Milbank's Baseball History
Resolution number 482 has passed!
And with that innocuous decree – at the seventh National Convention, on October 8, 1925 – the American
Legion had officially thrown its hat in the ring as stewards of sport in this country. Of the athletics being
promoted in the passage, “base ball” was the most concerted focus.
No one in the assembly hall (which included President Calvin Coolidge) knew it, but the organization had
just altered the origin story for some 80 members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and 600+ Major
League Baseball almuni. Each man's rise to the professional ranks might not have occurred, if the void in
structured summer baseball for teenagers continued beyond World War II.
1930: Milbank's First American Legion Baseball Team
In that, there would have been a sizable lag to the arrival of baseball's Golden Era – waiting for the gap
between informal stickball and high school/college/minor league ball to be bridged. It might not have
come at all. What legend of the sport might have altogether abandoned baseball if not for the structure
provided by the American Legion?
For these reasons, it is not hyperbolic to say that baseball cemented itself as America's pastime because
of this resolution. And that is quite remarkable something so profound was buried among four dozen other
declarations that day alone.
So who do we have to thank for bringing about a formalized pathway for young athletes to develop their
exceptional skills? The “who” was Major John L. Griffith; commissioner of the Western Conference
(predecessor to the modern Big Ten) and vice president of the Collegiate Association of the United States
at the time. The “where” was Milbank, South Dakota; site of the 1925 state-level Legion convention.
Griffith was the event's keynote speaker; the cordial guest of Department Commander Frank G.
McCormick. Griffith had taken the collegiate framework of his day job and applied it to a proposal for
boys aged 13-19; a vision for sectional, state, and national level tournaments sponsored by the American
Legion. South Dakotans were the first to hear of his plan, courtesy of his friendship with McCormick.
On July 17, Griffith outlined his passion for governing athletes under one unified system – a fundamental
belief that sport plays an invaluable role in a young man's maturation. With themes of instilling courage
and respect for others, Griffith reiterated: “A more physically fit citizenship can be obtained by extending
the benefits of athletic training to the greatest possible number of boys and young men, a large
percentage of whom are not receiving adequate athletic training at present.”
The Americanism Committee of South Dakota Legionnaires agreed with the sentiment enough to take it
with them to that fateful National Convention in Omaha, Nebraska later that year. Griffith's “Milbank
Resolution” was sponsored by National Commander James A. Drain and overwhelmingly supported by all
those in attendance.
To the young boys – on over 3,500 teams in the United States and Canada – the words “American
Legion” would forevermore be synonymous with (and likely followed by) baseball.
Major League Baseball has Cooperstown, NCAA Division I has Omaha, Little League Baseball has
Williamsport. Certain levels of play have become so ingrained with the communities in which they were
founded – or where the annual championship is ritually contested – that the collective sports world knows
the entity (Hall of Fame, College World Series, Little League World Series) by town alone. Anyone that
has every owed anything surrounding their growth in baseball to the American Legion, should consider
donating to help add Milbank to this iconic list. American Legion Baseball is Milbank.
In 1950, after 25 years of the American Legion Baseball program, this monument was erected in Milbank with national backing setting in stone the city's right to be called "The Birthplace of American Legion Baseball."
The American Legion baseball teams in Milbank have played on 3 fields since the first team was organized in 1930. Now, with your help, a 4th and permanent field will be built to be enjoyed by generations to come.