Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

The House of David Baseball Team in Kansas

Photograph of the Israelite House of David headquarters, entrance gate, undated

Entrance gate at the Israelite House of David headquarters, undated.
T. Y. Baird Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 414. Click image to enlarge.

The Israelite House of David is a religious society with headquarters in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Founded by Benjamin and Mary Purnell in 1903, the society is still in operation today. Throughout its existence it has not only been a religious order, but has also undertaken numerous business ventures, such as an amusement park, dairy, amphitheater, zoo and aviary, bowling alley, restaurant, hotel, logging operation, and bottled water plant.

Perhaps the society’s most successful business enterprise was owning and managing its own baseball teams, known simply as the “House of David.” The teams existed in varying forms from 1913 through the 1940s. As with all of their businesses, the teams were a way to both provide income for the society and to evangelize.

Photograph of the Israelite House of David ballpark, undated

Israelite House of David ballpark, undated. T. Y. Baird Papers.
Call Number: RH MS-P 414. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of the House of David baseball team, undated

A House of David baseball team, undated. Call Number: RH PH P1637.
Click image to enlarge.

The teams were originally comprised entirely of House of David members, but by the 1920s they began to hire professional athletes in order to remain competitive and provide better entertainment. Two of the most famous professional athletes to play for House of David teams were future Hall of Famers Grover Cleveland Alexander and Satchel Paige. The society hired women players, too. For example, Babe Didrikson Zaharias – a successful female athlete in golf, basketball, and track and field – and Jackie Mitchell, a professional female baseball pitcher in the minor leagues, were signed to play. Growing long hair and beards were part of the society’s religious beliefs, and, although it was not required, some of the hired players grew out their hair and beards as a way of showing respect for the society.

Photograph of Grover Cleveland Alexander, undated

Grover Cleveland Alexander, undated. T. Y. Baird Papers.
Call Number: RH MS-P 414. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of Babe Didrickson, undated

Babe Didrickson, undated. T. Y. Baird Papers.
Call Number: RH MS-P 414. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of George Anderson, undated

House of David baseball player George Anderson, undated.
T. Y. Baird Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 414. Click image to enlarge.

Because the House of David operated outside of the framework of major league baseball, the teams barnstormed to find other teams to play. Barnstorming involved independent teams traveling to various towns around the country to play in exhibition games against hometown teams. The House of David also played teams from the Negro Leagues, which also barnstormed during and after their regular season.

Thomas Younger (T. Y.) Baird owned the Kansas City Monarchs, a Negro League baseball team, from 1947 to 1956. For a brief period during that time he was also the booking agent for the House of David teams. The photographs in this post are from the papers and photographs of T. Y. Baird held in the Kansas Collection at Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Photograph of T. Y. Baird with a House of David team and the Kansas City Monarchs light boys, undated

T. Y. Baird, in the back row wearing a suit and tie, with a House of David team, undated.
Also shown are the the Kansas City Monarchs light boys, who set up stadium lights for night games.
T. Y. Baird Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 414. Click image to enlarge.

Advertisement, House of David vs. Kansas City Monarchs Travelers, May 28, 1950

Advertisement, House of David vs. Kansas City Monarchs Travelers,
May 28, 1950. T. Y. Baird Papers. Call Number: RH MS Q209.
Click image to enlarge.

Kathy Lafferty
Public Services

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