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19th Century Baseball Tours Visit England
SABR UK Examiner - Examiner #5 - January 1995
Written by Patrick Morley   

The first serious attempt to interest the English in baseball came in 1874. By that time the game in the United States had become organised on a serious business footing and it was obviously felt that expanding baseball abroad would open up new markets. Britain was the obvious target: the game had originated there in some form; the two countries were closely linked by a common language and by a shared heritage; and the British Empire was a potentially vast market waiting to be exploited.

Here is how the illustrated magazine The Graphic reported on that first tour in its issue of August 15, 1874 under the heading "The American Baseball Players":

"The game of base-ball which during the last ten years has grown so rapidly in favour on the other side of the Atlantic, that it is now regarded by our American cousins as their national pastime, appears to an English spectator very much like the simple game of rounders with which he was familiar in his youth. The gentlemen who have come over to teach us the game belong to two of the crack clubs of the United States, the Philadelphia Athletic and the Boston Red Stockings, the latter being the champion club of America and the former, ex-champions."

The Graphic then goes on to give a resumé of how the game was then played, noting that "the pitcher...must pitch or bowl high or low according to the desire of his opponent and always underhand."

The report continues: "The innings are got over with great rapidity, three or four players being put out in perhaps as many minutes. There is scope for much agility, and as no gloves are worn the 'catcher' requires to be tolerably hard handed as well as extremely alert. The usual game is nine innings a side but in the first contest at Liverpool the playing was so close that at the end of the 18 innings the scores stood alike and a final bout had to be played to decide the game, which was won by the Philadelphians by three runs, the finish being very exciting."

The paper goes on to report that the game took place at the Liverpool Cricket Ground at Edge Hill, "and there was a good attendance of spectators". It adds that the Americans also played at Manchester and in London, "and they intend staying with us for some time, playing matches in various parts of the United Kingdom".

That visit to Liverpool was part of a series of exhibition games played on the cricket grounds throughout the country by arrangement with the Marleybone Cricket Club. But whatever hopes the organisers of the tour may have had of getting the English to take up the game were clearly not fulfilled.

Fourteen years later, another baseball tour was organised, and AG Spalding, a baseball star in his own right and later head of the major sporting goods firm which bears his name, was the promoter and tour manager. This time it was a world tour and games were played in the Sandwich Islands (as Hawaii was then called), Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, Italy and France. The players reached England in March 1889, and this is how the Illustrated London News reported the games played in London:

"The visit to England of two fine teams of good performers in this favourite American pastime has attracted much notice... The opening match between Chicago and the All American teams was played on Tuesday March 12 at Kennington Oval... Soon after the play began, the Prince of Wales arrived and the game being stopped by the players, congregating together, cheered his Royal Highness very heartily. They display wonderful agility in running from one base to the other, whilst they are brilliant catchers and return the ball with extraordinary smartness."

The paper noted that the slippery state of the ground hindered the players but Chicago eventually proved successful winning 7-4. The next match was at Lord's, where this time the All Americans won 7-6. They were also victorious in the third London game, played at the Crystal Palace, the score being 5-3.

The Prince of Wales was asked by a newspaper reporter what he thought of the game he attended. He asked for the reporter's notebook (where is that treasure now, one wonders) and in it he wrote the following: "The Prince of Wales has witnessed the game of Base Ball with great interest and though he considers it an excellent game he considers cricket as superior."

So too, it seems, did most of the other English spectators. One of them was no less a cricketing legend than Dr WG Grace himself, who met the teams and no doublt compared the two summer sports with them. Sadly, there is no record of his views on baseball.

For the record, the Illustrated London News recorded the names of the touring sides, some of them familiar to anyone with a nodding acquaintance of 19th century baseball...

From Chicago, Messrs AC Anson, TP Daly, M Baldwin, J Ryan, FN Pfeffer, T Burns, M Sullivan, JK Tener and R Pettit. The All Americans, drawn from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, Detroit, and Indianapolis: Messrs JM Ward, W Earle, T Healey, FH Carroll, J Manning, GA Wood, JG Fogarty, E Hanlon and TL Brown.

A bare 18 players, it will be noted. One wonders what happened in the event of injury, especially as they had been touring for several months. Maybe they were a tougher lot than the baseball players of today.

The Spalding world tour produced more positive results than the earlier one. In the following year, capitalising on the public interest which had been aroused, a professional English baseball league was set up.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 June 2009 19:02