January 20, 1998
Inevitably, the subject of baseball came up the other morning at our church men's meeting, and that led to some nostalgic flashbacks for a few of us. A contemporary, one who also grew up in Perry in the 1930s, remarked that he cannot recall a time when he owned an actual baseball glove. "We played barehanded," he noted, but added that baseball was not as widespread among youngsters of that era as it is today, when well-organized little leagues reach virtually all ages for both boys and girls.
The kid sport of that day was called shinny. You never heard of the game? Let me fill in some essential details.
Baseball certainly existed for prepubescent males of that generation, but aside from the loosely formed Twilight League and spur-of-the-moment sandlot games, there was very little of America's pastime to occupy the boys of summer in Perry during the 1930s. Hump Daniels, the legendary PHS football-baseball-basketball coach, ran the free summer supervised play program for all boys and girls who wanted to take part, and that provided alternating days of swimming and baseball for the boys. Girls of that day were not believed capable of playing baseball, so they had gym sports or outdoor recreation on days when they could not swim.
Basic baseball equipment was not expensive. You could buy a good bat at Dotts-Monroe Hardware or Lobsitz Hardware for about 75 cents or a dollar. Baseballs were not too much and they seemed to last longer in those days than they do now, but even 75 cents was hard to come by then. Uniforms? Bib overalls or jeans and a short-sleeved shirt were all you needed, plus a pair of high-top tennis shoes. Baseball caps, if you had one, were worn with the bill in front. But money in any increment was scarce, so baseball gear was not very high on anyone's list. It took enough of the family income just to pay Charlie Huffman, the Hendren family, H. L. Johnson, Louis Stanislav or one of the other grocers for the food they delivered to local homes.
So it was that shinny became a favorite sport for neighborhood kids. The cost was almost zilch. Basic equipment was a small empty can of Pet condensed milk and a short limb from an elm tree, preferably one with a kind of club on the business end. You stomped on the Pet milk can to crease it in the middle. Players of an indeterminate number, each armed with a stick/club, lined up on opposite sides, facing each other, and the can was dropped on the ground between them. From that point on it was a primitive and frenzied version of field hockey.
Kids flailed away at the Pet milk can with their sticks, occasionally accidentally swatting someone's shins or other parts of the anatomy while going for the missile on the ground. There were no time outs unless someone was bleeding. No rules of the game were written down. A point was counted when one team managed to knock the small can across a designated line. Games ended when it was too dark to play. "Shinny on your own side" was the battle cry for all players during a game. That meant you should knock the can forward, toward the goal line where your team would score a point, as opposed to knocking it backward toward the wrong goal.
In the area of town where we lived, the favorite shinny field was at Tenth and Fir, the present location of Cockrum's used car lot. The field was adjacent to the home of Earl and Lillie Fitzhugh, and they had a son, Tommy, who hosted the nightly matches during the summer. Some of the regular combatants that I remember are Walt Powers, Clovis Severe, Bill Wurtz, Floyd Cook, Bill Rigg and assorted others who showed up from time to time. Vehicle traffic at that intersection was not particularly heavy, but we usually managed to keep the Pet milk can out of the street.
Shinny is not likely to make a comeback in this day and age, but it gave kids of the 1930s a low-priced and energy-intensive game to occupy the hours now spent with electronic gadgets. It was great fun.