The National Baseball Congress World Series was first played in 1935. However, the idea came about a few years prior when Wichita sporting goods salesman, Hap Dumont, formed the idea of creating a National Baseball Congress State Tournament. The idea was conceived after watching a Sunday baseball game between circus clowns and local firemen.
Island Park stood in the middle of the Arkansas River, which was where the first tournament was played in 1931. After making a few bucks on the event, Dumont expanded it over the next few years, until a cigarette was left in the bleachers, burning it to the ground.
Following the accident, Dumont formulated the idea that if the city of Wichita would build a new stadium, he would host a national semi-pro tournament, hoping to draw 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.
Satchel Paige was considered the greatest pitcher of that era and in 1935, Dumont offered him an impressive sum of $1,000 to bring his touring team from Bismarck, N.D., to compete in the first NBC tournament. Dumont did not have the money when he made the offer, but he believed he would make it at the gate.
Paige’s pitching prowess proved to be true as he struck out 60 batters and won four games–a record that still stands today. Dumont ended up making enough money to pay Paige, as well as all of the bills.
The tournament was a huge success from the beginning. 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 played in the tournament, which is still held in the stadium Hap helped build. 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 many of the players had also played major league ball.
As a result of Hap’s success over the last 82 years, the NBC has helped produce over 800 professional players. The tournament has become a widespread tradition within the city of Wichita, gaining popularity across the country.