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Aiming High: A Brief History of the Indianapolis Arrows Baseball Team



With the recent drama surrounding the Indy Eleven soccer team, its planned stadium at the former Greenlawn Cemetery site, and a possible Major League Soccer franchise, I was reminded of prior attempt by the city to lure a professional sports franchise. No, this isn't about the Colts and the NFL. This is about baseball. The scene for this attempt begins in the summer of 1982.


On July 7 of that year Mayor William Hudnut of Indianapolis announced the formation of the Indiana Major League Baseball Committee, a group of 40 members charged with the establishment of a major league baseball team in Indianapolis. The timing was conspicuous. The city was in the midst of a massive gamble: the construction of a domed stadium, which hopefully would attract an NFL franchise. The future Hoosier Dome had just broken ground in May of 1982, and would not be completed for another two years. At the time no NFL team was committed to Indianapolis.


The large committee established by Hudnut consisted of a veritable who’s who in Indianapolis, including business leaders, members of the media, and elected officials, along with other city boosters. There had been talk of potential expansion teams for baseball for several years, and the MLB's committee would aim to place Indianapolis in the running for one of those expansion slots.


In addition to the city's committee, on December 29, 1983, paperwork was filed with the Indiana Secretary of State that created a corporation, called “Indianapolis Arrows, Inc.” The president of the corporation was Arthur A. Angotti of Indianapolis. Angotti was a local entrepreneur and venture capitalist who was described by the Indianapolis Star as being a great lover of sports. Angotti’s goal was to bring a major league baseball franchise to Indianapolis and he and his colleagues hoped to be the ownership group for this new team. He had already been making inquiries locally about his planned team and would ramp up his efforts in 1984.  


In the midst of the city's Major League Baseball Committee's work, the domed stadium, now officially called the Hoosier Dome, attracted a tenant with the arrival of the Baltimore Colts in the city following their escape from Baltimore one early spring evening in 1984. But the pursuit of a baseball team continued, with suggestions that the Hoosier Dome could be modified to accommodate a baseball field.  


The efforts of Angotti and the Arrows coincided with those of the city’s baseball committee and talks began behind closed doors about the possibility of bringing a team to the city, and perhaps most importantly in the short term, where the team would play. During the winter MLB meetings in late 1984, the city hosted a booth promoting Indianapolis as a sports city and a future site of a baseball franchise.


Meanwhile, Angotti had gained the interest of the suburbs of Indianapolis for the potential team. On February 7, 1985, the Indianapolis News reported that Angotti would be meeting with Hendricks County Commissioners about the possibility of a stadium being built in their county, directly west of Indianapolis and Marion County. “I got a letter from them [Hendricks County commissioners] inviting me to come to the meeting, because they are interested in building us a stadium,” Angotti told the News. “Here I have been knocking on doors for 18 months, and it is the first time anyone has knocked on my door.” County officials had even gone as far as suggesting a potential site, 150 acres on the northwest corner of the interchange at Highway 267 and Intestate 70.


Perhaps the discussions with Plainfield had created a sense of urgency with Indianapolis, because things began to happen. A few days after the meeting with Hendricks County officials, on Tuesday, February 12, a press conference was held on Monument Circle at the City Center with Mayor Hudnut, Arthur Angotti and several others from the Arrow's leadership. Members of the mayor’s baseball committee also attended.

Credit: Indianapolis Mayoral Archives, University of Indianapolis

During this press conference, the mayor and Angotti’s group announced that the still mythical major league baseball team had a name: The Indianapolis Arrows. At the same time Mayor Hudnut unveiled posters with the new team logo. Joining Angotti were entrepreneur and philanthropist Thomas Binford, and E. David Elmore, from Chicago, who owned several minor league baseball teams around the country and was familiar with baseball operations. The group had also arranged for the local WTTV-4 television station to have initial broadcast rights for the team. The group explained that they had considered hundreds of names for the team, but as Binford noted, they wanted to have a connection with the existing Indianapolis Indians team, hence the “Arrows” name.


Arrows logo located on a Facebook page promoting the team.

Angotti stated that the group wanted to announce the name to show that the effort to get a team was a “serious undertaking,” and the next step would be to finalize the stadium issue with an agreement with the city. Angotti identified a “reconfigured” Hoosier Dome, a renovated Bush Stadium, where the Indians played on 16th Street north of downtown, or a brand-new facility as potential options for the team. The group made it clear that before their presenting their claim for an expansion team to Major League Baseball, a “firm commitment” on the stadium would be needed from the city.

Elmore provided more detail about the upcoming process to obtain an expansion team. He emphasized that obtaining a lease with the city, preferably by the end of the month, was of topmost importance. He did not opine on which option he would prefer, although a Star reporter suggested that it seemed Elmore and Angotti favored use of the Hoosier Dome, since both spoke highly of the facility, and it was already constructed and would presumably need less effort to prepare it for baseball versus a new stadium. He did say that an application would be sent to MLB’s Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, and that he also anticipated a pre-sale ticket campaign would be needed, prior to the MLB long range planning meeting scheduled for August of 1985, where expansion was expected to be discussed. The ticket pre-sale would help show that there was sufficient interest in the city to support a team.

In April, the Star reported that Commissioner Ueberroth had hinted at factors that would need to be shown by potential teams including fan interest (shown through season ticket sales), local ownership with multiple minority-share owners who could step up if a majority owner left, and local governmental support. As quoted in the Star, “I just want to bring baseball to Indianapolis, Angotti said. “I love the game, and I think this would be a great baseball city. I am very optimistic that the Arrows will play here. And soon.”

 

On June 6, Angotti and the Arrows launched their season ticket presale. Advertisements were run in local newspapers to promote the sale and applications for the sale were available at local Waffle House locations. Yes, you read that correctly, Waffle Houses. At the time there were 47 locations around Central Indiana. Each ticket “reservation” required a payment of $50, with a choice of a full season, 81 games, or half season of 40 games. The money would be held in escrow by the Arrows and would earn 5.5 percent interest. All payments would be refunded if the city did not receive a franchise by December 31, 1987.


By June 21, approximately 7,500 reservations had been received, although the Arrow’s goal was 20,000. Posters and t-shirts were seen around Indianapolis promoting the possible team and its ticket pre-sale. On Tuesday, June 25 Mayor Hudnut and Angotti held an event at the City County Building where Hudnut announced that July 15 would be "Drive the Arrows Home Day" in Indianapolis. Angotti hoped this would be the day that the Arrows reached the goal of 20,000 season ticket reservations, and a large celebration was planned for Monument Circle. During the proclamation announcement Hudnut also presented Angotti with a check for $102, representing two reservations for season tickets, and a small processing fee.

Mayor Hudnut presenting a $102 check to Art Angotti for two reservations of season tickets for the Indianapolis Arrows. Credit: Indianapolis Mayoral Archives, University of Indianapolis.

While an expansion team was the goal, the Arrow group was also exploring other options, including bringing an existing team to Indianapolis. The first team to attract the attention of the Arrow’s leadership were the Oakland A’s. Angotti had met with the A’s president, Roy Eisenhardt, in February, although the discussions were short lived. Eisenhardt decided he wanted to keep the club in Oakland, although Angotti said that if the situation in Oakland changed, the Arrows would again pursue the ball club.  The Arrows were also interested in the Pittsburgh Pirates who were facing a number of challenges, including a lease on their stadium which ran into the 21st century. Mayor Hudnut opined negatively on this potential avenue for a team, suggesting that such a move would only benefit the lawyers as years of litigation would likely ensue. The Indianapolis Star suggested that such a move could not be done without “bending the treasuries of both cities.” Additionally, the Star observed that the city was just getting away from the Naptown reputation. “Another kidnapping after the Colts galloped here and we could create an image that would make Blackbeard look like Robin Hood.”  


Whether a coincidence or purposeful timing, Hudnut’s comments regarding the Pirates were made the day before the scheduled rally on Monument Circle that the Arrows had planned to help boost the ticket pre-sale. Re-scheduled for Wednesday, July 17 at 11:30 am, the rally was to feature baseball food staples, like hot dogs and Cracker Jacks, as well as other baseball related activities. Additionally, famed Chicago Cubs announcer Harry Caray made an appearance (see image below) brandishing an Arrows banner. The Arrows also sold 418 ticket reservations.


Harry Caray Indianapolis Arrows
Indianapolis Star, July 18, 1985

Caray made comments to local media, expressing an opinion that the city should pursue an existing team, and in general that Indianapolis would be a good location for a major league franchise, although he also took digs at the existing professional teams in the city: “I’ll do everything in my power to help these people get a franchise because I believe this city is where a major league team could really succeed. Look at your basketball team, a lousy basketball team but you average 11,000 per game. You’ve got a football team, and I don’t think [Colts owner] Bob Irsay would win any popularity contests you could think of, but you fill the stadium each game. That shows that interest in spots is here.”  


The lack of finality of the stadium issue appeared to have been weighing on the Arrows group. Using the Hoosier Dome seemed like the easiest way, but informal polls taken by local media showed the locals preferred a new, open air, baseball stadium. Additional review of the Hoosier Dome also showed several problems with the possible work needed to convert the filed in order to accommodate baseball operations. The limited size available for the foul lines and the upper deck overhang were limiting factors. Bush Stadium's viability was also questioned following the result of a Park Board evaluation for its renovation for potential major league use, which was less than positive and very expensive. Mayor Hudnut has recommended against such an action, and the Park Board, which controlled the stadium, agreed. [Note: this part of the history of Bush Stadium is discussed in chapter three of Vanished Indianapolis.]


In an August 8 letter from Angotti to Mayor Hudnut, contained in the Hudnut mayoral archive at the University of Indianapolis, Angotti provided copies of two news articles which questioned “the suitability of the Hoosier Dome for major league baseball.” He noted that the general consensus from national media was that Indianapolis had little chance for an expansion team without a stadium. “Without a stadium or a concrete plan, site and engineering, Indianapolis will probably miss this opportunity to bring major league baseball to Central Indiana,” concluded Angotti.


Hudnut responded with a rather blunt letter, which seemed to take some offense to Angotti’s August 8 letter. Perhaps indicative of the tone of non-public communications between the Arrow group and the city, the opening to the letter, addressed to 'Art', suggested some tension: “With reference to your letter of August 8, what more can I say? You have been assured by me that if you are successful in landing an expansion team you will have a place to play—in a reconfigured Hoosier Dome, an upgraded Bush Stadium, or a new stadium built for baseball. Surely that guarantee should be enough, and I don’t know what more I can say or do at this point to be helpful.” Hudnut also referenced his own payment for seat reservations as evidence of his commitment. He closed by making a request to Angotti: “All of which is to say that I think we’re doing all that we can, and I would appreciate it if you would not continue to push at me, either privately or publicly, to put me in a position where it is made to appear that if we do not get the expansion franchise, it will be my fault.”

 

Under these circumstances Angotti planned to meet with Commissioner Ueberroth in late August. However, a short 2-day strike by baseball players in early August delayed this meeting, and it appears to never have occurred, although the resolution of the strike included an agreement to pursue expansion by the league. The MLB long range planning committee meetings appear to also have been pushed back to late September, and the lack of a concrete plan for a location for the Arrows to play continued to weigh on the team’s leadership. Hudnut had said the city would provide a place to play if a team was awarded, but no definite location was specified. He also established a Stadium Study Committee, tasked with exploring where a baseball team would play. The options had all been discussed before, and included the Hoosier Dome, a new stadium in Marion County, a new stadium in Plainfield, or a renovated and upgraded Bush Stadium which was still part of the discussion.


In mid-September Angotti told the Star that they would be asking the city for a lease agreement, so that they could present the agreement to the MLB committee. “I have a call in to Dave Frick to set up a meeting,” he said. We would like some sort of agreement to show the [MLB] owners.” David Frick was the chairman of the Capital Improvement Board, which already controlled the Hoosier Dome and would likely control any baseball stadium as well. He was also instrumental in the city's successful effort to bring the Colts to Indianapolis. William A. Carter from the Chamber of Commerce was chair of the city's Stadium Study Committee, while Frick was the secretary.


The MLB long-range planning committee finally met in November, and Mayor Hudnut led a delegation to a meeting with MLB leadership in New York to discuss expansion teams. The city’s lack of a concrete plan for a stadium going into these meetings again seemed like it could be an issue, although members of the delegation downplayed this in the press. William A. Carter, chair of the Stadium Study Committee and a member of the city’s delegation, told the Star that they planned to tell MLB that while the city was exploring sites and financing options, “if the city is selected for an expansion team, it will probably have a place to play.” The other members of the committee were Thomas Binford, representing the Arrows, and Frick from the Capitol Improvement Board. It is unclear why Angotti was not included in the delegation. Other cities making presentations included Columbus, Denver, Miami, Washington DC, Vancouver, New Orleans, Phoenix, Buffalo, East Rutherford, Tampa, and Nashville. Denver, Miami, Washington, D.C., Vancouver, and New Orleans already had stadiums in place.  Hudnut summed up the presentation they made to MLB and the trip with a statement to the Associated Press: “We hope we planted some sees that will bear fruit later.”


By the end of 1985, the hope for an expansion team began to fade, and it seemed clear MLB was in no hurry to move the expansion process along for any city, let alone Indianapolis. Finally, on December 31, 1985, letters bearing Angotti’s signature were sent out to all Arrows charter fans, i.e. those who had previously submitted reservations for tickets, providing a refund of the money originally paid, plus 5.5% interest.


The letter, shown below, explained the returned payment was because “recent actions by major league baseball owners suggest that expansion is not as imminent as we once thought. Under these circumstances, we cannot in good conscience continue to hold your money.” The letter continued with an upbeat tone and noting that when an expansion team is given to Indianapolis, those who had reserved their tickets would still be in line to have first crack at the ticket sales for that team. All the ticket reservations had been “computerized” for future references. The letter closed with a hopeful prediction that the Arrows would “take the field in Indianapolis before the decade is out.”

Credit: Indianapolis Mayoral Archives, University of Indianapolis.

Major League Baseball’s expansion committee did not commit to any expansion until 1990, for two new National League teams. When the expansion was announced Angotti was asked whether the city had a chance. He replied in the negative, noting that the city would have a better chance with the American League expansion. He explained that with Indianapolis being in fairly close proximity with Cincinnati, Chicago, and St. Louis, all National League teams, it did not seem likely MLB or the National League owners would choose Indianapolis for an expansion since the area was already inundated with franchises. Plus, he pointed out that Marge Schott, the sometimes-verbose owner of the Cincinnati Reds, had been quoted a few years before as saying that ‘Indianapolis would get a franchise over my dead body.’


Additionally, it seemed the city’s administration had begun to move on to other projects. Baseball related conversations continued for the next few years, but they began to shift over to a new stadium for the existing Indianapolis Indians, albeit one which could potentially be converted for major league use if needed. While still in the early stages, that project would gain steam. In 1991 Miami and Denver were awarded expansion teams for the National League, the Colorado Rockies and the then named Florida Marlins. Both teams began playing in 1993. One year later, in 1994, Indianapolis broke ground on a new stadium for the triple A Indianapolis Indians at a downtown location near White River State Park.


While the Arrows never materialized as a team, the merchandise which was produced by Angotti and the organization to promote the team still make occasional appearances around the city. Below is a screenshot of an eBay auction for an Arrows hat (accessed May 17, 2024) which was going for a rather steep price.


Other clothing items, including contemporarily produced t-shirts and hats, sometimes branded as “What If?,” are also available at various online vendors, and will sometimes make appearances on the streets of Indianapolis or at Indians games. As noted earlier in this post, there is an Indianapolis Arrows Facebook page, the introduction for which states "[f]ans of an MLB team coming to Indianapolis." There is also an Arrows Twitter account, @indyarrows, although nothing has been posted to the account. Internet domains for Indyarrows.com and Indianapolisarrows.com are both taken and available for sale.


Note: This blog post is an overview of the attempts by the Arrows and the city to bring a major league baseball franchise to Indianapolis in the 1980s. There is a huge number of materials relating to this topic in the Indianapolis Mayoral Archives at the University of Indianapolis, and some events had to be summarized, otherwise this 3,000+ word blog post would have been in excess 10,000 words.



Sources


Indianapolis News: January 30, 1985, February 7, 1985, February 12, 1985, February 13, 1985, June 6, 1985, June 22, 1985, June 26, 1985, July 11, 1985, December 31, 1985, July 22, 1986, February 20, 1990


Indianapolis Star: February 8, 1985, February 13, 1985, March 24, 1985, April 21, 1985, April 23, 1985, June 21, 1985, July 18, 1985, August 7, 1985, August 10, 1985, August 28, 1985, September 1, 1985, October 24, 1985, November 6, 1985, November 8, 1985, November 9, 1985, May 5, 1990, March 7, 2019


Letter, Mayor Hudnut to Arthur A. Angotti, August 23, 1985, Indianapolis Mayoral Archives, University of Indianapolis.


Letter, Arthur A. Angotti to Mayor Hudnut, August 8, 1985, Indianapolis Mayoral Archives, University of Indianapolis.


Letter, Mayor Hudnut to Baseball Stadium Study Committee, September 6, 1985, Indianapolis Mayoral Archives, University of Indianapolis.


Photo, Mayor Hudnut at June Proclamation Day, June 25, 1985, Img. 7, with Arthur A. Angotti Jr., Indianapolis Mayoral Archives, University of Indianapolis.


Photos (2), Indianapolis Arrow Press Conference, February 12, 1985, Indianapolis Mayoral Archives, University of Indianapolis.


List, Baseball Stadium Study Committee, September 9, 1985, Indianapolis Mayoral Archives, University of Indianapolis.


MLB Baseball Stadium Questionnaire Responses, n.d., Indianapolis Mayoral Archives, University of Indianapolis.


Press Release, Hudnut Names Indiana Major League Baseball Committee, July 7, 1982, Indianapolis Mayoral Archives, University of Indianapolis.

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