Volunteers discover rare baseball game at Independence, Mo., estate

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Cleaning the Bingham-Waggoner Estate in Independence last summer, volunteers made a rare find in a cluttered third-floor bedroom: an 1893 Zimmer's Base Ball Game.

The board game, which features a full-color board and portraits of 18 star players, is one of only about 10 known copies in the world. A copy of the game sold for $30,000 in the 1990s and the Bingham-Waggoner copy could be worth more since it's still in good shape, has the original box top and two original game balls that may be the only ones still in existence.

"The one in Missouri is almost perfect," said Robert Lifson, president of Robert Edward Auctions. "It's like a miracle they found it. They really found a winner."

The game includes a small, swiveling bat to hit a wooden ball, launched by a spring-action "pitcher," past obstacles designed to field the ball. Hits, homers, outs and strikeouts are determined by where the ball lands on the board.

The game bears the name of Charles Louis "Chief" Zimmer, a catcher for the Cleveland team in the late 1800s. It isn't clear why Zimmer, a decent player, was chosen by McLoughlin Bros. to endorse the game when there were bigger names in the game at the time, including Buck Ewing and Cy Young, whose pictures are included on the game board, according to Tom Shieber, senior curator at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Steve Schreiber, board member for the Bingham-Waggoner Historical Society, speculated the game was likely purchased at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair by William Waggoner, owner of the estate at the time. He purchased other items at the fair and it was likely McLoughlin Bros. had an exhibit at the fair.

Shieber, who has researched baseball board games for the Hall of Fame, said he hasn't found record of how much the game originally cost or how many were made, but said it was likely expensive given how robustly it was built.

The game was put on display at the Bingham-Waggoner Estate on Sunday. Two other copies are on exhibit at the Hall of Fame -- one in a temporary exhibit and another in the permanent collection.

Schreiber said historical society board members agree they have an obligation to display the game publicly for a while, but it's possible the could sell it in the future. Some auction companies that specialize in sports memorabilia have expressed interest in helping them sell.

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