Donkey Ball Comes to McHenry

During the 1930s McHenry, like the rest of America, was in the throes of the great depression. Businesses closed, jobs were hard to come by and times were just overall rough and uncertain. For instance, in April 1933 here in McHenry, the McHenry’s People’s Bank was consolidated with the West McHenry State Bank during the March Banking Holiday. During such times of hardship and uncertainty, people could use some silliness and levity. Donkey Ball provided just that.

Donkey ball was rather popular in America during the 1930s. It combined most of the strategy and rules of baseball with the stubborn nature of donkeys. The batter, pitcher, and catcher were standing and doing what they normally do in baseball. The batter hit the ball, the pitcher threw the ball, etc. Also, batters couldn’t strike out or walk, forcing the ball to be put into play. Where donkey ball got its name is that the rest of the players were on donkeys. A play would go something like this. The pitcher threw the ball and the batter hit the ball into play. Then the batter would climb on his or her donkey and try to get the animal to go to first base and beyond, if possible. While the batter was doing their thing, a fielder would try and get their donkey to move over toward the ball. Once they were within a foot of the ball, they could get off their donkey and pick up the ball. They would then hop back on the donkey and throw the ball to another fielder or try and tag out the baserunner. If the ball got back to the pitcher before the base “runner” reached 1st base, the runner would be out. Also, games usually lasted 7 innings as opposed to 9 in baseball. While there were some variations to the rules, they were mainly similar to those mentioned above.

Add for a Donkey Ball game played in Marengo, from the Marengo Republican in Aug 1957.

While the scenario mentioned above could play out rather smoothly, oftentimes it didn’t, which is what made it so entertaining. Donkeys with their notorious dispositions, wouldn’t go where they were told to go, if they went at all. Sometimes play could even turn hazardous, as a player from McHenry fell off his donkey and broke some of his ribs, and injured his shoulder. However, the play could get monotonous, or even boring, if the donkey got their way and nothing happened. One game was described as not much baseball and was a “parade of donkeys”. Most areas ended up bringing in trained donkeys that would add to the competition and entertainment by having the animals be a little more cooperative. Yet it was noted that even they could be up to their “ornery tricks”.

Ad for a postponed Donkey Ball game from the 27 Sep 1934 McHenry Plaindealer.

Here in McHenry, the donkeys provided for play were brought in from Texas. Admission was usually 35 cents for adults and a dime for kids. Since they weren’t played regularly, probably once or twice a season, two games were played, one in the afternoon and the other in the evening. Games were played in the town’s softball park, which also included lights. In 1934, the donkey ball games were part of the lineup of games and activities that showcased the park’s new lights. A lackluster performance in 1934, caused a few changes in rules for the following year, as games were reduced to 2 or 3 innings. Overall, McHenry didn’t seem to take to donkey ball, with games only being reported to have been played in 1934 and 1935. Other parts of McHenry country seemed to be much more endeared to the game, such as Marengo and Woodstock.


  • “Bacon’s Strip.” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 20 Sep 1934, 5. Web. 21 Apr 2023.
  • “Donkey Ball Games Played Next Sunday.” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 27 Sep 1934, 1. Web. 21 Apr 2023.
  • “That Donkey Ball Game….” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 4 Oct 1934, 5. Web. 21 Apr 2023.
  • “Joe Regner Has Been…” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 11 Oct 1934, 4. Web. 21 Apr 2023.
  • “Better Donkey Ball Game Sunday Night.” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 18 Jul 1935, 1. Web. 21 Apr 2023.
  • “Donkey Ball Game.” Marengo Republican News. (Marengo, IL) 1 Aug 1957, 4. Web. 21 Apr 2023.