Notable Alumni: Hank Aaron, Buster Haywood, DeWitt “Woody” Smallwood, “Goose” Tatum, John Wyatt, Paul Cassanova and “Choo-Choo” Coleman
The Indianapolis Clowns brought together baseball and showmanship. The Negro Leagues' version of the Harlem Globetrotters -- they even had an overlapping member, Goose Tatum -- the Clowns excelled as ballplayers and comedic geniuses.
Founded in 1930s Miami as the Ethiopian Clowns, the team began its existence as entertainers only to evolve into a true baseball team. In 1943, they moved to Cincinnati and joined the Negro Leagues, before relocating again to Indianapolis after two seasons. The Clowns continued playing in the Negro American League even after the final Negro World Series in 1948 (the last year of the Negro National League's existence following MLB integration), and they won the league title in 1950.
Several future Major Leaguers would play for the Clowns during their existence. The most famous: the legendary Hank Aaron. The future MLB home run king signed his first professional contract with the Clowns in 1953, for $200 a month. Aaron batted cleanup and played shortstop in Indianapolis until the Clowns sold his contract to the Boston Braves for $10,000. The rest is history.
The Clowns' barnstorming tours, which continued all the way into the 1960s, were the stuff of legend. Tatum and Richard "King Tut" King would play with giant oversized gloves. Ed Hamman would pitch balls from behind his back or between his legs. And the entire team would turn a game into "shadow ball," a pantomimed version of baseball complete with pitching, hitting and fielding ... played without a ball. In 1976, Richard Pryor, James Earl Jones and Billy Dee Williams would even star in the movie "The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings," a comedy (loosely) based on the Clowns' barnstorming days.
The Clowns broke barriers, too. Not only did they play in front of black and white crowds, they were the first professional baseball team to hire a woman to a long-term contract to play competitively: Toni Stone, who played second base for the Clowns in 1953 and hit .243. Mami "Peanut" Johnson and Connie Morgan would also play for the Clowns.