When Is The Next University Of Georgia Football Game Who Invented T-Ball?

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Who Invented T-Ball?

“I won’t be happy until we have every boy in America between the ages of six and sixteen wearing a glove and swinging a bat.”

Babe Ruth

On May 6, 2001, the Capitol City League Rockies and the Satchel Paige League Memphis Red Sox of the Washington, DC area took the field to play each other in a game of t-ball. What made this t-ball game different from any other game was the fact that it was played on the South Lawn of the White House. President George W. Bush started this t-ball game on the South Lawn to promote the health and fitness of young people and show respect for the game of baseball. This is probably my favorite activity produced by the US government. No debate, no filibuster, no veto or circumvention. Just t-ball baseball where presidents walked around and thought about decisions that would change the world. When I drive past an empty baseball field in my car on a nice day, I always think to myself, what a waste. A beautiful field, empty with no one in it. Now we have a tradition every year on the White House lawn. You don’t have to be a Democrat, Republican, or Independent to see that this is a bipartisan issue, and a good one at that. How did the game of t-ball get from obscurity to the White House lawn? Well, the origin of t-ball has several different stories.

One theory is that Brooklyn Dodgers big owner Branch Rickey is the creator of the actual batting shirt model. Branch Rickey, always thinking ahead about his team and baseball, helped create the minor league system and had a hand in creating the batting helmet. He allegedly introduced a flexible sleeve that came from a car engine radiator hose. Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges and other Dodgers are said to have honed their skills on this men’s batting shirt. This may have been the original model for others who claimed to have invented and organized the game of t-ball.

The actual organization of t-ball as an activity has been claimed by numerous people and locations across the country. The town of Warner Robins, Georgia was one of the first, if not the first, to have an organized t-ball league. Claude Lewis, director of recreation at Warner Robins (Ga.), founded the t-ball league in March 1958. According to an interview he gave, about 100 parents came to Claude requesting some type of baseball activity for younger children. Claude claims to have set the rules and helped spread the game of t-ball around the world, even flying to England and Israel to introduce the game to other countries and teach them how to play t-ball. I was lucky enough to speak on the phone with Claude’s daughter, who makes these calls to her elderly dad. Marie was kind enough to spend time going through how Claude Louis got involved in t-ball. Interestingly, Claude’s high school baseball coach in the mid-to-late 1940s had his team hit balls from wooden planks into the school bleachers. Claude remembered this and, either by his own thoughts, or perhaps hearing what Branch Rickey had done with the hose from the car radiator, developed a gauntlet. When it kept breaking, he inserted something into the inside of the intestine. His friend, a welder, helped him refine it to his liking, making it easy to transport. Claude Louis was a giving man who was always looking for innovations for sports. He was invited to the White House to attend t-ball activities on the South Lawn of the White House and met with President George W. Bush.

Another theory about the origin of t-ball credits Dayton Hobbs, who got the idea after noticing groups of young kids enviously watching his 14- and 15-year-old team practice. Dr. Hobbs was the principal of an elementary school in Baghdad, Florida near Pensacola. He had been coaching baseball since the 1950s, so he decided to organize the game for the young kids by having them hit the ball off the bat. Not only did Dr. Hobson trademark the Tee Ball, he also wrote the first Official Baseball Rulebook for the Tee Ball.

Another theory claims that in Starkville, Mississippi, two Rotarians, Dr. Clyde Muse and W. V. Littlejohn, added t-ball to their town’s summer program to help keep younger kids busy with an activity. Because of the highly successful Babe Ruth League with over 300 kids participating, in 1960 both Dr. Muse and Professor Littlejohn were desperate to come up with a modified baseball game that kids would love and play successfully. The story goes that Dr. Muse was in Professor Littlejohn’s office and began writing the rules of how the game of t-ball should be played. They decided that throwing pitchers to really young kids didn’t make sense and that it would be better for players to hit a static ball because the kids would have more success and allow for faster development. They then presented the rules to the Starkville Junior Baseball Association and they endorsed the game and the rules and in the summer of 1961 t-ball began in Starkville, Mississippi.

Finally, in Albion, Michigan, t-ball is said to have been created by coach Jerry Sacharski. He was a baseball coach who came up with the game in the summer of 1956. I called and spoke with one of his children, Mike Sacharski, who told me some great facts about his father. Mike told me that his dad created this program because the brothers of the kids on the teams wanted something to do at a young age. He equipped the game for youngsters between six and eight years old. It was originally called Pee Vee Baseball. Coach Jerry Sacharski wanted to teach kids the fundamentals of regular baseball and couldn’t bear to turn real young kids away from playing baseball because of their age. Mike told me that at first his dad just wanted the kids to learn the basics of fielding, pitching and base running. Hitting was just thinking. Coach Jerry Sacharski felt that the umpire would have thrown the balls out as if they had been hit. It soon evolved into kids hitting the ball off a ball that was obtained from a neighboring town in Michigan. Jerry would go to the store and try to perfect the batting shirt so it was easier to transport. Frank Pasic, who is the historian at Albion and played t-ball in 1960, tells of how they played a televised Michigan State University game. Mike Sacharski also explained how his family never got into any kind of battle over the origins of t-ball and considers his father the “Pioneer” of the game.

I guess we’ll never know the true inventor of organized t-ball. It appears to have been played in Canada in the late 1950s and early 1960s before gaining more popularity here in the United States. One thing is certain. Dayton Hobbs registered the trademark “Tee Ball” with the United States government in the early 1970s.

It’s amazing how far the punching shirt has evolved, if it started with Branch Rickey’s original invention for punching his rubber engine hose. If you ever go to a major national baseball clinic, you’re sure to see new batting shirts in their showroom that are advertised as the latest batting average that can turn a 250 hitter’s average into a 400 average. If you search the internet and baseball catalogs, you’ll see an endless number different types of batting shirts. There are the ones that seem to be the most popular, which are black and have a single rubber adjustable post. Then there are batting tees that have movable locations for the rubber post. There are also some that now have an “arm” that sticks up to help you adjust your swing the correct way. Then there are t-shirts that have an automatic feeder. So instead of hitting the baseball off the ball and putting another ball in to replace it, the machine will do it for you. Instead of spending $25 or $35 for a basic batting tee, you now have the option of spending up to $300 for a putter batting cat.

It doesn’t matter who invented organized t-ball. Tee Ball remains one of the most popular organized leagues in the world with thousands of boys and girls participating each year!

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