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Baseball - Made in Britain
SABR UK Examiner - Examiner #3 - November 1993
Written by Geraint Johnes and Bob Thornton   

Baseball is the national game of America, right? Well, sort of. The odd - and still relatively little appreciated - fact is that baseball was invented in England.

Jane Austen wrote about baseball in the late 18th century. The heroine of her book Northanger Abbey spent much of her youth playing the game. By that time, the ancient game of rounders had already started to be known as 'baseball' in England. There is published evidence that "baseball" was a term in common use in Britain as early as 1748.

According to Bob Evans, Welsh journalist and historian, the game of baseball was taken to America by John Chadwick, a native of south-west England, in 1772. Ever since, the American and British versions of the sport have continued to develop along separate lines. Various attempts have, however, been made to introduce the American version to Britain. This is how Derby County's soccer ground came to be known as the Baseball Ground after its construction in 1889. Around that time several soccer clubs, including Aston Villa and Leyton Orient as well as Derby, were also involved in American baseball.

But the indigenous British version of the sport has maintained a strong following only in two areas - Merseyside and south-east Wales. Local leagues are organised in both areas and an annual international match has been played since 1908. Crowds of up to 16,000 have attended these games in the past, and the international matches have been held at such illustrious venues as the Cardiff Arms Park and Everton's football stadium. More recently, crowds have diminished somewhat, but it is still common for 2,000 spectators to attend the international games between England and Wales.

The rules of British baseball differ in detail from the American version. Most notably, a run is scored for each base reached by a batter. The equivalent of home run is, therefore, a "four". Each time consists of 11 players. An inning is complete when all 11 players are out. The game ends when both sides have batted for two innings. Despite these similarities with cricket, the game is much closer to American baseball in style.

British baseball has, over the years, generated its own heroes and stories of great feats. In the early part of this century, "Buzzer" Heaven, playing for Grangetown, masterminded an amazing "quadruple play". As catcher, he touched out the batter who had swung and missed the ball. The ball then flew from home to second, back home, and then finally to third base, to dismiss a total of four batsmen with one ball. Surely a myth!

In the early 1930s, Freddie Fish, of Grange Albion, scored a total of 11 homers in 11 consecutive at-bats. Seven of these were scored in a single game - against the unfortunate Pill Harriers.

More recently, Terry "Slogger" Slocombe became a legend with his big hitting style. During a baseball career which lasted 37 years up to 1986, Slogger won eight international caps for Wales. In the 1959 International, he scored a record 43 runs.

Other international baseball players have achieved greater fame for their feats in other sporting arenas. David Bishop and Mark Ring have, during the last decade, played both baseball and rugby union at international level for Wales. Graham Vearncombe was a goalkeeper for Cardiff City and for the Welsh international soccer team, and also played baseball for Wales during the 1950s.

On a few occasions, the British and American versions of baseball have linked hands on the same park. During the early 1920s, Grange Albion played the crew of an American ship at the American game one evening, and the British game the following night. Unfortunately, no record survives of the scores, but what price the modern-day Penylan against the Mets?

It is true that the original British game of baseball does not pack the crowds into the stadia as do the superstars across the pond. But it would be a pity if the domestic game, truer as it is to the roots of the sport, were to be neglected completely by the new baseball media. British baseball is an entertaining game with a long history. It is an indispensable part of the cultures of two of our great cities. Go watch some!

Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 June 2009 16:06