17 December 2005

Selling Baseball to the Anglosphere, 1888

In 1888, an American baseball player and businessman set out to promote baseball across the Anglosphere.
The Spalding Tour was the event which brought baseball to Australia. It introduced the nation to the game that seemed forever destined to live in the shadow of cricket. It was big and brash, expensive and lavish - the Spalding Tour was all of the things that other nations expected of Americans. Albert Spalding (1850-1915) had been a successful baseball player during the formative years of the sport. By the time of his famous tour, he was a team owner, a baseball entrepreneur and a sporting goods businessman. According to the English-born baseball journalist, Henry Chadwick, the Spalding Tour of 1888 was the "great event in the modern history of athletic sports"

As a leading player and later, manager, Spalding was so convinced that the world would turn to baseball that he took the entire Boston team to England in 1874. He gained some support there for the sport, even a match at Lord's. This baseball tour also had the distinction of beating a top rated cricket team at cricket. The English were polite but reserved in their enthusiasm for the new American game.

This Spalding tour did not yield any profits but it did introduce the game overseas. Spalding remained committed to encourage future tours. He later reflected upon the England Tour of 1874 in his Spalding's Official Base Ball Guide of 1890. Here he noted that attempt to introduce baseball to England was a failure. Several years later, after the Spalding Tour had visited England in March 1889, this view was still accurate. Indeed, the British press made this dubious assessment of baseball:
"The pitcher seems to have it all his own way ... there is an extraordinary amount of "work" on the ball. The result is that the unfortunate batsman, be he ever so skilful, makes but a lame and feeble display ... the odds against him are so great that our English love of fair play is offended ... For this reason, baseball will never be popular in England."
Spalding always denied he was trying to displace cricket in Britain and Australia. He only wanted to make it "one of the kindred field sports of the country. The reader cannot help but think that Spalding was showing his true feelings when he noted: "Baseball is a sport for the masses, cricket for the leisure classes. Baseball takes 2-3 hours, cricket takes 2-3 days. Spalding also was concerned that, with the development of team sports, there seemed to be few sports in common between the major English speaking countries such as Canada, America, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
SOURCE: Time and Game: The History of Australian Baseball, by Joe Clark (U. Nebraska Press, 2003), online edition, chapter 1

No comments: