The National Baseball Congress and its now well-established World Series were the brainchild of Wichita sporting goods salesman Hap Dumont in the midst of the Depression.
Dumont hatched the idea after watching a Sunday baseball game between circus clowns in Wichita for the week and local firemen. While the circus wasn't allowed to perform on Sunday due to the blue laws of the day, the clowns in the baseball game drew a large crowd. Dumont figured he had stumbled onto something.
That's when he created the National Semi-Pro Baseball Congress Kansas State Tournament, played for the first time in 1931 on Island Park in the middle of the Arkansas River just north of Second Street. He made a few bucks on the event and made it bigger the next several years, until a cigarette was left burning in the wooden bleachers of the old park, burning it to the ground.
Never one to be defeated, Dumont hatched an even bigger idea. If the city of Wichita would build him a new stadium, he would put on a national semi-pro tournament, drawing teams from coast to coast.
The city built the stadium on the west bank just south of the old park and named it after Wichita pioneer Robert Lawrence, who once owned a mansion where the Masonic Home now sits at Seneca and Maple.
Even though semi-pro national tournaments had failed on both the east and west coasts, Dumont figured a central location might be the key to success in an age of teams that barnstormed by train or bus. But he figured he needed a hook.
In that day, a lawyer made $4,000 a year and a doctor about $3,500, so $1,000 was a huge amount for two weeks of play.
So he offered Satchel Paige, considered the greatest pitcher of the day and perhaps the best in baseball history, an impressive sum of $1,000 to bring his touring team from Bismarck, N.D., to compete in the first NBC tournament, in 1935. In that day, a lawyer made $4,000 a year and a doctor about $3,500, so $1,000 was a huge amount for two weeks of play. In fact, Dumont didn't have the $1,000 when he made the offer. He figured he would make it at the gate.
The tournament was a huge success from the start. Paige struck out 60 batters and won four games, which both still stand as tournament records. His Corwin-Churchill team beat Duncan, Okla., 5-2 in the finals. Dumont made enough money to pay Paige as well as all the bills, and he even had money left over. The Sporting News, baseball's bible of the day, gave the event significant coverage. Thus, the national tournament was born.
Thousands of young prospects and ex-major leaguers have since played in the tournament, which has continued to be played at the stadium Hap built. In the first few decades, most of the teams were either barnstorming semi-pro clubs or town teams sponsored by local factories. The typical star was an ex-professional, and quite a few of the players had played major league ball.
In the mid-70s, the typical team makeup shifted significantly. Young college players for teams in Alaska and Boulder, Colo., started dominating the scene. With the resurgence of minor league baseball, semi-pro leagues dried up. By the mid-80s very few factories sponsored teams anymore. Now the tournament is comprised of amateur athletes.
For an excellent history of Hap Dumont and the National Baseball Congress, read "Baseball's Barnum - Ray "Hap" Dumont, Founder of the National Baseball Congress" available from the NBC for $10 at 300 S. Sycamore, Wichita, KS 67213.