America’s National Game – Albert G. Spalding
This book is in great demand by baseball enthusiasts. Having been connected with every department of the game from player to magnate, Mr. Spalding has contributed a very important work to the game’s history. As the invincible pitcher of the Boston Club, previous to the formation of the National League, his book of so many pages is an interesting record of events dating from the beginning of the great American pastime. It is not exactly a history of the game, but deals largely with incidents during the author’s career, who was a player in the late 1860s and early 1870s, and helped organize the National League in 1876. One chapter, devoted to sundry topics, gives an account of the sale of the immortal “King Kelly,” the original “$10,000 beauty,” by Chicago to the Boston Club in the late 1880s. Other Chapters are devoted to the literature of the game, quoting several instances of the baseball paragrapher’s art and also specimens of the distinct poetry of the pastime, of which “Casey at the Bat” is probably the most widely known. The Cincinnati Red Stockings Mr. Spalding gives credit as being the pioneer professional organization. It was not, however, until 1871 that professional baseball playing, as recognized today, was instituted. Mr. Spalding shows how cricket could not do for Americans. He says it is suitable for the British temperament, but not for the Yankee hustling spirit. He also tells how he worked into the game through a one-handed catch when a small boy. To lovers of baseball, whose name is legion, and whose number increases yearly, this book comprises in itself a whole library of useful information.
America’s National Game.
Excerpt from the text:
HAVE we, of America, a National Game? Is there in our country a form of athletic pastime which is distinctively American? Do our people recognize, among their diversified field sports, one standing apart from every other, outclassing all in its hold upon the interest and affection of the masses? If a negative reply may truthfully be given to all or any of these queries, then this book should never have been published — or written.
But, if we have a National Game; if we know a form of athletics which is peculiarly American, and have adopted it as our own; if it is American in its spirit, its character and its achievements; if it conforms in every way to the American temperament; if we have a field sport ( outranking all others in popularity, then it is indeed time that the writing, in personal reminiscence, of its story in book form should begin, “lest we forget” the salient points in the inception, evolution and development of so important a factor in the widespread entertainment of the American people and the physical upbuilding of our youth.
To enter upon a deliberate argument to prove that Baseball is our National Game; that it has all the attributes of American origin, American character and unbounded public favor in America, seems a work of supererogation. It is to undertake the elucidation of a patent fact; the sober demonstration of an axiom; it is like a solemn declaration that two plus two equal four.
Every citizen of this country who is blessed with organs of vision knows that whenever the elements are favorable and wherever grounds are available, the great American game is in progress, whether in city, village or hamlet, east, west, north or south, and that countless thousands of interested spectators gather daily throughout the season to witness contests which are to determine the comparative excellence of competing local organizations or professional league teams.
The statement will not be successfully challenged that the American game of Baseball attracts more numerous and larger gatherings of spectators than any other form of field sport in any land. It must also be admitted that it is the only game known for which the general public is willing day after day to pay the price of admission. In exciting political campaigns, Presidential candidates and brilliant orators will attract thousands; but let there be a charge of half a dollar imposed, and only Baseball can stand the test.
I claim that Baseball owes its prestige as our National Game to the fact that as no other form of sport it is the exponent of American Courage, Confidence, Combativeness; American Dash, Discipline, Determination; American Energy, Eagerness, Enthusiasm; American Pluck, Persistency, Performance; American Spirit, Sagacity, Success; American Vim, Vigor, Virility.
Baseball is the American Game par excellence, because its playing demands Brain and Brawn, and American manhood supplies these ingredients in quantity sufficient to spread over the entire continent.
No man or boy can win distinction on the ball field who is not, as man or boy, an athlete, possessing all the qualifications which an intelligent, effective playing of the game demands. Having these, he has within him the elements of pronounced success in other walks of life. In demonstration of this broad statement of fact, one needs only to note the brilliant array of statesmen, judges, lawyers, preachers, teachers, engineers, physicians, surgeons, merchants, manufacturers, men of eminence in all the professions and in every avenue of commercial and industrial activity, who have graduated from the ball field to enter upon honorable careers as American citizens of the highest type, each with a sane mind in a sound body.
It seems impossible to write on this branch of the subject — to treat of Baseball as our National Game — without referring to Cricket, the national field sport of Great Britain and most of her colonies. Every writer on this theme does so. But, in instituting a comparison between these games of the two foremost nations of earth, I must not be misunderstood. Cricket is a splendid game, for Britons. It is a genteel game, a conventional game — and our cousins across the Atlantic are nothing if not conventional. They play Cricket because it accords with the traditions of their country so to do; because it is easy and does not overtax their energy or their thought. They play it because they like it and it is the proper thing to do. Their sires, and grandsires, and great-grandsires played Cricket— why not they? They play Cricket because it is their National Game, and every Briton is a Patriot. They play it persistently— and they play it well. I have played Cricket and like it. There are some features about that game which I admire more than I do some things about Baseball.
But Cricket would never do for Americans; it is too slow. It takes two and sometimes three days to complete a first-class Cricket match; but two hours of Baseball is quite sufficient to exhaust both players and spectators. An Englishman is so constituted by nature that he can wait three days for the result of a Cricket match; while two hours is about as long as an American can wait for the close of a Baseball game — or anything else, for that matter. The best Cricket team ever organized in America had its home in Philadelphia — and remained there. Cricket does not satisfy the red-hot blood of Young or Old America.
The genius of our institutions is democratic; Baseball is a democratic game. The spirit of our national life IS combative; Baseball is a combative game. We are a cosmopolitan people, knowing no arbitrary class distinctions, acknowledging none. The son of a President of the United States would as soon play ball with Patsy Flannigan as with Lawrence Lionel Livingstone, provided only that Patsy could put up the right article. Whether Patsy’s dad was a banker or boiler-maker would never enter the mind of the White House lad. It would be quite enough for him to know that Patsy was up in the game I have declared that Cricket is a genteel game. It is. Our British Cricketer, having finished his day’s labor at noon, may don his negligee shirt, his white trousers, his gorgeous hosiery and his canvas shoes, and sally forth to the field of sport, with his sweetheart on one arm and his Cricket bat under the other, knowing that he may engage in his national pastime without soiling his linen or neglecting his lady. He may play Cricket, drink afternoon tea, flirt, gossip, smoke, take a whiskey-and-soda at the customary hour, and have a jolly, conventional good time, don’t you know.”
Not so the American Ball Player. He may be a veritable Beau Brummel in social life. He may be the Swellest Swell of the Smart Set in Swelldom; but when he dons his Baseball suit, he says good-bye to society, doffs his gentility, and becomes — just a Ball Player! He knows that his business now is to play ball, and that first of all he is expected to attend to business. It may happen to be his business to slide; hence, forgetting his beautiful new flannel uniform, he cares not if the mud is four inches deep at the base he intends to reach. His sweetheart may be in the grandstand — she probably is — but she is not for him while the game lasts.
Cricket is a gentle pastime. Baseball is War! Cricket is an Athletic Sociable, played and applauded in a conventional, decorous and English manner. Baseball is an Athletic Turmoil, played and applauded in an unconventional, enthusiastic and American manner.
The founder of our National Game became a Major-General in the United States Army! The sport had baptism when our country was in the preliminary agonies of a fratricidal conflict. Its early evolution was among the men, both North and South, who, during the war of the sixties, played the game to relieve the monotony of camp life in those years of melancholy struggle. It was the medium by which, in the days following the “late unpleasantness,” a million warriors and their sons, from both belligerent sections, passed naturally, easily, gracefully, from a state of bitter battling to one of perfect peace.
Baseball, I repeat, is War! and the playing of the game is a battle in which every contestant is a commanding General, who, having a field of occupation, must defend it; who, having gained an advantage, must hold it by the employment of every faculty of his brain and body, by every resource of his mind and muscle.
But it is a bloodless battle; and when the struggle ends, the foes of the minute past are friends of the minute present, victims congratulating victors, conquerors pointing out the brilliant individual plays of the conquered.
It would be as impossible for a Briton, who had not breathed the air of this free land as a naturalized American citizen; for one who had no part or heritage in the hopes and achievements of our country, to play Baseball, as it would for an American, free from the trammels of English traditions, customs, conventionalities, to play the national game of Great Britain.
Let such an Englishman stand at the batter’s slab on an American ball field, facing the son of an American President in the pitcher’s box, and while he was ruminating upon the propriety of hitting, in his ” best form,” a ball delivered by the hands of so august a personage, the President’s boy would probably shoot three hot ones over the plate, and the Umpire’s “Three strikes; you’re out,” would arouse our British cousin to a realization that we have a game too lively for any but Americans to play.
On the other hand, if one of our cosmopolitan ball artists should visit England, and attempt a game of Cricket, whether it were Cobb, Lajoie, Wagner, or any American batsman of Scandinavian, Irish, French or German antecedents; simply because he was an American, and even though the Cricket ball were to be bowled at his feet by King George himself, he would probably hit the sphere in regular Baseball style, and smash all conventionalities at the same time, in his eager effort to clear the bases with a three-bagger.
The game of Baseball is American as to another peculiar feature. It is the only form of field sport known where spectators have an important part and actually participate in the game. Time was, and not long ago, when comparatively few understood the playing rules? but the day has come when nearly every man and boy in the land is versed in all the intricacies of the pastime thousands of young women have learned it well enough to keep score, and the number of matrons who know the difference between the short-stop and the back-stop is daily increasing.
But neither our wives, our sisters, our daughters nor our sweethearts, may play Baseball on the field. They may play Cricket, but seldom do; they may play Lawn Tennis, and win championships; they may play Basket Ball, and achieve laurels; they may play Golf, and receive trophies; but Baseball is too strenuous for womankind, except as she may take part in grandstand, with applause for the brilliant play, with waving kerchief to the hero of the three-bagger, and, since she is ever a loyal partisan of the home team, with smiles of derision for the Umpire when he gives us the worst of it, and, for the same reason, with occasional perfectly decorous demonstrations “when it becomes necessary to rattle the opposing pitcher.
But spectators of the sterner sex may play the game on field, in grandstand or on bleachers, and the influence they exert upon the contest is hardly less than that of I the competitors themselves.
In every town, village and city is the local wag. He is a Baseball fan from infancy. He knows every player in the League by sight and by name. He is a veritable encyclopedia of information on the origin, evolution and history of the game. He can tell you when the Knickerbockers were organized, and knows who led the batting list in every team of the National and American Leagues past year. He never misses a game. His witticisms, ever seasoned with spice, hurled at the visitors and now and then at the Umpire, are as thoroughly enjoyed by all ,who hear them as is any other feature of the sport. His words of encouragement to the home team, his shouts of derision to the opposing players, find sympathetic responses in the hearts of all present, 1 But it is neither the applause of the women nor the jokes of the wag which make for victory or defeat in comparison with the work of the “Rooter.” He is ever present in large numbers. He is there to see the ” boys ” win. Nothing else will satisfy him. He is bound by no rules of the game, and too often, perhaps, by no laws of decorum. His sole object in life for two mortal hours is to gain victory for the home team, and that he is not over-scrupulous as to the amount of racket emanating from his immediate vicinity need not be emphasized here.
And so it comes to pass that at every important game there is an exhibition in progress, in grandstand and on bleachers, that is quite as interesting in its features of excitement and entertainment as is the contest on the field of sport, and which, in its bearing upon the final result, is sometimes a factor nearly as potent as are the efforts of the contesting players.