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March 21, 2013

Wezen-Ball

A Plane Crash in Indianapolis

by Larry Granillo

The Indianapolis Indians, the International League affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, have been a part of professional baseball since 1902, making them the second oldest minor league club behind only the Rochester Red Wings. With such a long history, it's no surprise that many great players have passed through the club. Grover Cleveland Alexander, Nap Lajoie, Luke Appling, Harmon Killebrew, Herb Score and many other All-Stars and Hall of Famers have all been associated with the club over the years (even if, like Alexander, it was only ever on paper). Outside the ballpark, the club has had a few notable moments as well.

In the summer of 1927, area businessman James Perry bought the Indians from W.C. Smith Sr. by purchasing 96% of the club's controlling company. Perry had other business interests in the city. For example, Perry was a part of the suddenly booming aviation industry as president of the Curtiss Flying Service of Indiana. He had helped build the Transcontinental Air Transport company's coast-to-coast air rail line.

In 1929, Perry, in his role as civic leader and local captain of aviation, was at Mars Hill airport in Indianapolis to help greet newly-minted national hero Charles Lindbergh and his wife to the city. While awaiting the Lindberghs' arrival, Perry flew to nearby Schoen Field, a part of Fort Benjamin Harrison, with a company pilot. The plane became disabled midflight, but Perry's pilot was able to get the bird down safely. After a brief visit, Perry had to return to Mars Hill in order to be there in time to greet the Lindberghs. He climbed into a different plane to fly back alone. The 35-year old businessman had made his first solo flight only a few weeks before.

The plane was barely 100 feet off the ground when the engine stalled and the craft nose-dived to the ground. Perry was killed on impact.

Ownership of the Indians was transferred to Perry's brother Norman, who held onto the team until December 1941. In 1955, after a brief, failed ownership stint by the Indians' parent club in Cleveland, it looked like the 50-year old franchise would leave town. In response to this threat, a group of Indianapolis leaders rallied the community together to purchase the team. The drive was so successful that the initial run of stock had to be increased from 16,000 shares to 25,000 shares within the first month. Since that time, the Indians have operated as one of the few publicly owned and operated teams in the country.

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<< Previous Article
The BP Wayback Machine... (03/21)
<< Previous Column
Wezen-Ball: Happy Pi (... (03/14)
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Wezen-Ball: News of th... (03/25)
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