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History of Beep Baseball and the NBBA

There are two conventional ways to enjoy baseball, as a fan or as a player.
Only a small percentage of players actually make it into the major leagues. But thousands of people, at varying degrees of success and levels, joyously charge out to their positions on fields and sand lots to the cry of "play ball."
Nearly forty years ago that privilege was not an option for persons who lacked sufficient vision to play the game. For those persons, regardless of their desire and potential skill, had no option to be involved in baseball other than as a fan.
Playing baseball was for sighted people only. Many blind people wished there was a feasible way, but there just wasn't.

But then, in 1964, an apparent solution to the frustration of not being able to play baseball because of being blind was discovered. Charley Fairbanks, an engineer with Mountain Bell Telephone, presented the blind community with a momentous gift, the first beep baseball. He implanted a small beeping sound module inside a normal sized softball. Some basic playing rules were devised by a group of service oriented telephone employees who have a nationwide organization known as the Telephone Pioneers of America. The Pioneers also devised a set of knee- high, cone shaped, rubber bases that contained electrically powered sounding units that emitted a high pitched whistle. That laid the foundation for the initial experimentations with beep baseball. Various schools for the blind introduced this newest form the baseball for the unsighted. Unfortunately, the Telephone Pioneers' well intentioned game of beep baseball did not receive the anticipated response and adoption.
There were several reasons why baseball for the blind did not flourish. The equipment frequently did not function properly. Blind youngsters had a difficult time sorting out the conflicting sound of the beeping ball and the whistling base. The playing rules were very restrictive. Protective equipment of face masks and chest pads were mandatory. Running was not permitted whether fielding or batting. Also, hitting this ball was most difficult because pitching styles had not yet been perfected.

Recreational rehab instructors soon found out that the youngsters were not responding to the game because it moved too slow and provided little action or challenge.

In the spring of 1975, a very important event happened when the Minnesota Telephone Pioneers presented John Ross, Director of the Braille Sports Foundation, with a newly designed beep ball. The new beep ball was a 16 inch ball with an improved sound module designed to withstand the impact of being hit solidly. Ross took the ball and along with some of his other blind friends, began experimenting with new rule adaptations to make the game more like regular baseball. Word of the experimental game spread across the Mississippi River to a group of blind athletes in St. Paul. Dennis Huberty, organizer of the St. Pautites, contacted Ross and competitive beep baseball was born. The two teams engaged in weekend games throughout that summer. By the end of that summer, Ross and Huberty sat down and wrote a new set of guidelines that became known as the "Minnesota Rules."

The main thrust of those original rules was the creation of a modified version of baseball that would allow blind people to play with honor and dignity.

Feeling Sports, a monthly publication of the Braille Sport Foundation, started carrying accounts and results of the experimental games between BSF and St. Paul. The two areas that demonstrated the most interest in being involved with the new form of beep baseball were Phoenix and San Francisco. A series of games was set for late that fall.

There was no doubt in the minds of the players involved those contests that beep baseball was finally on the right track The question arose, how to organize and promote this new version of beep ball in such a way that it would gain acceptance and endorsement from the blind community.

The magazine, Feeling Sports, addressed the problem. The published news of a planned meeting scheduled for March, to be held in Chicago, inviting any interested persons to attend. Only twelve people attended the preliminary session to discuss the immediate future of beep ball. The attendance at that meeting was poor but the results were not. The "Dirty dozen," as they referred to themselves, first selected a name that would suggest direction and intention of the fledgling organization. Bill Gibney, a Phoenix attorney, provided the name that was unanimously adopted - "National Beep Baseball Association."
Gibney was elected the first president of the N.B.B.A. because of his educational background, interest and dedication to this new activity.

The "Dirty Dozen" hammered out the future goals at objectives for the new N.B.B.A. One of the decisions they agreed upon would probably determine if their new organization would sink or sail. Even though it was already three months into the year, they decided to conduct the first World Series of Beep Baseball that coming September in St. Paul. The first N.B.B.A national tournament was a bold gamble. If it flopped, and man thought it would, the N.B.B.A. would be doomed.

The championship series was set at Dunning Field. This was a good facility for spectators but the dirt field was hard on the players. After all of the dust had finally settled, the tournament was declared a major success. Over 1500 fans filled the bleachers to cheer the local St. Paul Gorillas on to the first N.B.B.A national championship by beating the Phoenix Thunderbirds by a score of 36 to 27.

Successfully conducting the first World Series of Beep Baseball provided the kind of clout and credibility that the N.B.B.A. needed to assume the role as the governing body of competitive beep baseball.
The young N.B.B.A. knew it still had many frontiers to cover.

Charley Vassallo, formerly from Lawrence, Kansas, succeeded Gibney as president of the N.B.B.A. His three years of office survived more than one crisis. Lack of sufficient equipment, bases and beep balls made growth of beep baseball difficult. Operating under limited conditions, Vassallo's leadership saw the number of teams playing under N.B.B.A. rules grow from eight to over fifty. He opened many doors for more blind participants in beep ball.

The third N.B.B.A. president was Jim Mastro. Mastro., who has played for four different teams, established a giant reputation in beep ball. He dedicated his time in office to three main priorities: additional expansion of the game to include all sections of the country and the world, developing independent sources to manufacture the necessary equipment in order to help promote growth, and provide a strong financial base to insure the N.B.B.A.'s future.

The fourth N.B.B.A. president was Ed "Doc" Bradley. He was elected in 1984 and re-elected for five terms. One of Bradley's main goals was to get national funding to help start new teams. There has been some progress in standardization of equipment. Membership and growth were important goals of Bradley's also.

The fifth president was Michael Garrett, elected in 1994. Goals of Garrett were to increase the funding for the organization, growing the endowment fund, and broadening the awareness and image of the game.

Beep baseball is still years away from reaching its full potential. However, the surface has been scratched. In 1975, there was only a small number of people involved with the game. Today, there are many sightless athletes enjoying the benefits of playing a sport that used to belong exclusively to the sighted. It is inevitable that beep baseball will continue to grow. It is a game that is fun to play and it offers a variety of athletic challenges. Individuals are proudly aware of their increasing skills as they become more and more involved. It is an excellent physical and mental conditioner. Beep baseball's greatest contribution is the important bridge it is creating between the sighted and unsighted. Sighted people go away from a beep baseball game with a new appreciation of what blindness is all about. They know they just witnessed a prime example of overcoming a physical handicap. A blind person goes home with the deep satisfaction of knowing with the assistance of a sighted person, that they too can play baseball.

With Questions or Comments Contact HallofFame@nbba.org

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