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Filling in the Blanks
SABR UK Examiner - Examiner #4 - August 1994
Written by Patrick Carroll   

At our Manchester meeting in May of last year I tried to clarify for myself as much as for the rest of those present, what I thought might be mechanisms, strategies and medium and long term concrete research aims of the Bobby Thomson Chapter. (These remarks were reprinted in Examiner no.2, and are now filed by the Editor under 'Carroll, P - incoherent ramblings of:'). Since that time there have been one or two developments which, while only beginning to fill in the blanks of British and Irish baseball history, have gone some way toward helping to identify just what and where some of the major blanks are in the overall picture.

Perhaps the most encouraging product in the past year has been the continuing work being done by Ian Smyth in Leeds. Those at the Manchester meeting heard Ian deliver an abridged version of his study focusing on baseball in the North of England during the inter-War years. This fascinating piece of scholarship has since aroused interest from several quarters. In the autumn of last year I was contacted regarding Ian's study by Mr Jeffrey Orleans who, as well as being a fellow SABR-ite, is also Executive Director of the Ivy League, America's oldest and most enduring collegiate sports organisation. Mr Orleans' initial interest in Ian's paper was gratifying and his subsequent reactions after reading it even more so. Importantly from SABR's viewpoint, the correspondence between Ian, Mr Orleans and myself concerning this paper has also opened lines of communication which promise to be of great potential value to Ian in his present project (a thorough study of the 1938 baseball 'Test Series' between England and the American amateur national team), and to other researchers on this side of the Atlantic.

Others asking to see Ian's North of England paper include Dr Jack Williams of Liverpool John Moores University, who is preparing a social history of sport in Britain between the wars. A further result of this interest will become the first piece of research work by a Bobby Thomson Chapter member to be lodged with both the SABR Research Library and with the National Baseball Library at Cooperstown. First of many, I'm sure.

A further source of interest, mentioned in Examiner no.3, was the receipt from Mr Ken Marshall of Joseph Wright's scrapbook, which gives a vivid account of the Middlesborough Pioneers club of the 1890s, and through them of the state of the game in Britain in the late 19th century. This scrapbook provides many suggestive leads for further research. Hopefully, Mr Marshall (or someone else if he is disinclined) will at some point be able to produce an historically edited and annotated version of the Wright scrapbook for wider circulation.

Also printed in Examiner was Geraint Johnes' and Bob Thornton's brief account of the version of baseball historically played in southeast Wales and Merseyside, Baseball - Made in Britain. This piece, as I am sure the authors are aware, really does ask more questions than it answers, and, if they and the Editor will forgive me for using mention of it as a peg on which to hang some impromptu thinking in print, I would like to give an outline of what I feel ought to be the primary contribution of SABR (UK) to whole body of baseball scholarship.

If we are to posit as our ultimate aim an authoritative history of baseball in these islands, it seems to me that the first step must be to collate all the previous research done in order to put forward, as in scholarly a way as possible, a tenable account of the actual historical lines of development which lead to the game of baseball as we know it, and which relates that game as accurately as possible to the rest of its ancestors, aunts, uncles and cousins by the dozens. Baseball history scholarship has long since outgrown the Abner Doubleday fantasy, and the similar delusion popular in Britain that baseball is an offshoot of rounders. As John Montgomery Ward convincingly argued as long ago as 1888, even a cursory study of chronology, history, and development of the two games up to that point make it much likelier that the opposite is true.

However, Ward's corollary theory that baseball 'just growed' from the native genius of the American Boy, does not really stand up to any serious criteria of historical probability. A great deal of material on this subject does, much of it unconnected and contradictory. Has an attempt been made to put all this into a full-scale, cross-discipline, historically sophisticated study which would put the whole question into a plausible perspective? If so, I am unaware of it. Surely the challenge of producing such a study, one that would be at once, authoritative in a scholarly sense and entertaining to the general reader, is one to excite any baseball research enthusiast worth his Harry M Steven's salty peanuts. Any volunteers?

The first moves which this Committee of the Bobby Thomson Chapter will take in trying to facilitate the beginnings of the project envisioned above are the issuing of requests to the SABR Research Library, the Hall of Fame Library and the British Society of Sport History for their help in trying to assemble a preliminary bibliography of primary and secondary research sources which might be of use to anyone wishing to pursue all or part of the suggested undertaking.