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.

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 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.

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Legion monument

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."

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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.

Milbank's Amercian Legion Baseball Team Today

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