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How Others See Us
SABR UK Examiner - Examiner #3 - November 1993
Written by Joseph White   

Andy Parkes never saw Reggie Jackson play. But the baseball fan from Manchester, England, has no shortage of opinions about Mr October's recent election to the Hall of Fame. 'I'm not overly impressed with Jackson,' said Parkes, arguing his case at a recent meeting of SABR (UK). 'There was a lot of hype with Jackson. He sort of talked his way into the Hall of Fame. He struck out a lot. He batted only .262. A lot greater players than he are in the Hall of Fame.' 'I disagree, Andy,' came the response from American journalist Mike Ross. 'I think Jackson deserves it.'

Intense discussions are standard fare at meetings of the Society for American Baseball Research, or SABR. The society claims more than 6,500 members in the United States, but this chapter meeting at a London pub is the first outside North America. The Bobby Thomson Chapter, named after the Scottish-born hero of the 1951 New York Giants, boasts 35 members in its first year of existence. There are a half dozen or so transplanted Americans in the group, but the rest are native Britons. 'It was always difficult being a baseball fan,' said Parkes, 52, who played for a local team in Stretford in the 1960s. 'The only way to keep up at all was to tune in to AFN (Armed Forces Radio Network). I did that for many years, more than I care to count. I've listened to every World Series since 1961 on the radio.'

Which means that while Parkes didn't see Jackson's three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, he certainly heard them, live on a crackly radio signal at about 5 am. Like many British baseball fans, Parkes got interested in the game during its spurt of popularity surrounding the two world wars. 'The first team I played for had been formed shortly after the war near where I lived,' Parkes said. 'The huge amount of American servicemen in the area had created interest in the game. I saw them in the park as a young boy. The first baseball paper I read would have been old copies of the Sporting News.'

Today, it's a little easier for Parkes to follow the majors, although a weekly baseball series on the national television station Channel Four was scrapped after a brief run a few years ago. European editions of American newspapers provide scores and standings, and satellite television channels show an occasional game. Next month, Parkes is looking forward to seeing some live action, when minor-league players from the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets organizations play a two-game series at the Oval cricket ground. There are also plans to bring two major-league teams to the legendary Lord's cricket stadium next year.

'We're trying to raise the profile of baseball in England,' said Parkes, the chapter's treasurer. 'The other three sports got the jump on us. Football's been coming over here for several years, and basketball is coming this fall, and hockey's coming this weekend. Baseball's behind. They dropped us on Channel Four, but we want to show there's a lot of interest out there.'

In addition to its efforts to promote the same, the chapter's other objective is to explore baseball's rich but little-known history in Britain. Parkes, who has been to three SABR conventions in the United States, usually draws incredulous looks when he mentions the sport's British heritage. 'People in America can't believe there's a history of baseball in England,' Parkes said. 'It's been played for over 100 years.' 'A great deal of the evolution of baseball came in England, before it was invented in America,' agreed Ross, the chapter's president and a British resident since 1959. 'We've had some letters suggesting there's quite a lot out there that can be researched.' Ross noted the British claim that baseball is a version of the schoolyard game of rounders, one of the theories the group is sure to explore and debate.

There's also plenty to talk about on the modern British baseball scene, but there the news is not as pleasant. A bitter split within the British Baseball Federation two years ago led to several of its best teams breaking away to form a rival league. Neither league has more than a token following on the national sporting scene, and teams play their games in public parks in front of a handful of fans. In addition, the BBF lost its major sponsor in the later 1980s. 'There is a chance of reconciliation now,' Ross said of the rival groups. 'That would help quite a bit.'

Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 June 2009 16:27