least that squad never needs to unroll the canvas.
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