Outsiders in the Ragtime Era

Outsider Baseball, Scott Simkus

Outsider Baseball, Scott Simkus

This guest column is by Scott Simkus, author of the new Outsider Baseball: The Weird World of Hardball on the Fringe, 1876-1950, available at all booksellers. If it is not at your local bookstore, become irate. As I say on the back of Scott’s dustjacket, “This is the best baseball book you will read this year.”

The early morning phone call wasn’t much of a surprise. Inebriated, the star first baseman stumbled into a downtown Chicago theater, where he attempted to accost his wife backstage. Handlers gained control before the situation unraveled, and had the 29-year-old slugger ushered into a taxi cab.

At four o’clock in the morning, James “Nixey” Callahan, manager of the semipro Logan Squares club, sauntered across the cobblestones of 34th street, bailing his man out of the local police station. His man was none other than Mike Donlin, one of the most feared hitters during the deadball era, and a world-class carouser off the field. Eight years earlier, Donlin was actually locked up in a northern California prison when he first learned he’d been signed to a major league contract, and he’d spend several more times behind bars before his career was over. Truly, the only surprising thing for manager Callahan on that muggy August day was the fact Mike Donlin had made it almost five consecutive months without a major incident.

Just two years earlier, in 1905, Donlin had had the best year of his career, when he batted .356 (third highest in the NL, just a few points behind Honus Wagner) with 16 triples and 33 stolen bases. His 1906 campaign began exactly where it had left off the previous season: Donlin was leading all National League batters with a .364 mark before breaking his ankle during a game in Cincinnati. He’d eventually return near the end of the year, and while playing with a noticeable limp, managed only 1-for-14 in mostly pinch-hitting situations, lowering his overall batting average to .314 in 37 games.

Mike Donlin and Mabel Hite, 1908

Mike Donlin and Mabel Hite, 1908

The outfielder fully recovered over the winter, then began a spirited public contract negotiation with his employer. Seventy years before free agency, a reserve clause ballplayer didn’t really have much in his arsenal, in terms of dickering over compensation. The Giants were offering $3300, the same figure Donlin had been paid the previous two seasons, even though he’d been injured. Donlin wanted a clause added, effectively having both parties wager on his off-the-field behavior. If he could stay out of trouble during the championship season, Mike wanted New York to pay him an extra $600 bonus, bringing his total salary to $3900. If he fell off the wagon, he would be docked $600 by mutual agreement, lowering his annual compensation to $2,700. The Giants balked.

Donlin threatened to join the theater, if the Giants didn’t agree to his terms. His pretty young wife, Mabel Hite, was a nationally known actress, and Mike had already performed with her on the vaudeville circuit. Reporters wondered if Donlin was upset over how he had been treated when injured the previous season; although he admitted that he had paid the $75 medical bills from his own pocket, he wasn’t the sort of fellow to hold a grudge over such a small dollar figure. The Giants officially rejected Donlin’s proposal on February 13, and two days later, reports surfaced that the outfielder was entertaining offers from Chicago-area semipro teams, where Donlin had been spending his offseason.

Mike Donlin

Mike Donlin

With spring camp just around the corner, New York Giants ballplayers living in the Midwest were instructed to meet in Chicago, where they would connect with John McGraw and the rest of the team, on their way to Los Angeles. Roger Bresnahan was the first to arrive, where he joined Donlin, who was hoping to hammer out a deal before heading out west. Sammy Strang, Cecil Ferguson, Frank Bowerman and a couple of rookies arrived shortly thereafter. Within a couple days, Donlin had convinced everybody (with the exception of Bresnahan) to hold out for more money. He was trying to drag one quarter of the club into his own contract negotiation. When McGraw and the rest of the Giants arrived, the miniature player rebellion almost immediately collapsed. Everybody got on the L.A.-bound train, with the exception of Donlin and Bowerman, who were both being offered $400 a month to play for a Kewanee, Illinois semipro outfit.

The newspapers sizzled with conflicting reports on March 11. One story claimed Donlin and his wife had purchased the St. Joseph franchise in the Western League and that he’d run the club from the bench. On the same day, another report said Donlin and McGraw had worked out their differences and that Mike would be rejoining the Giants in the near future. Both were erroneous.

On April 4, after meeting with McGraw in Louisville, Mike Donlin officially ended negotiations and accepted a deal to stay in Chicago, where he’d play baseball for the independent Logan Squares during the day, then work nights at the Whitney  Opera House. He’d kept in shape by exercising at the Bartlett Gymnasium on the University of Chicago campus and was ready to go. His wife was the female lead in a musical comedy called “A Knight for a Day,” and had signed a 62-week contract with the Whitney Opera House, reportedly worth $1,400 per month. Her husband was being kept on retainer by the theater, being paid $50 a week to stay in town. Sometimes he collected tickets at the theatre door, other times he appeared on stage during the performance, and still other times he’d simply show up drunk and try to start fights with his wife.

My Cinderella Girl starring William Norris, not Mabel Hite, was a 1910 hit in Chicago.

My Cinderella Girl starring William Norris, not Mabel Hite, was a 1910 hit at the Whitney.

During the day, he was playing first base for Nixey Callahan’s team in what was arguably the most controversial baseball league in the country. For his services, Donlin was collecting an annual salary of $1500, on top of his $50 weekly stipend from the theater. For the remaining 39 weeks of 1907, he could see an income of $3450 from his two jobs, slightly higher than the $3300 offered by the New York Giants. His wife was scheduled to earn $13,728 thru December 31. Combined, the Donlin–Hite team would earn more $17,000, or twice what the highest-paid baseball players, such as Napoleon Lajoie and Honus Wagner, were making at the time.

Mike Donlin’s manager with the Logan Squares, Nixey Callahan, had broken into the major leagues in 1894, then became player-manager of the Chicago White Sox in 1903, at the tender age of 29. The next year, Callahan resigned his post as manager in midseason to focus on his role as an everyday ballplayer. Then after 1905, Callahan surprised White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey by quitting altogether. He was going to build his own ballpark on the city’s north side, joining the ranks of the independent professionals. At 32 years old, he was still a productive ballplayer when he walked away, and the National Commission blacklisted him. During his first season at the helm of the Logan Squares, Callahan claimed to have earned $12,000 for his efforts, probably three times what he would have earned had he stayed with the White Sox.

Callahan, 1907 Logan Squares

Callahan, 1907 Logan Squares

By the time Mike Donlin joined the Logan Squares in 1907, they were performing in what was more a loosely organized coalition of ball clubs than an actual league, but the talent in Chicago was legitimate and the money green. Callahan and Donlin’s arch rivals during the summer were Rube Foster’s Leland Giants, the “colored” champions of the Midwest, and the Havana Stars, featuring the best baseball players from Cuba. The other local clubs, such as the Gunthers and West Ends, featured former and future big leaguers. Cap Anson even had a team in the circuit. A teammate with Callahan and Donlin was former major leaguer Harry “Moose” McCormick. McCormick played under an alias (“Harrison”), then returned to the big leagues in 1908, becoming a central figure in the famous “Merkle Boner” incident late in the season.

Another rogue free agent who signed with the Chicago City League, rather than play in the majors, was Jake Stahl, who’d served as player-manager of the Washington Senators the previous year. Callahan, Donlin, McCormick, and Stahl all suited up for the same all-star team in a heated championship series with Rube Foster’s Leland Giants. The all-star team’s line-up was comprised almost entirely of former and future major leaguers, but lost their hotly contested set with the Leland Giants.

On the field, Mike Donlin was dominant. After a slow start, he turned on the afterburners, smoking line drives throughout the summer. In 50 surviving box scores, Donlin batted .419 with 27 doubles and 3 home runs. He was one of the best players in the world, performing in a baseball environment on par with a high minor league. Against the black teams, Donlin’s average was .321 in eight games played. Callahan batted about .339 in 62 games in 1907, including a .303 mark versus the Cuban and black clubs.

Slide, Kelly, Slide (1927) featured an aging Donlin

Donlin in Slide, Kelly, Slide (1927)

This is what free agency looked like in the ragtime era: active major leaguers carving out niche opportunities in large cities such as Chicago, where the population’s thirst for baseball far outstripped the ability of its two existing major league clubs to service it. And at the neighborhood level, the game was colorblind. Even Cap Anson, the so-called architect of professional baseball’s color line, suited up once and played against the Leland Giants. (He went hitless.)

Callahan, Donlin, McCormick, and Stahl all paid heavy fines, but eventually returned to the big league ranks. Mike Donlin and Mabel Hite patched up their differences and together had another successful theatre run later on, but the actress tragically succumbed to stomach cancer in 1912, after a twelve-month struggle. She was only 29 years old. Donlin remarried, but never really changed his partygoer ways. After his playing days were over, he forged a decent career as a film actor in Hollywood, but squandered much of his earnings. He passed away in 1933, virtually penniless.

 

Opening Day

Ruth leads mates, first Opening Day at Yankee Stadium, April 18, 1923.

Ruth leads mates, first Opening Day at Yankee Stadium, April 18, 1923.

According to Horace Traubel in With Walt Whitman in Camden (March 28-July 14, 1888), published in 1906, Whitman said to him, “I like your interest in sports–ball, chiefest of all–baseball particularly: baseball is our game: the American game: I connect it with our national character. Sports  take people out of doors, get them filled with oxygen–generate some of the brutal customs (so-called brutal customs) which, after all, tend to habituate people to a necessary physical stoicism. We are some ways a dyspeptic, nervous set: anything which will repair such losses may be regarded as a blessing to the race.”

This remark is generally paraphrased by those wishing to quote the juicy phrases. Maybe we can blame Douglass Wallop for first “helping” Whitman. Annie Savoy and Ken Burns are among the legions who have followed down this path. The famous “‘snap, go, fling” quote also came from the Traubel: “Well – it’s our game; that’s the chief fact in connection with it; America’s game; it has the snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere; it belongs as much to our institutions; fits into them as significantly as our Constitution’s laws; is just as important in the sum total of our historic life.”

Here’s another Whitman anthem for Opening Day. Truncated, it is today famous as the opening lines of Ken Burns’s Baseball (1994). Here is the young Whitman’s full commentary, from the Brooklyn Eagle, Thursday, July 23, 1846.

“CITY INTELLIGENCE

“Brooklyn Young Men.—Athletic exercises.—In our sun-down perambulations, of late, through the outer parts of Brooklyn, we have observed several parties of youngsters playing “base,” a certain game of ball. We wish such sights were more common among us. In the practice of athletic and manly sports, the young men of nearly all our American cities are very deficient—perhaps more so than those of any other country that could be mentioned. Clerks are shut up from early morning till nine or ten o’clock at night—apprentices, after their days’ works, either go to bed, or lounge about in places where they benefit neither body or mind—and all classes seem to act as though there were no commendable objects of pursuit in the world except making money and tenaciously sticking to one’s trade or occupation. Now, as the fault is so generally of this kind, we can do little harm in hinting to people that, after all, there may be no necessity for such a drudge system among men. Let us enjoy life a little. Has God made this beautiful earth—the sun to shine—all the sweet influences of nature to operate—and planted in man a wish for their delights—and all for nothing? Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave of our close rooms, and the dust and corruption of stagnant places, and taste some of the good things Providence has scattered around so liberally.

The Good Gray Poet

The Good Gray Poet

“We would that all the young fellows about Brooklyn were daily in the habit of spending an hour or two in some out-door game or recreation. The body and mind would both be benefitted by it. There would be fewer attenuated forms and shrunken limbs and pallid faces in our streets. The game of ball is glorious—that of quoits is invigorating—so are leaping, running, wrestling, etc. etc. To any person having the least knowledge of physiology, it were superfluous to enter into any argument to prove the use and benefit of exercise. We have far too little of it in this country, among the “genteel” classes. Both women and men, particularly the younger ones, should be careful to pass no day of their lives without a portion of out-door exercise.”

Why stop here, when the game of ball is glorious? Below, other literary sentiments about our game, in no particular order.

PHILIP ROTH: For someone whose roots in America were strong but only inches deep, and who had no experience, such as a Catholic child might, of an awesome hierarchy that was real and felt, baseball was a kind of secular church that reached into every class and region of the nation and bound millions upon millions of us together in common concerns, loyalties, rituals, enthusiasms, and antagonisms. Baseball made me understand what patriotism was about, at its best.

ROBERT COOVER: There were things about the games I liked. The crowds, for example. I felt like I was part of something there, you know, like in church, except it was more real than any church, and I joined in the scorekeeping, hollering, the eating of hot dogs and drinking of Cokes and beer, and for a while I even had the idea that ball stadiums, and not European churches were the real American holy places.

DAVID HALBERSTAM: By and large it is the sport that a foreigner is least likely to take to. You have to grow up playing it, you have to accept the lore of the bubble-gum card, and believe that if the answer to the Mays-Snider-Mantle question is found, then the universe will be a simpler and more ordered place.

DONALD HALL: Baseball is continuous, like nothing else among American things, an endless game of repeated summers, joining the long generations of all the fathers and all the sons.

Popular Magazine, April 17, 1917.

Popular Magazine, April 7, 1917.

JIMMY CANNON: He was a parade all by himself, a burst of dazzle and jingle. Santa Claus drinking his whiskey straight and groaning with a bellyache caused by gluttony….Babe Ruth made the music that his joyous years danced to in a continuous party….What Babe Ruth is comes down, one generation handing it to the next, as a national heirloom.

PHILIP K. WRIGLEY: Baseball is too much of a sport to be called a business, and too much of a business to be called a sport.

JACQUES BARZUN: Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.

GEORGE BERNARD SHAW: What is both surprising and delightful is that the spectators are allowed, and even expected, to join in the vocal part of the game. I do not see why this feature should not be introduced into cricket. There is no reason why the field should not try to put the batsman off his stroke at the critical moment by neatly timed disparagements of his wife’s fidelity and his mother’s respectability.

FRANKLIN P. ADAMS:

These are the saddest of possible words: “Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

Trio of bear cubs and fleeters than birds, “Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,

Making a Giant hit into a double–

Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble: “Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

THOMAS WOLFE : Is there anything that can evoke spring–the first fine days of April–better than the sound of the ball smacking into the pocket of the big mill, the sound of the bat as it hits the horsehide…? And is there anything that can tell more about an American summer than, say, the smell of the wooden bleachers in a small-town baseball park, that resinous, sultry, and exciting smell of old dry wood.

JIM BOUTON: You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.

Lance Richbourg paints Roy Campanella; OK Harris Gallery

Lance Richbourg paints Roy Campanella; O.K. Harris Gallery

ERNIE HARWELL: Baseball is cigar smoke, hot-roasted peanuts, The Sporting News, Ladies’ Day, Down in Front, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, the seventh-Inning Stretch and the Star-Spangled Banner. Baseball is a highly paid Brooklyn catcher telling the nation’s business leaders: “You have to be a man to be a big leaguer, but you have to have a lot of little boy in you too.” This is a game for America–this baseball. A game for boys and for men.

BRUCE CATTON: Baseball is conservative. What was good enough in Cap Anson’s day is good enough now, and a populace that could stand unmoved while the Federal Constitution was amended would protest with vehemence at any tampering with the formalities of baseball.

A. BARTLETT GIAMATTI: Baseball breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the Chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.

ARTHUR “BUGS” BAER, describing Ping Bodie’s attempt to steal second base in 1917, when he was thrown out by several yards: “His head was full of larceny, but his feet were honest.”

BERNARD MALAMUD: The whole history of baseball has the quality of mythology.

Nap Lajoie at League Park, Opening Day, 1908

Nap Lajoie at League Park, Opening Day, 1908

DONALD HALL: Baseball connects generations. When you are small you may not discuss politics or union dues or profit margins with your father’s cigar-smoking friends when your father has gone out for a six-pack; but you may discuss baseball. It is all you have in common, because your father’s friend does not wish to discuss the Assistant Principal or Alice Bisbee Morgan. About the season’s moment you know as much as he does; both of you may shake your heads over Lefty’s wildness or the rookie who was called out last Saturday when he tried to steal home with two outs in the ninth inning down by one.

ERNEST L. THAYER:

Oh! somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light.

And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;

But there is no joy in Mudville–mighty Casey has struck out.

PHILIP ROTH: You can’t imagine how truly glorious it is out there, so alone in all that space….Do you know baseball at all? Because center field is like some observation post, a kind of control tower, where you are able to see everything and everyone, to understand what’s happening the instant it happens, not only by the sound of the struck bat but by the spark of movement that goes through the infielders in the first second that the ball comes flying at them; and once it gets beyond them, “It’s mine,” you call, “it’s mine,” and then after it you go. For in center field, if you can get to it, it is yours. Oh, how unlike my home it is to be in center field, where no one will appropriate unto himself anything that I say is mine!

Live Oak Polka, 1860

Live Oak Polka, 1860

ERIC ROLFE GREENBERG: To be a pitcher! I thought. A pitcher, standing at the axis of event, or a catcher with the God-view of the play all before him; to be a shortstop, lord of the infield, or a center fielder with unchallenged claim to all the territory one’s speed and skill could command; to perform the spontaneous acrobatics of the third baseman or the practiced ballet of the man at second, or to run and throw with the absolute commitment of the outfielder! And to live in a world without grays, where all decisions were final: ball or strike, safe or out, the game won or lost beyond question or appeal.

EDNA FERBER: Any man who can look handsome in a dirty baseball suit is an Adonis. There is something about the baggy pants, and the Micawber-shaped collar, and the skull-fitting cap, and the foot or so of tan, or blue, or pink undershirt sleeve sticking out at the arms, that just naturally kills a man’s best points. Then too, a baseball suit requires so much in the matter of leg. Therefore, when I say that Rudie Schlachweiler was a dream even in his baseball uniform, with a dirty brown streak right up the side of his pants where he had slid for base, you may know that the girls camped on the grounds during the season.

W.P. KINSELLA: As I look around the empty park, almost Greek in its starkness, I feel an awesome inarticulate love for this very stadium and the game it represents. I am reminded of the story about the baseball fans of Milwaukee, and what they did on a warm fall afternoon, the day after it was announced that Milwaukee was to have a major-league team the next season. According to the story, 10,000 people went to County Stadium that afternoon and sat in the seats and smiled out at the empty playing field-sat in silence, in awe, in wonder, in anticipation, in joy–just knowing that soon the field would come alive with the chatter of infielders, bright as bird chirps.

Opening Day, New York  vs Brooklyn, Polo Grounds, April 17, 1903.

Opening Day, New York vs Brooklyn, Polo Grounds, April 17, 1903.

THOMAS WOLFE: In the memory of almost every one of us, is there anything, that can evoke spring–the first fine days of April–better than the sound of the ball smacking into the pocket of the big mitt, the sound of the bat as it hits the horsehide: for me, at any rate, and I am being literal and not rhetorical–almost everything I know about spring is in it–the first leaf, the jonquil, the maple tree, the smell of grass upon your hands and knees, the coming into flower of April.

ALAN LELCHUK: After a great victory in war, there was a feeling that merit would be recognized. It was like coming into a bright light. The feeling that not only had we made it through, we, children of immigrants, were on the way up.

RED SMITH (after Bobby Thomson’s home run): The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.

THOMAS WOLFE: Baseball has been not merely “the great national game” but really a part of the whole weather of our lives, of the thing that is our own, of the whole fabric, the million memories of America.

 

 

 

 

 

Picture Portfolio No. 3: Women in Baseball

Baseball began in England before the 1740s as a game for young people, and it was played by girls as commonly as it was by boys; often the two played together. Writing in 1798 the novelist Jane Austen—in Northanger Abbey, published posthumously two decades later—has her heroine, Catherine Morland, say that she prefers cricket and baseball to reading—“at least books of information.”

In the United States, beginning in the 1860s, women formed baseball clubs of their own at the Seven Sister colleges of the Northeast. Two nines competed in 1869, at Peterboro, New York, an upstate village some seventy-five miles from Seneca Falls where the women’s suffrage movement was born. The contest was reported in a New York newspaper called Day’s Doings, a sensationalist sex-story journal self-avowedly devoted to “current events of romance, police reports, important trials, and sporting news.” Unsurprisingly, the Police Gazette and the Sporting Times depicted the young baseballists as strumpets.

The following years provided a rich alternative on-field history through novelty nines, barnstorming clubs, and active amateur play. Women were prized as spectators at early matches because it was thought they lent tone and decorum to a game that otherwise might produce, in heated moments, unseemly verbal and physical displays. By the mid-1870s exhibitions of women’s baseball had generally taken the form of Blondes versus Brunettes, with varying geographic modifiers applied to each. These pulchritudinous nines typically used a smaller than regulation ball made only of yarn, played the game on a fifty-foot diamond, and barnstormed their way through a legion of appreciative “bald-headed men,” a code name in theatrical circles for voyeurists of a certain age who liked to sit in the first row.

It was into this tawdry realm of women’s baseball that a Broadway actress, Helen Dauvray, stepped in 1887, leaving a historic mark. She is not only the creator of baseball’s first world championship trophy, but also a woman of several identities and a remarkable life story that I have told in three parts at Our Game. See:

http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/11/03/baseballs-lost-chalice/

http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/11/04/baseballs-lost-chalice-part-2/

http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2011/11/04/baseballs-lost-chalice-part-3/

Ladies’ Day had been a popular innovation of the 1880s, though its origins stretched back to the amateur era. In the ’90s women were seen at the ballpark more frequently than they had been in the early 1870s, but the crudeness and violence of the “evolved” game was now deterring their patronage.

If women were becoming disinclined to watch professional baseball, they were still interested in playing it. Bloomer Girls clubs, named for the ridiculed but liberating harem pants invented by Amelia Jenks Bloomer in the 1850s, started up in Boston, New York, and Kansas City and barnstormed successfully for many years. A milestone event occurred on July 5, 1898, when Lizzie (Stroud) Arlington, with the blessings of Atlantic League president Ed Barrow, later famous as the general manager of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, pitched an inning for Reading against Allentown. She gave up two hits but no runs in this first appearance of a woman in Organized Baseball.

Another female baseball pioneer, little noted until now, is Ida Schnall, a formidable athlete of unprecedentedly diverse prowess. The baseball club she formed in 1913, and for which she pitched, was the New York Female Giants. For her outstanding dare-deviltry and sports achievements Ida became the pet of newspapers coast to coast and hobnobbed with the great figures of her day, including Babe Ruth and Al Jolson, in whose Passing Show of 1912 she starred on Broadway.

Much has been written about Jackie Mitchell, the purported flamethrower who fanned Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in 1931, and the All American Girls Professional Baseball League of 1943-54. Less has been said about Amanda Clement, Alta Weiss, Ruth Engel, Ila Borders, and Justine Siegal, pioneers of the women’s game who share Jane Austen’s vision of baseball as a game that could be played by all.

This portfolio–like the ones on Ruth and Robinson that preceded it–does not pretend to be comprehensive. I simply offer images that may be unfamiliar and pleasing.

 

 

 

The Catcher Who Stopped a Revolution

Hay Wodehouse,  Sporting Life, Oct. 21, 1889

Hay Wodehouse, Sporting Life, Oct. 21, 1889

This guest column is by Bruce Allardice, one of the most active and proficient researchers into early baseball. He is professor of history at South Suburban College near Chicago. He has authored numerous books on the Civil War, and is head of SABR’s Civil War baseball subcommittee. He has also been a contributor to Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game.

Some stories have it all—betrayal, courage, cowardice, a comic-opera kingdom, a drunken monarch, and a government saved by the long right arm of a baseball player. It even has a connection to Alexander Cartwright, one of the founders of baseball.

Up until 1898, the current state of Hawaii remained a separate country, for most of that time ruled by a dynasty of native Hawaiian monarchs. American shipping interests and missionary work brought thousands of American citizens to the islands. And these Americans brought with them the “new” game of baseball. As early as 1866 Hawaii became the second country outside the United States to establish baseball teams.[1] By the 1870s a regular league of amateur baseball teams played in Honolulu, sporting such nicknames as the Whangdoodles, the Stars, the Pacifics, and the Honolulus.

While researching early Hawaiian baseball, I ran across this story in Sporting Life, August 21, 1889:[2]

A Catcher Hero. Revolution Quelled Through the Efforts of a Base Ball Catcher.

One of the incidents of the recent attempted [Wilcox] revolution in Hawaii has a peculiar interest for base ball lovers. A special from San Francisco, under date of Aug. 12, says: 

“Some passengers by the Honolulu steamer who were seen late last night gave interesting accounts of scenes at the recent battle in Honolulu. The day was won, they say, by a base ball catcher, who threw dynamite bombs into the bungalow that formed the headquarters of the insurgents and brought them to terms quicker than rifle or cannon shot. The blue-jackets kept up a disastrous firing all day, and it was finally decided to throw dynamite on the bungalow. Bombs were made, but it was found that there were no guns to fire them.

Bungalow at Iolani Palace

Bungalow at Iolani Palace

“It was a long throw, and in their dilemma the King’s guards secured the services of Hay Wodehouse, catcher of the Honolulu Base Ball Club. Wodehouse took up his position in the Coney Island building, just across a narrow lane, and overlooking the bungalow. No attack was expected from that quarter, and there was nothing to disturb the bomb thrower. Wodehouse stood for a few moments with a bomb in his hand as though he were in the box waiting for a batman. He had to throw over a house to reach the bungalow, which he could not see.

“The first bomb went sailing over the wall, made a down curve, and struck the side of the bungalow about a foot from the roof, and the yell that followed reminded one of a day at the Haight street grounds when good pitchers were in the box. The bomb had reached them and hurt a number of the insurgents. Wodehouse coolly picked out another bomb. Then he took a step back, made a half turn, and sent it whizzing. It lauded on the roof of the bungalow, smashed a hole four men could have dropped through, and scattered old iron among the rebels until they thought they were in a boiler explosion. The base ball pitcher was too much for the rebels.

He threw one more bomb, and Wilcox came out and surrendered.”

Further details can be found in the Maui Times, Oct. 18, 1913:[3]

“I was somewhat surprised last week when I read a short mention of the death of James Hay Wodehouse at the Queen’s Hospital, for Hay was one of the makers of history here twenty-five years ago, and one of the pioneer ball players, for he played during the years when Thurston, Faxon Bishop, Willie Kinney, W. Lucas, the Baldwins and men of lesser note were active on the diamond. Hay was a great catcher in his younger days, and during a season a good many years ago, was a helper in winning the championship for his team, “The Honolulu,” I think it was. But what brought him to the public eye was the stopping of the revolution of 1889 which was led by the late Bob Wilcox. Wodehouse, be it known, was the son of a British Minister resident who, I think, was the dean of the diplomatic corps…. Well, when Wilcox, who had been a ward of the government to the extent of being sent to Italy for his education, made up his mind it was time to break out. He laid plots over the town and shook out seeds of revolution. With his supports, or some of them, he located in the Iolani grounds while the King was down at the boat house. It looked as though Bob would get the whip hand if something was not promptly done to dislodge him. His headquarters, and those of his lieutenants was in the bungalow. Just across Hotel street was the Haalelea or Coney residence behind the stone wall which is now used to keep unruly members of the University Club within and the public without.

“Someone suggested that a stick of dynamite or a bomb should be thrown into the house where Bob was, but there was no one about who could do it, until Hay was thought of and sent for. He could send a ball from the plate to second without an effort, and he believed so strongly that he could land on the bungalow, that he let her go. There was hades a poppin’ in two minutes and Bob was seen to make a rush for the big gasoline tank. A second bomb drove him from that and he was promptly gathered in. The revolution was pau [done] and it had been stopped by a ball tosser in the beginning.

“Being the son of a distinguished diplomat, there was trouble for him and the father was called on to explain what he knew of the affair, but he was innocent enough and the incident closed as far as any official investigation was concerned, but Hay had to answer to his father.”

The earliest contemporary account of the incident is in the Honolulu Daily Bulletin, July 31, 1889:[4]

“…Yesterday afternoon the Government decided that it was necessary to dislodge Wilcox from the bungalow into which he had withdrawn his remaining force. Half-past four was fixed as the time for the grand attack, but it was an hour later before preparations were completed. Having no ordnance to bring to bear upon the building the use of giant powder cartridges was resorted to. These were hurled by strong arms from Palace Walk and some from Richards street, and as they exploded the report made people at a distance think the rebels had got the cannon into play again. A terrific fusillade was at the same time begun and kept up with scarcely an intermission for about an hour from all the commanding points of vantage. A galling fire was poured into the lower flat of the bungalow by half a dozen citizen marksmen posted in the Hawaiian Hotel Stables. Then suddenly was heard the commanding shout, “Hold on,” after which only a desultory shot or two was heard from the church, and the explosion of one bomb at the bungalow. The cessation of the fray was caused by the beleaguered rebels displaying a white sheet and calling out their ‘Surrender.’ The gates were thrown open and a force of volunteers entering received the submission of Wilcox and about thirty of his followers. The remainder of them made good their escape over the Palace wall. The thirty who had surrendered to Lieut. Parker in the afternoon were previously sent to the Station under guard. Wilcox and his gang were escorted also to the Station. The rebel chief bore himself sullenly and proudly through the crowded streets, casting looks of disdain to right and left as cries of vengeance were heard, such as ‘String him up,’ etc.

[…]

“The interior of the bungalow in the Palace yard, where the rebels were located the greater part of the day, presented a scene of devastation this morning. The roof is damaged very considerably by the giant powder cartridges which exploded on it. The rooms upstairs at the Richards street end presented a sorry appearance. Furniture was all smashed to pieces, the floors were strewed with broken glass and bullet holes were seen in the walls in every direction. It was terrible to see what damage had been done. On the matting in several of the rooms were large patches of blood, and many cloths were lying around saturated with blood. On the back verandah down stairs was a long trail of blood looking as if a wounded man had been dragged along. The damage to the lower part of the bungalow was small compared to that on the first floor.”

Background

His majesty here, who is a fine, intelligent fellow, but O, Charles! What a crop for the drink! He carries it, too, like a mountain with a sparrow on its shoulders.–Robert Louis Stevenson to Charles Baxter, Feb. 8, 1889[5]

Stevenson was writing of his good friend and drinking companion, King David Kalakaua of Hawaii, whose troubled reign gave rise to the 1889 uprising.

King David Kalakaua

King David Kalakaua

Elected monarch in 1874 by the Hawaiian legislature, after the death of the last of the dynasty of King Kamehameha the Great, David Kalakaua faced opposition from both “native” Hawaiians (many of whom preferred his cousin, the former Queen Emma, to be their monarch) and the Caucasian-descended “Haole”[6] merchants who paid most of the kingdom’s taxes. The new king was admitted by all to be personally charming and dignified. He was a huge sports fan,[7] and was the first monarch ever to attend a baseball game. His palace staff even sponsored a baseball club. But Kalakaua’s notorious drinking bouts, his spendthrift habits, his expensive (and largely unsuccessful) poker playing, and his impractical schemes for a “Pacific empire” bankrupted his own finances and the finances of his tiny kingdom. The improvident monarch gave over government of the kingdom to shady adventurers such as Cesar Moreno and Walter Gibson who promised, in return for power, to get the elected legislature to pay off the king’s mounting debts.

For the Haole taxpayers (and most others), the final straw came when Kalakaua took a $71,000 bribe from a Chinese businessman to license the import of opium into the kingdom. Greedy for more money, the king didn’t issue the license, then promptly took a second bribe from another Chinese merchant and gave him the license instead![8] In 1887 the mostly Caucasian Honolulu merchants organized a volunteer militia, marched on the royal Iolani Palace (another expensive extravagance, in their minds) and coerced the king into signing the so-called “Bayonet Constitution” which stripped the monarch of most of his powers, giving those powers to an elected cabinet.

Kalakaua resented his new restrictions. So did many natives, appalled that the man they viewed as their tribal chief now had to act as an English-style Constitutional monarch, co-signing the laws passed by the Haole-dominated Reform Party government. A former favorite of Kalakaua’s, young Robert Wilcox, vowed to do something about it. Of mostly native descent, the hot-headed Wilcox planned to raise a revolt, but word of his plotting (though not the exact details) leaked out all over Honolulu. The king heard of Wilcox’s plans (Wilcox held his planning meetings at the home of the Queen’s sister) and acquiesced, promising to allow himself to be captured by the rebels when they seized the palace, dismiss the government, and promulgate the new constitution Wilcox had written.[9]

Robert W. Wilcox

Robert W. Wilcox

On the night of July 30, 1889, Wilcox gathered together a ragtag bunch of about 150 rebels, all but a few of whom were natives, and set off to seize the government. However, Kalakaua heard a rumor that night that Wilcox (known to be untrustworthy)[10] also intended to depose the king and put his sister Liliuokalani (thought to be firmer against Haole domination) on the throne.

Frightened, the king double-crossed Wilcox. He left Iolani Palace to hide out at the royal boathouse, ordering the commander of the dozen palace guards, Captain Robert Waipu Parker[11] (himself first baseman of a local baseball club), to defend the palace by force. So when the rebels arrived at the palace grounds, they found no king, and no entrance to the palace. Wilcox had no plan B—or even a step 2 in his original plan. He made little or no effort to seize the members of the government. His men milled around in confusion on the palace grounds, discouraged and demoralized by the king’s betrayal.

The government reacted quickly. By early morning the palace grounds were surrounded by members of Honolulu’s volunteer militia and Haole volunteers. From the Opera House across the street from the palace grounds, and from the historic stone church a block away, they poured fire on the rebels. The rebels had seized the only four cannon in the kingdom, but the rifle fire prevented them from firing the cannon accurately at the government forces. The rebels retreated to the royal bungalow in the northwest corner of the palace grounds. There they made their stand. The grounds were surrounded by an eight-foot coral wall, and the rebels had a clear field of fire on the grounds and onto the surrounding streets.

Old Iolani Palace grounds[Below is a modern map of the Iolani Palace grounds. The Opera House was where the modern Post office is located. The bungalow is just to the left, and above, of the palace. Wodehouse threw his bombs from the Coney residence, just above the bungalow. At the left is a map from the Rocky Mountain News, August 20, 1889, which shows the same area. The bungalow is marked “B.” The Coney residence is marked “G” and is located just above the bungalow.]

By late afternoon many of the discouraged rebels had surrendered. But the fire from the bungalow continued. The government forces feared that Wilcox might hold out long enough, or create enough of a stir, that the king would change his mind again and back the rebels.[12] Wilcox hoped this too. Wilcox also hoped that he could escape in the coming darkness and raise the natives (who had thus far remained mostly neutral) in a mass revolt. Artillery was needed to batter down the bungalow walls, but no cannon were available.

Modern Iolani Palace grounds

Modern Iolani Palace grounds

Contemporary author Stephen Dando-Collins says Wodehouse thought up the idea for throwing the bombs, constructed them, and enlisted Arthur C. Turton (a ship’s purser and baseball player himself) as a helper. The pair crept along the palace walls, up Richards Street which border the western side of the palace grounds. When they reached a close point—some sources claim on the street behind the wall, others say they climbed the Coney residence on Hotel Street—Turton lighted the fuse and handed the dynamite bombs to Wodehouse. The bombs were wrapped around nails or spikes so that when thrown onto the bungalow roof, they wouldn’t roll down. The dynamite, lobbed onto the bungalow roof, did the trick. The rebellion ended—the only rebellion in history ever put down by a baseball player.[13]

The Rest of the Story.

Hawaiian-born James Hay Wodehouse Jr. (1861-1913) was the son of the longtime British Consul to Hawaii, James Hay Wodehouse Sr. The Wodehouses counted the Earl of Errol and the novelist P. G. Wodehouse among their relatives. Wodehouse Sr. had served as president of the local cricket club, and his two sons James and Ernest became enthusiastic players on the local baseball clubs. Ernest pitched for the Stars and James (labeled “the fleet-footed Mercury of the League”) caught for the Honolulus.[14] At the time of the rebellion James was a salesman for one of the local British-based merchant companies.

James later married King Kalakaua’s step-niece. He died in Hawaii in 1913.[15]

Hawaiian born Arthur Campbell “Jack” Turton (1867-1890) was scion of one of the wealthiest planter families in the kingdom. He’d played baseball while attending Punahou School. Shortly after the rebellion, Turton caught a fever while on a visit to the U.S., and died in San Francisco. He was buried in that city’s Masonic Cemetery.[16]

King David Kalakaua (1836-1891), the “Merry Monarch,” died two years after the rebellions. His sister, Liliuokalani (“Queen Lil”, 1838-1917), was deposed two years later when she unilaterally tried to revoke the 1887 Constitution. The new government proclaimed Hawaii an independent Republic. In 1898 Hawaii was annexed to the United States.

Robert William Kalanihiupo Wilcox (1855-1903) was tried for treason. But a clause in the Hawaiian Constitution provided that natives be tried by an all-native jury, and despite his obvious guilt, the jury acquitted him and all the native rebels. The only rebel punished was a stray Belgian who joined the fight. In 1895 the “unconquerable” Wilcox again tried (and failed) to overthrow the government and restore the monarchy. Wilcox remained popular among the natives, who later elected the former rebel the new Territory’s delegate to the U.S. Congress!

And in perhaps the ultimate irony to this affair, Wilcox, whose revolution has been thwarted by two baseball players, married Theresa La’anui, whose first husband was the son of Alexander Joy Cartwright, considered by many the founder of Baseball![17]

Notes


[1]The king feared that he would be deposed by the winners, whichever side won.

[2]Sources for this narrative of the Wilcox Revolt include the first and freshest account: “Unsuccessful Attempt at Revolution!”, Honolulu Daily Bulletin, July 31, 1889. The Bulletin from Aug. 1st through 6th has more articles on the revolt. See also “A Rebellion,” San Francisco Bulletin, Aug. 10, 1889; “Fatal Hawaiian Revolt,” Daily Alta California, Aug. 10, 1889; “The Hawaiian Revolt,” Daily Alta California, Aug. 11, 1889; “The Honolulu Insurgents,” Fresno Republican, Aug. 13, 1889; “Kalakaua’s Kingdom,” Los Angeles Daily Herald, Aug. 10, 1889; “Insurrection!”, Hawaiian Gazette, Aug. 6, 1889. Perhaps the fullest eyewitness account is “An Incipient Revolt,” in the Denver Rocky Mountain News, Aug. 20, 1889, written by William D. Westervelt, later president of the Hawaiian Historical Society. Another good account is “The Wilcox Insurrection,” The Friend, Aug. 1889, pp 66-67. Seven rebels lost their lives in the revolt. On the government side, only one man (Captain Parker of the Palace Guard) was wounded.

The books cited in the bibliography all discuss the Wilcox revolt, trying to make sense of the varying accounts.

Ralph S. Kuykendall, the dean of historians of Hawaii, observes:

“As for Wilcox’s objectives, however, there can be no doubt  that two of them were: (1) to replace the Constitution of 1887 with one similar to that of 1864; and (2) to get rid of the Reform cabinet. The uncertainties have to do with the relationship of King Kalakaua and his sister Liliuokalani to the movement.” See Kuykendall, p. 424.

[3] “Baseball. The Stars win the 1889 Season Championship,” Hawaiian Gazette, Sept. 17, 1889.

[4] “James H. Wodehouse will be laid to rest this afternoon,” Honolulu Bulletin, Oct. 9, 1913.

[5] “Death of A. C. Turton”, Honolulu Bulletin, Nov. 24, 1890. See also San Francisco Call, Nov. 9, 1890.

[6] Cartwright was a staunch supporter of the bayonet constitution government. Perhaps fortunately, he didn’t live to see his daughter-in-law marry the premier Hawaiian rebel.

[7]Queen Lil later wrote that Wilcox’s “enthusiasm was great, but was not supported by good judgment or proper discretion.” Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s Story, p. 201.

[8]Aka Robert Parker Waipu.

[9] Haole is a native Hawaiian term an ancient origin. Under Hawaiian law, anyone born in the islands became a Hawaiian subject, even if their parents were “foreign.” Thus, under Hawaiian law, haoles such as James Hay Wodehouse were just as much “Hawaiian” as the “natives”.

[10] Cf. “Kalakaua a Crank,” New York Herald, Dec. 12, 1889 (using the slang word “crank” to signify a baseball fan). See also Honolulu Bulletin, Sept. 23, 1889, for the king attending a party honoring the Honolulu champion baseball team. Only months after this rebellion was quelled, the king hosted the Spalding baseball world tour and hosted a luau for the players.

[11] The disappointed Chinese merchant sued the king, and the whole messy affair became public knowledge.

[12] Wilcox testified at his trial that the king knew of his plans and promised to sign Wilcox’s new Constitution.

[13] “Unsuccessful Attempt at Revolution!”, Honolulu Daily Bulletin, July 31, 1889.

[14] Stevenson, Robert Louis (A. Grove Day, ed.), Travels in Hawaii (U. of Hawaii Press, 1991), p. 94.

[15] “James Hay Wodehouse Made History Once,” Maui News, Oct. 18, 1913.

[16] “Death of A. C. Turton”, Honolulu Bulletin, Nov. 24, 1890. See also San Francisco Call, Nov. 9, 1890.

[17] Cartwright was a staunch supporter of the bayonet constitution government. Perhaps fortunately, he didn’t live to see his daughter-in-law marry the premier Hawaiian rebel.

Picture Portfolio No. 2: Jackie Robinson

If Babe Ruth was the first in this projected series of picture portfolios, Jackie Robinson must be the second. Ruth was the game’s greatest player; Robinson was its most important. Both were American heroes whose exploits and character transcended the game. Here’s what Alan Schwarz and I wrote ten years ago, in Total Baseball, about Ruth and Robinson. We wrote a longish entry titled “Baseball’s 100 Most Important People.”

Now, a word about No. 1. It came down to two people—Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson—who ascended above everyone else for reasons about which you soon will read. But choosing between them for the top spot was an excruciating decision, extending beyond baseball to the United States at large. In fact, it was only after recognizing the breadth of the argument that we finally chose Ruth. Babe Ruth, by virtue of his talent and charisma, carried baseball from the depths of the Black Sox scandal into modern eminence; who changed the mindset of the sport from speed to slugging; and who was, lest we forget, baseball’s best all-around talent ever. Jackie Robinson too holds a monumental place in the game’s history, a spectacular player who, by virtue of breaking baseball’s longstanding color barrier and carrying himself with unwavering mettle afterward, receives credit for helping spark the modern civil-rights movement. 

We also wrote a capsule biography of Robinson, about whom it might be said that, like Lincoln, we think we have read it all before. But then somebody comes up with some new and surprising facts, some fresh, unique perspective. I suspect we will keep talking about Lincoln and Robinson all our lives, for while heroes are forever, our view of them continually evolves.

Picture Portfolio No. 1: Babe Ruth

Let’s try something different here at Our Game. A favorite feature of many readers these past three years has been the copious illustration accompanying articles about the Grand Old Ball Game Game. Moreover, I have found that when I post a link to a new story on Twitter or Facebook the response is polite but generally muted–a seated ovation, if you will. Only a few posts have generated thousands of visitors on the very first day. On the other hand, when I post an image or a film clip directly to a social-media site, folks are really enthusiastic. Where did you get that? they ask. That’s amazing, they exclaim. Encore! they demand.

You get the picture. Or rather, now you will, untrammeled by that pesky erudition and bloviation. Or at least occasionally you will: a post of slimly captioned, themed images without an accompanying article. Until I hit upon the congenial format, let’s look at fifteen pictures per post. For this first foray, why don’t we start with the biggest name in all of baseball history, Babe Ruth.

Panama Baseball: A Brief History

Hector Lopez, 1958

Hector Lopez, 1958

If you love palindromes—words or sentences that read the same forwards or backwards—then you know the granddaddy of them all: a man, a plan, a canal, Panama! This week the man of the palindrome will be Mariano Rivera, the New York Yankees relief pitcher recently retired as the all-time leader in saves. The plan will be to honor him as his former club and the Miami Marlins play a two-game set at Panama City’s Rod Carew Stadium on March 15 and 16. The canal will of course be the Panama Canal, marking its centennial year of operation. And Panamawell, that’s a baseball story that goes back farther than one might imagine, to even before Panama was a nation.

In tandem with Panama’s independence from Colombia in 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt crafted a treaty that gave America the right to build the canal and create a Canal Zone, about five miles wide on either side of the cross-isthmus waterway. (The Canal Zone was, until 1979, American territory; in this century it has been wholly Panamanian.) Construction of the waterway began a year later. Among the American imports was baseball—or at least that is the way the story has long been told. Colonel George Goethals, when not directing the canal’s construction, served as president of the Isthmian Baseball League. Thomas Graham Grier wrote in 1908:

There is a baseball league on the Canal Zone, consisting of seven teams, and good baseball is played, and people get just as excited and interested as we do over baseball in the States. A baseball park is at the rear of the Tivoli Hotel. If you are a guest, and have a room on the third floor, it is easy to obtain a very good view. 

As it turns out, baseball had been played in Panama as far back as 1883, when the future nation was still a province of Colombia. Panama’s Daily Star and Herald of January 9, 1883 described a baseball game played in Chiriqui Plaza two days before, between a team from Chiriqui Province and members of the Panama Cricket and Baseball Club. The contest was won by the latter, largely West Indian workers brought in for that period’s French-managed canal construction.

However, baseball’s history in Panama may go back to so distant a time that its rules were not yet standardized in its home country. Panamanian historian Ramon G. Pérez Medina, in his book Historia del Béisbol Panameño, writes that the game was first played here in the mid-1850s by American traders and men affiliated with the Panama Railroad Company.

1946 New York Yankees  Mainliner. Photo by Rudy Arnold, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

1946 New York Yankees Mainliner. Photo by Rudy Arnold, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.

Major League Baseball clubs had investigated the Canal Zone as a possible spring training site as early as 1916. The Giants and Yankees rejected a specific offer made to them, deeming the park facilities inadequate. But baseball continued to be played in Panama by its nationals and in the Canal Zone by the Americans. During World War II major leaguers on Armed Services teams played ball in the Zone (Mickey Harris of the Boston Red Sox threw a no-hitter there in 1942). Prior to spring training in February 1946, some Yankees who were returned servicemen had gone to the team’s spring camp in St. Petersburg, Florida directly from Panama.

The Yankees scheduled 11 games in Panama in 1946 and played against a team of Panamanian all-stars in the Canal Zone city of Balboa before an estimated crowd of 10,000. The Yanks returned for more in 1947, playing exhibition games against the Brooklyn Dodgers, who featured a rookie named Jackie Robinson, still nominally on the roster of their top club, the Montreal Royals. Panamanian Héctor López, who would go onto play with the Kansas City A’s and then the Yanks, said, “The Yankees and Dodgers came down to Panama for spring training [in March 1947]. After watching them, that’s when I really started thinking about playing professionally.”

Pat Scantlebury, 1956

Pat Scantlebury, 1956

The color line had been a barrier for Panamanian players, but some had joined clubs in the American Negro Leagues. Among these were Léon Kellman, Frank Pee-Wee” Austin, Archie Braithwaite, Clyde Parris, and Pat Scantlebury. Of those mentioned, only Scantlebury reached the big leagues, at the age of 38 as a pitcher with the Cincinnati Reds.

By 1945 the Professional Baseball League of Panama had been organized, growing strong enough to become one of the four key national groups that formed the Caribbean Series, first played in Havana, Cuba in 1949. That year Panama was represented by Spur Cola’s Refresqueros.

In the following year Panama sent its league champions to the Caribbean Series—this time held in San Juan, Puerto Rico— the same players as in ’49 but renamed for a new sponsor. The team was called Los Licoreros de Carta Vieja, after a brand of rum produced in Panama. The Carta Vieja club won the Series, the only time Panama did so.

The first Panamanian in MLB has sometimes been identified as Héctor López, other times as Pat Scantlebury. But the first, truly, was pitcher Humberto Robinson, who debuted with the Milwaukee Braves on April 20, 1955 (López came next, on May 12). Including the four major leaguers who were born in the Canal Zone, Panama has sent a total of 53 players to the U.S. majors. These include four who are currently on MLB 40-man rosters: Ruben Tejada, Christian Betancourt, Randall Delgado, and Carlos Ruiz.

Panama’s lone Hall of Famer to date has been Rod Carew. But this weekend’s honoree—Mariano Rivera—is, to use a canal term, a lock.

Australian Baseball: A Brief History

Joe Quinn, 1889. First Australian-born player in MLB.

Joe Quinn, 1889. First Australian-born player in MLB.

Perspective is everything. The first peoples of America did not think that Christopher Columbus discovered it or them. Likewise for Australia, to which Americans think Albert Goodwill Spalding and his band of ball-playing tourists brought baseball in 1888–89. The Spalding Tour was undoubtedly important to the future of the game in Australia, as Columbus was to all that followed in his wake. But baseball had already arrived Down Under.

Baseball in Australia has come a long way, and now Major League Baseball has come a long way to open its season there. On March 22–23, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks will be staging their Opening Day games at the historic Sydney Cricket Ground—the same venue where, 125 years ago, Spalding’s Chicago White Stockings played three games against the All Americas, top-flight opponents (including three future Hall of Famers) selected for the voyage.

Also like America, Australian baseball has a creation myth with little or no basis in fact. The Aussie equivalent of Abner Doubleday and his Cooperstown pals of 1839 would be a bunch of expat miners playing baseball in the goldfields of Ballarat 1857. There’s no point in burying Abner Doubleday again, although he has proven to be a lively corpse. But the Ballarat tale is preceded by evidence two years earlier, in the Colonial Times [Hobart] of September 22, 1855:

Sabbath Desecration. – A correspondent requests us to call attention to the practice of a number of boys and young men, who congregate in Mr. Wilkinson’s paddock, near Patrick and Murray Streets, on Sunday afternoons, for playing at cricket, base-ball, &c., making a great noise, and offending the eyes and ears of persons of moral and religious feeling.

Baseball Sketches in Melbourne. Illustrated Australian News, Jan 12, 1889.

Baseball Sketches. Cap Anson at lower left. Illustrated Australian News, 1889.

Far from the goldfields where Americans tended to congregate, Hobart is on the northern coast of the island that since 1856 has been known as Tasmania. And interestingly, like most of the many recent finds of baseball in the U.S. before Doubleday, this first Australian mention of baseball comes in the form of a complaint, of the sort that generally leads to a prohibition.

Australia’s first recorded game, as reported in Bell’s Life, was a February 28, 1857 three-inning match between Collingwood and Richmond. Though named “baseball,” it was a hybrid game in which it seems a run was recorded for each base secured. The final score: Collingwood 350, Richmond 230. Another significant report of baseball play (labeled the “first trial in the colonies”) survives in Melbourne’s Argus of June 5, 1869:

The first match of the Baseball Club will be played on the old Lonsdale Cricket ground, near the Botanical-gardens-bridge, at half-past two o’clock this afternoon. This game is as popular in America as cricket is here, and as to-day will witness its first trial in the colonies it will no doubt prove attractive to lovers of out-door sports.

Another baseball club was formed in Sydney in 1878. On June 17 the Argus reported: “The Base-ball Club formed here opened successfully at Moore-park on Saturday.” A month later the Gippsland Times reported the formation of another Sydney club: “The New South Wales base ball club has fairly started; practice matches have commenced.”

But the most important early Australian baseball club was the St. Kilda. On May 12, 1879, three days after an organizational meeting at Jewett’s Hotel in Clyde Street, the club conducted its first intramural game:

The first practice of the St. Kilda Base Ball Club took place on Saturday, on their ground, at the corner of Chapel and Argyle streets. After a little desultory practice sides were chosen and a scratch match played, the teams being captained by Messrs Jewett and Campbell. It resulted in an easy victory for Campbell’s side, by 16 runs to 3.

C.B. Hicks' Georgia Minstrels, founded in 1865. They played against the St. KIlda Base Ball Club in 1879.

C.B. Hicks’ Georgia Minstrels, founded in 1865. They played against the St. Kilda Base Ball Club in 1879.

By the following month the St Kilda BBC was ready to square off against a team of American performers, the Georgia Minstrels, comprised of ex-slaves who could play both music and baseball. Almost a decade before Spalding’s Tourists, the Argus reported: “The deciding game between the St. Kilda Base Ball Club and Georgia Minstrels will be played on St. Kilda Cricket Ground, this afternoon, at 2 o’clock sharp.  As each club has won a game, an exciting contest is expected.” As a sidelight, the year 1879 also marked the first appearance of an African American in MLB: William Edward White with the Providence Greys.

Now to Spalding’s Australian Tour—for that was how the expedition was billed on its departure from San Francisco on November 11, 1888. Only on board the steamship Alameda did Spalding reveal to his passengers that he intended to head west from Australia, transforming the trip into a World Tour with stops in Asia, Africa, and Europe.

All-America v. Chicago. First match in Sydney, Dec 15, 1888. Australian Town and Country Journal.

All-America v. Chicago. First match in Sydney, Dec 15, 1888. Australian Town and Country Journal.

When the teams arrived in Sydney harbor on December 14, 1888—after a one-game stopover at Auckland—a flotilla draped in red, white, and blue sailed out to meet them. A large crowd at Woolloomooloo wharf cheered the tourists. On the next day, Spalding’s “baseballers”—as they were labeled in the local press—played their first game in Australia, reportedly drawing 5,500 curious spectators. After two more games in Sydney, the troupe traveled by rail to Melbourne.

Spalding's Australian Baseball Tour

Spalding’s Australian Baseball Tour

Thanks to a Spalding advance man, the teams were greeted at Spencer Street Station by 500 flag-waving fans. They played two games at Melbourne Cricket Ground, on December 22–23, then three at Adelaide Oval, one at Ballarat’s Eastern Oval and, finally, another two in Melbourne at the turn of the New Year. Spalding’s World Tourists then steamed off for Colombo in today’s Sri Lanka, where they played their next game on January 26, 1889.

Spalding left behind his young aide Harry Simpson, charged with capitalizing on the trip by forming baseball clubs for the Victoria Baseball League of 1890—including the Metropolitan, Melbourne, Ferguson,  Fitzroy, Victoria, and Richmond—as well as these clubs in the South Australian League: North Adelaide, Post and Telegraph, Norwood, Goodwood, and Kent Town. Simpson also travelled to New Zealand to promote baseball. Simpson died of typhus in September 1891, after setting up the New South Wales Baseball League. He was inducted into the Baseball Australia Hall of Fame in its inaugural class of 2005.

In 1897 players from Victoria and South Australia made a somewhat slapdash tour of the United States, winning eight games and losing fourteen. A highlight occurred on June 21, when the Aussies challenged a team of old-time Boston players, including the now rotund Spalding. Henry Chadwick threw out the first ball and officially scored the contest. Despite the additional draw of Princeton Professor Charles Hinton and his new mechanical pitching machine, only about 500 fans attended. Hinton’s “cannon” pitched the last two innings against Australia. According to the Boston Globe, the first pitch “appeared so suddenly that the batsman ducked, the catcher made a wild leap to one side while the ball sailed directly over the plate and up against the backstop with a resounding crack.” After the game, George Wright organized a banquet in the visitors’ honor.

Professor Hinton's Mechanical Pitcher

Professor Hinton’s Mechanical Pitcher

On New Year’s Day 1914, two American teams returned to Australia—nominally the New York Giants and Chicago White Sox, but also including many players from other major league teams, such as Buck Weaver, Tris Speaker, Sam Crawford, Germany Schaefer, Fred Merkle, and Jim Thorpe. Following games in Tokyo, Shanghai, and Manila, the teams played their first game in Australia on the very day they landed at Brisbane. Their last contest was on the 8th, in Melbourne, with two dates in Sydney in between; one of these, on January 3, drew 10,000 spectators.

New York and Chicago World Tour, 1913-14

New York and Chicago World Tour, 1914

These visits—along with two more in the late 1920s by, respectively, the Stanford and Multnomah Athletic Association nines—spurred interest in the game, which had continued in Australia all along but without the rising popularity of, say, Australian Rules Football, let alone cricket. The concept for Australia’s first national competition—known as the Claxton Shield—emerged in 1934 as the idea of all-around athlete Norm Claxton, who was also president of the South Australian Baseball League. The shield would be awarded annually to the winner of the annual interstate series between New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria; the first to win the shield three times in a row would keep it. In something of an upset, former laggard South Australia captured the shield in the competition’s first year, and then again in 1935 and 1936.

It was then decided to award the shield annually. Except for the war years, the Claxton Shield was played annually until the Australian Baseball League (ABL) superseded State competition in 1989–90. The original eight-team ABL competition permitted up to four American minor league players per team and lasted ten years. The Claxton Shield reemerged briefly, but baseball languished despite a high point in 2004, when at the Athens Olympics Australia took the silver medal to Cuba’s gold.

New South Wales vs. Chicago White Sox, January 3, 1914

New South Wales vs. Chicago White Sox, Sydney Cricket Ground, January 3, 1914

In 2009 Major League Baseball and the Australian Baseball Federation (ABF) announced they were resurrecting the national baseball league. The new ABL would be jointly owned by MLB (75 percent) and ABF (25 percent). The six-team league features homegrown talent, including professionals who compete in North America and Asia, and many players who hail from outside Australia. The league’s 40-game season runs from November through January.

The ABL not only revived a strong baseball following in Australia but also provided a launch pad for young Australian talent and international players in their U.S. offseason. Of Australia’s 28-man roster for the 2013 World Baseball Classic (WBC), 21 competed in the ABL during the Australian summer.

The Australian National Baseball Team has participated in all three installments of the WBC, in 2006, 2009, and 2013. The club has been managed by Jon Deeble, the Pacific Rim Scouting Coordinator of the Boston Red Sox.  In their opening game in 2009, Team Australia defeated Mexico 17–7 and set a new tournament record for hits in a game with 22, including four home runs. Australia currently has 57 players under contract with MLB organizations.

Baseball at Melbourne Cricket Grounds, illustrated Australian News, November 11, 1895.

Baseball at Melbourne Cricket Grounds, illustrated Australian News, November 11, 1895.

Over the years 28 Australians have played in MLB, 20 of them pitchers. The first was Joe Quinn, born in Sydney in 1864, who started his 17-year big-league career in 1884 with St. Louis of the Union Association. Playing mostly second base, he went on to play for five clubs in the National League and, in his final year in the majors, with Washington of the new American League. He also managed St. Louis in 1895 and Cleveland in 1899.

It took more than a century from Quinn’s debut until another Aussie reached the majors—infielder Craig Shipley, born in Parramatta. Among the five clubs for whom he played over his 11 years in the majors, one was the Dodgers, whom Australian fans will see this month. Today he represents their opponents, the Diamondbacks, as an assistant to general manager Kevin Towers.

Other Australian-born players of note and longevity include relief pitcher Grant Balfour, newly installed as the closer for Tampa Bay, and Graeme Lloyd, who pitched for several clubs in middle relief, most notably with the New York Yankees. Dave Nilsson of Queensland enjoyed eight highly productive years with the Milwaukee Brewers, including an All-Star Game selection in 1999. In 1987, while still in Australia, the 17-year-old won the Helms Award / Ron Sharpe Medal as the Most Valuable Player in the Australian Baseball League.

Our Baseball Presidents, Part 2

Teddy Roosevelt's Lifetime Pass, 1907

Teddy Roosevelt’s Lifetime Pass, 1907

Let’s resume our racehorse run through America’s baseball Presidents. When last we left our heroes, William McKinley had just promised to throw out the first pitch at the Washington home opener in April 1897 (http://goo.gl/ogDGrb). Although more than a hundred Senators and Congressmen showed up, and the club constructed a Presidential box complete with bunting, the honoree did not appear. Six months into his second term, an assassin’s bullet and ensuing medical malpractice brought us a new man in the White House: Theodore Roosevelt, who advocated a strenuous life and vigorous sport but detested baseball. His sons Kermit and Quentin played baseball but their exploits elicited little interest from Dad. Daughter Alice Roosevelt Longworth said, “Father and all of us regarded baseball as a mollycoddle game. Tennis, football, lacrosse, boxing, polo, yes: they are violent, which appealed to us. But baseball? Father wouldn’t even watch it, not even at Harvard!”

All the same, Teddy was the first President to receive a gold lifetime pass to all professional baseball games (every President since has received one). In his final full year in office, 1908, he reluctantly welcomed three American League  clubs to the White House–the hometown Senators, the New York Highlanders, and the Cleveland Naps. He then handed off to William Howard Taft, who had served him as Secretary of War and was his hand-picked successor. Taft was something of a fan and had played ball as a youth. It was his brother Charles P. Taft, however, who was truly bitten by the baseball bug–owning pieces of the Cubs and Phillies simultaneously, in contravention of baseball law, while his brother sat in the White House. President Taft’s enduring contribution took place on April 14, 1910, when he fulfilled the expectations placed on McKinley by throwing out the first pitch prior to Washington’s 3-0 victory over Philadelphia, behind the mighty arm of young Walter Johnson.

Taft throws out the first first pitch, April 14, 1910.

Taft throws out the first first pitch, April 14, 1910.

Woodrow Wilson‘s boyhood attachment to baseball was intense indeed, as discussed earlier this week (http://goo.gl/W2LJU4). As President, in 1917 he became the first to throw out the first pitch at a World Series opener. Prior to that he had attended many ballgames, eschewing the use of his golden pass and paying his own way.

Warren G. Harding was the first President to have owned a stake in a professional baseball club, the Marion Diggers of the Class D Ohio State League. He had played ball as a boy and may have fancied himself a prospective big leaguer. In September 1920, while campaigning for the Presidency, he took part in an exhibition game with the Chicago Cubs, throwing three pitches on behalf of the semipro Kerrigan Tailors.

Harding with Cubs, Sept. 2, 1920

Harding with Cubs, Sept. 2, 1920

Calvin Coolidge was not in the least bit sporty but his wife was. Grace Coolidge availed herself of the Presidential lifetime pass more than any First Lady before or since. When the Senators and old Walter Johnson finally went to the World Series in 1924, and then improbably won it when a ground ball hit a pebble and bounded over the head of Giants’ third baseman Freddie Lindstrom, all Washington went wild. It is said that even Silent Cal’s eyebrow twitched. He had attended three of the Senators’ four home games, establishing a new Presidential record.

Herbert Hoover was a huge baseball fan and took in as many regular-season games as any President. Perhaps the most memorable line attaching to Hoover and baseball spoke to the tenor of the times, as the failure of Prohibition made the Great Depression harder to bear.

I was not able to work up much enthusiasm over the ball game, and in the midst of it I was handed a note informing me of the sudden death of Senator Dwight Morrow. He had proved a great pillar of strength in the senate and his death was a great loss to the country and to me. I left the ballpark with the chant of the crowd ringing in my ears, “We Want Beer!”

FDR at Groton, 1898.

FDR at Groton, 1898.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been secretary of the baseball team at Groton. He loved the game but never played it well, even before his body betrayed his spirit. According to Gerald Bazer and Steven Culbertson in Prologue Magazine (Spring 2002), “as a young attorney in New York City, he almost lost his job because he would sneak off to Giants games at the Polo Grounds. As assistant secretary of the navy during the Wilson administration, he substituted for the President in throwing out the first ball for the 1917 season. As President, he made a record eight opening day appearances,” even though his physical infirmity made visits to the ballpark difficult. His great contribution to the game as President may have been his “green-light” letter that kept baseball going after America’s entrance into World War II. Writing to Commissioner Landis, who was prepared to shut down the game, FDR replied in part:

I honestly feel it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everyone will be working longer hours and harder than ever before. Baseball provides a recreation which does not last over two hours or two hours and a half, and which can be got for very little cost.

Harry S. Truman was a lefty, and he threw like a ballplayer. And he was funny: “I couldn’t see well enough to play when I was a boy, so they gave me a special job–they made me an umpire.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower revealed, while he was President, that he played ball professionally, under the assumed name of “Wilson,” with Abilene in the Kansas State League. Researchers have long tried to identify him, without luck. This of course was a violation of amateur-eligibility rules, as Jim Thorpe learned to his chagrin after starring at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. (Because he had played summer ball with Rocky Point and Fayetteville in the East Carolina League in 1909-10–under his own name–he had to forfeit his medals.) Had Ike’s baseball fling become public knowledge while he was at West Point, he would have been unable to play for the Army football team. Like Truman, Ike has a great baseball quote to his everlasting credit. In later years he wrote:

Abilene, Kansas, High School, 1909. That's Ike, second from the right in the top row.

Abilene, Kansas, High School, ca. 1909. That’s Ike, second from the right in the top row.

A friend of mine and I went fishing and as we sat there in the warmth of a summer afternoon on a river bank we talked about what we wanted to do when we grew up. I told him I wanted to be a real major league baseball player, a genuine professional like Honus Wagner. My friend said that he’d like to be President of the United States. Neither of us got our wish.

John F. Kennedy liked football more than baseball, but in his sadly limited opportunities he threw out a mean first pitch. “Last year,” he once said, “more Americans went to symphonies than went to baseball games. This may be viewed as an alarming statistic, but I think that both baseball and the country will endure.”

Richard M. Nixon was–with the possible exception of Woodrow Wilson, as only recently revealed at Our Game–the most avid and astute baseball fan of all our Presidents. “I don’t know a lot about politics,” he once said, “but I know a lot about baseball.” In 1972 Nixon picked all-time All-Star teams from 1925 forward, by era. Twenty years later he revised his list to go up to 1991. Dick Young wrote, “This isn’t a guy that shows up at season openers to take bows and get his picture in the paper and has to have his secretary of state tell him where first base is. This man knows baseball.” Despite the cataclysmic circumstances of his departure from the White House, he was said afterward to have been offered the post of Commissioner of Major League Baseball.

Gerald Ford was an All American football player at Michigan and a solid baseball fan. About going to watch the Grand Rapids Chicks of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League he said, “I was single, practicing law. People said it was fun. Well, I went, and it sure was. The gals played hard and skillfully and put on a good show. Those ladies took it very seriously. They drew real well. Fans were very intense and partisan. They really had a flair. It was good competition.”

Jimmy Carter was an avid softball player but much of a baseball fan during his Presidency. Today he and wife Rosalynn are more or less fixtures at Atlanta Braves games.

Dutch Reagan in 1934.

Dutch Reagan in 1934.

Ronald Reagan was, before he threw out first pitches or welcomed Hall of Famers to the Rose Garden, a big-time baseball “player.” As an announcer broadcasting Cubs games for radio station WHO out of Des Moines, Iowa, he had the presence of mind to prolong an at bat via epically endless foul balls until his Western Union feed resumed.

There were several other stations broadcasting that game and I knew I’d lose my audience if I told them we’d lost our telegraph connections so I took a chance. I had [Billy] Jurges hit another foul. Then I had him foul one that only missed being a home run by a foot. I had him foul one back in the stands and took up some time describing the two lads that got in a fight over the ball. I kept on having him foul balls until I was setting a record for a ballplayer hitting successive foul balls and I was getting more than a little scared. Just then my operator started typing. When he passed me the paper I started to giggle–it said: “Jurges popped out on the first ball pitched.”

In 1952 Reagan portrayed Grover Cleveland Alexander in the the film The Winning Team, alongside Doris Day.

George H.W. Bush was a slick fielding first baseman with Andover and Yale, and he played in the 1947 College World Series. The photograph taken of him with Babe Ruth is a classic. Has there been a better player among all our Presidents? Only Eisenhower enters into the debate. Of the 1981 Cracker Jack Old Timers Game, then Vice President Bush recalled:

The Babe and the Bush, 1947.

The Babe and the Bush, 1947.

Milt Pappas grooved one and I hit it–I hadn’t swung a bat in God, how many years! I hit it crisp right through the middle for a single. People actually cheered and stuff when I got the single. It was more than fun.

Bill Clinton grew up a Cards fan, became a Cubs fan, appeared at baseball games with his typical gusto, and like Truman threw lefthanded with authority.

George W. Bush, growing up, never thought of being President. “I wanted to be Willie Mays,” he said. As managing general partner of the ownership group behind the Texas Rangers (1989-94), Bush attained the highest level in baseball’s professional ranks of any of our Presidents. He continues to make jokes at his own expense about trading Sammy Sosa before his talent emerged.

Barack Obama: Basketball was his game before attaining the White House and, along with golf, remains the game he likes to play. As a fan he has become more ecumenical in his appreciation of other sports, including baseball. Growing up in Hawaii, he attached to the Oakland A’s, but since moving to Illinois his favorite team has been the Chicago White Sox.

Our Baseball Presidents

Lincoln learns of his nomination, 1860,  by Homer Davenport

Lincoln learns of his nomination, 1860, by Homer Davenport

The other day I posted an article about Woodrow Wilson that attracted rather a lot of attention. While preparing that story I inevitably came upon a number of odd bits about our other Presidents and their ballplaying days and ways. The subject has been well covered by others, particularly in terms of first pitches and World Series victors’ visits to the White House. My friends Bill Mead and Paul Dickson wrote a fine book on the subject twenty years ago, Baseball: The Presidents’ Game. Because there’s no point to my doing indifferently what they have done well, I’ll provide here a racehorse run through Presidential baseball bits that may yet be unfamiliar; not every POTUS will get a nod. Some of these notes reflect recent research.

George Washington: First in war, first in peace, and first prez to play ball. General Washington was documented as playing wicket, a rival game to baseball, at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, on May 4, 1778. [For more about wicket, see: http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/07/17/the-old-time-game-of-wicket/ .] Revolutionary War soldier George Ewing wrote in a letter: “This day His Excellency [i.e., Washington] dined with G[eneral] Nox [Knox] and after dinner did us the honor to play at Wicket with us.” One year later, as scholar Thomas Altherr notes:

Commenting on George Washington’s character while observing him at camp at Fishkill in September, 1779, the newly-arrived secretary to the French legation, François, Comte de Barbé-Marbois, wrote, “To-day he sometimes throws and catches a ball for whole hours with his aides-de-camp.”

Washington the ball club came to be described by sportswriter Charlie Dryden in 1909 as “First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” But we can’t blame that on Old George. 

Washington's Prayer at Valley Forge

George Washington’s Prayer at Valley Forge

John Adams: At about the age of 10, as Adams wrote later in his diary, he was enamored “of making and sailing boats . . swimming, skating, flying kites and shooting marbles, bat and ball, football, . . . wrestling and sometimes boxing.” Was “bat and ball” the mysterious game known as batball, prohibited—along with wicket, cricket, baseball, football, cats, fives, and other games unnamedin the famous 1791 ordinance of Pittsfield, Massachusetts? Or was it the distinct other game of “bat and ball,” as described by Brian Turner? [http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/11/27/the-bat-and-ball/] We cannot know.

Thomas Jefferson: We have no record of his having played ball, but he may have played enough to know he didn’t like it. From a letter to his nephew, Peter Carr, on 19 August 1785:

Give about two [hours] every day to exercise; for health must not be sacrificed to learning. A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprize, and independance [sic] to the mind. Games played with the ball and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks. 

1857 James Buchanan / Abrahman Lincoln Indian Peace Medal (reverse common to both Presidents)

1857 James Buchanan / Abraham Lincoln Indian Peace Medal (reverse common to both Presidents)

James Buchanan: In 1857, the first year of Buchanan’s term as President, the “Indian Peace Medal” received a new design that has become a monument of baseball history. These medals changed design many times. Early ones depicted George Washington shaking hands with a Native American against the backdrop of a tranquil farmstead on the obverse, and the heraldic eagle from the Great Seal of the United States on the reverse. After Jefferson, each administration’s medal had for its obverse a bust of the new president (except for William Henry Harrison, who died after barely three weeks in office) and a common reverse, a pair of hands shaking each other with crossed tomahawk and peace pipe above and the legend peace and prosperity in surround.

For President Buchanan in 1857, a new reverse to the medal was commissioned from engraver Joseph Willson, who created an emblematic design featuring an Indian chief in full headdress manning a plow, a farm and a church in the distance, a simple home with a woman standing in the doorway—and a baseball game being played in the foreground. This domesticated vignette was ringed by a bow, arrows in a quiver, a squaw, a peace pipe, and a grisly depiction of one brave scalping another. The message of the medal’s border was one of primitive violence without the calming hand of civilization; that of the vignette, the possible taming of the wild through American ways in religion, tilling the soil . . . and adoption of its favorite game. All that was lacking was a steaming apple pie. Although Willson died in the year that this medal was issued, his design for the reverse was reused for the Indian Peace Medal issued in the Lincoln years. No matter what some gentlemen were saying in New York at the “national” conventions of area clubs, the frontier game of baseball, in all its variety, was already perceived as the national game. 

Lincoln Peace Medal

Lincoln Peace Medal, obverse.

Abraham Lincoln: There are many stories about Lincoln and baseball, and some of them may even be true. (Not true is the deathbed scene invented by radio’s Bill Stern, in which Lincoln, with his last gasp, says to Abner Doubleday (who was in fact not there): “Keep baseball going. The country needs it.”) Lincoln is said to have played town ball in Springfield, Illinois in the 1830s. His friend James Gourley, who had known him since 1834, in later years recalled:

We played the old-fashioned game of town ball – jumped – ran – fought and danced. Lincoln played town ball – he hopped well – in 3 hops he would go 40.2 [feet?] on a dead level…. He was a good player – could catch a ball…. 

In America’s National Game, Albert Spalding included a tale of Lincoln being caught unawares in midgame when he learned of his nomination for President:

The national game. Three "outs" and one  "run," Currier & Ives, 1860.

The national game. Three “outs” and one “run,” Currier & Ives, 1860.

It is recorded that in the year 1860, when the Committee of the Chicago Convention which nominated Abraham Lincoln for the Presidency, visited his home at Springfield, Illinois, to notify him formally of the event, the messenger sent to apprise him of the coming of the visitors found the great leader out on the commons, engaged in a game of Base Ball. Information of the arrival of the party was imparted to Mr. Lincoln on the ball field.

“Tell the gentlemen,” he said, “that I am glad to know of their coming; but they’ll have to wait a few minutes ’till I make another base hit.”

This tale seems to be too good to be true, but it is time to wink, nod, and move along.

Andrew Johnson: Growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina, Young Johnson “spent many hours at games with boys of the neighborhood, his favorite being ‘Cat and Bass Ball and Bandy,’ the last the ‘choyst’ game of all.” On September 17, 1866, President Johnson is said to have watched, briefly from a carriage parked behind right field, a game between the Brooklyn Excelsiors and the Washington Nationals. In the following year, on August 26, Johnson arrived two hours late to a game between the Nationals and the visiting New York Mutuals, but he and his entourage stayed to the end as the Mutes won, 40-16.

Polo Grounds, Opening Day 1886--same appearance as for Grant in 1883.

Polo Grounds, Opening Day 1886–same appearance as for Grant in 1883.

Ulysses S. Grant: On May 1, 1883, the New York Gothams, later known as the Giants, played their first game in the National League. Among the 15,000 fans who came that day was former President Grant. At the Polo Grounds (at that time located just north of Central Park, at 110th Street; today the site is within the park), New York defeated the Boston Reds, 7-5, behind pitcher Mickey Welch.

Rutherford B. Hayes: Hayes had played ball while a student at Kenyon College in Ohio. On May 13, 1839 he had written to his brother, “Playing ball is all the fashion here now and it is presumed that I can beat you at that if not at chess.” The future President and his son kept a scrapbook of their favorite team as it toured the country in 1869—the famous unbeaten Cincinnati Red Stockings. In 1870 Hayes wrote his son:

MY DEAR BOY:–I see by the Journal you are playing base-ball and that you play well. I am pleased with this. I like to have my boys enjoy and practice all athletic sports and games, especially riding, rowing, hunting, and ball playing. But I am a little afraid, from [what] Uncle says, that overexertion and excitement in playing baseball will injure your hearing. Now, you are old enough to judge of this and to regulate your conduct accordingly. If you find there is any injury you ought to resolve to play only for a limited time—say an hour or an hour and a half on the same day. Uncle and Sarah [Jane Grant, visiting Columbus]  with our whole family are well. We had General Sherman at our house Wednesday evening with a pleasant party.

James A. Garfield: As a professor at Ohio’s Hiram College in 1856-59, Garfield played wicket, a game which the Connecticut pioneers had brought to the Western Reserve at the turn of the 19th century. “In the street,” wrote F.M. Green in 1901, “in front of [Hiram College] President Hinsdale’s (which was then Mr. Garfield’s house), is the ground where we played wicket ball; Mr. Garfield was one of our best players.”

Chester Arthur: On April 4, 1883, Arthur became the first President to invite big-league ballplayers into the White House. Greeting the Cleveland Blues and their manager Frank Bancroft in the Cabinet Room, he remarked with his typical fatuity that “they looked good base ball players and that good ball players were good citizens.”

Cap Anson Meets Grover Cleveland

Cap Anson Meets Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland: The only President elected to two non-consecutive terms was not much of a fan, although he declared that when he had been sheriff and mayor of Buffalo, the Bisons’ star pitcher Pud Galvin had been his friend. In 1888 he had said to Cap Anson, visiting the White House, “What do you imagine the American people would think of me if I wasted my time going to the ball game?” King Kelly wrote of Cleveland: “The president’s hand was fat and soft. I squeezed it so hard he winced. Then George Gore did the same and [Oyster] Burns and [Abner] Dalrymple did likewise. The president’s right hand was almost double in size and he was glad when it was all over. He would rather shake hands with 1,000 people than a ball nine after that day. He impressed me as being a charming, courteous gentleman who has considerable backbone, and democratic enough to be a Democratic president of our glorious country.”

Benjamin Harrison: Harrison was the first seated President (unlike Grant above) to attend a major-league game. On June 6, 1892 he watched the Washington Senators lose to Cincinnati 7-4 in 11 innings. Harrison, however, had offered up his baseball bona fides not long after taking office. On April 5, 1889, the national news divulged that President Harrison was exhibiting conspicuously, on a mantelpiece in the White House, a large baseball scorecard. To a visitor this demonstrated conclusively that “the Administration was all right, for it endorsed the game of baseball.”

William McKinley: On April 16, 1897, shortly after taking office as the last of the 19th century’s Presidents, McKinley greeted the members of the Washington National League club at the White House. Manger Gus Schmelz recalled that five years earlier to the day, while governor of Ohio, McKinley had thrown the first ball into the diamond of the Columbus club, of which he [Schmelz] had been manager, and that the club had won the championship that season of the Western League (1892). McKinley was reported to have smiled and replied that he remembered the incident very well, indeed, and that if he saw his way clear he would repeat the performance at National Park on Thursday the 22nd for its NL opener against Brooklyn. He did not, however, so the Presidential honor of throwing out the first ball of the season would have to await the onset of William Howard Taft.

Part II to follow, beginning with Teddy Roosevelt.

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