November 15th, 2012
Yes, this is shameless promotion for the latest issue of a scholarly journal that too few folks have ever read. But, boy, it’s really good, and I am hoping that one day it finds a larger audience, in part through my occasional postings to Our Game of a story from a back number. Base Ball has published twice annually for six years now, and the articles have been of astoundingly high quality, considering that payment to the authors consists of self-satisfaction and glory among their choice group of peers. I don’t like to run material from a current issue because the publisher suspects (rightly, I’m thinking) that this would cannibalize sales. In the great paradox of the web (and all ventures, I suppose), you can’t reasonably hope to sell what you have given away. Anyway, violating past practice and perhaps common sense, here’s my Editor’s Note to the Fall 2012 opus–a.k.a Volume Six, Number 2–on sale today from McFarland at http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/customers/journals/base-ball-a-journal-of-the-early-game/.
Why can the infant in the kindergarten-class name the place on the Atlantic shore where the Pilgrim Fathers first landed, and remain in ignorance of the place where early base ball was first played? Why can any school boy recite a dozen battles of the Revolution or Civil War, and yet become indignant when you inquire as to a single famous base ball game? Why can the youngster in knickerbockers tell who discovered the electric telegraph, and yet not know of the man who discovered curve pitching? Yea, verily, why is it that the high school youth declaimeth at length about the Crusades of medieval times, and still knoweth aught of the tours of the Washington Nationals or the Cincinnati Red Stockings? Why can the average university graduate discourse learnedly upon radiant energy, ether waves, or the nebular hypothesis, when he can’t tell the difference between a base hit and a foul ball? Why is not the history of the national sport of a people of as much importance as is that of their political development or of their scientific achievements?
Seymour R. Church wrote those purplish words more than a century ago but his questions retain a genuine if quaintly expressed relevance. What is the value of continued research into early baseball?
To determine, insofar as we are able, what really happened—that’s the answer. Distant events may have gone unrecorded, or dimly referenced in tangential materials, requiring fresh eyes to tease out the facts; or they have been encased in legend, spun out by journalists ancient or modern, with agendas to fit.
In academic circles, more than half a century after publication of the first volume of the Seymours’ history, the scholarship of play still is regarded as less important than the study of work or war or politics. Yet the remarkable increase in research into the early game over the past decade has produced not only landmark works that bust myths and reestablish the real story, but also hundreds of university courses in baseball history. It may not be excessive to believe that this journal, since its first number in Spring 2007, has been instrumental in that movement.
As we conclude our sixth year of semiannual publication, we offer some new approaches. Where previously we had encouraged writers to cap their contributions at seven thousand words or so, now we have begun to be less hidebound on this point. There are fewer essays in this number than in most previous issues of Base Ball, but they are longer and, if not better, every bit as good. We have continued in our trend toward ever more illustration, as our favored period of baseball is rich in unfamiliar gems. And we have embarked upon what promises to be an enduringly good idea: to offer prepublication excerpts from forthcoming notable books.
We present several new authors, too, in addition to some of our stalwarts. We break new ground in research and interpretation in each and every article herein, yet we mustn’t pat ourselves on the back for what is, after all, our reason for being.
On the lost-and-found front, we acknowledged the lamentable loss, previously, of our book review editor and now, upon deep consideration, we close down that problematic department. We have found a new editor for the journal, who was at once both lost and found, as John Thorn succeeds Peter Morris who had recently succeeded John Thorn.
Glad to be back, the “new” editor vows to maintain the quality that readers of this journal have come to expect. He furthermore vows to reimagine Base Ball in its next incarnation—as a considerably fattened annual, with even greater pictorial riches and new features.
Back to the issue at hand: In his lead article, George Boziwick searches for the real Katie Casey of “Take Me Out the Ball Game” and finds her in the arms of the song’s lyricist. Bob Tholkes reviews the 1862 season in its sesquicentennial and reminds us of the legend—and the true story—of Excelsior hero Jim Creighton. Steve Steinberg focuses on a little recalled figure, Horace Fogel, who was a firecracker in his day and worthy of more attention in ours.
Bruce Allardice does nothing short of a rewrite of baseball history in the South, an inexplicably neglected subject. David Arcidiacono goes where others have feared to tread, discussing the origins of the curveball and the doubtful veracity of one purported “inventor,” Fred Goldsmith. Steven A. King proposes that “baseball’s worst trade”—of a washed-up Amos Rusie for a coltish Christy Mathewson—may not have been a trade at all.
And departing editor Peter Morris keeps his hand in by way of a collaboration with the estimable Bill Ryczek and yours truly in some biographical spelunking. Our brief lives of some lesser known Knickerbockers will provide a taste of what will come for other clubs in the forthcoming McFarland book, Base Ball Founders.