Abe Lincoln and Baseball

26 Jul

As detractors denounced baseball in the 19th century for drunkenness, gambling, and bad behavior, there were numerous attempts to link the game to Abraham Lincoln. The many stories linking the martyred President to baseball helped contribute to its acceptance and popularity.

The connections were more invention than fact.  There is no supporting evidence for A.G. Spalding’s story in his 1911 book “America’s National Game that Lincoln was informed of his nomination in 1860 while playing baseball in Springfield, Illinois.  Stories that Lincoln mentioned baseball on his death bed; as well as the 1914 claim by Rachel Billington, an alleged former neighbor of Lincoln that he played baseball regularly and “Could hit the ball every time it was pitched to him” have been thoroughly discredited.

It was a scandal involving a minor league player that became Lincoln’s closest link to the national pastime.

By all accounts Warren Wallace Beckwith led an interesting life.  Born in Mount Pleasant, Iowa in 1874, his father was a wealthy railroad executive and Beckwith was said to have inherited a fortune upon his father’s death in 1905..  He played college football at Iowa Wesleyan and played baseball and football professionally, and served in the Spanish-American War and World War I.

His life got more interesting in 1897 when he became front page news in every paper in the country.  Beckwith had eloped with Jesse Lincoln, granddaughter of the late President.  Her father Robert Todd Lincoln, former Secretary of War, was quoted calling Beckwith a “Baseball Buffoon.”

The Beckwith-Lincoln marriage played out like a soap opera in the newspapers for the next decade.

Beckwith spent most of 1897 playing in the Texas League with Dallas, Paris and Denison/Sherman/Waco teams.  The New York Times reported that Beckwith’s nicknames in Texas were “The Dude” and “Lady Killer,” and that “He would never go into a game to pitch without first combing or brushing his hair faultlessly.”

Warren Wallace Beckwith

Beckwith made headlines again when he entered the service as war was declared with Spain. When he returned from Cuba and after the birth of the couple’s first child, a daughter, he joined Sacramento in the California League, which resulted in another round of stories about Robert Todd Lincoln’s disapproval of his son-in-law’s profession.

According to contemporary news reports neither Robert Todd Lincoln nor his wife, Mary Eunice Harlan Lincoln, daughter of former Iowa Senator James Harlan, ever accepted the marriage.

Lincoln Family Tree

News stories announcing the couple’s divorce in 1900 turned out to be incorrect and they had a second child, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, who upon his death in 1985 was the final direct descendent of President Lincoln.  Beckwith and Lincoln did divorce in 1907.

Beckwith never played professionally after 1899, but played extensively on semi-professional teams in Illinois and Iowa.  Beckwith’s final appearance in organized ball was as the manager of Oshkosh in the Wisconsin State League for part of the 1905 season.

After serving in France in World War I Beckwith settled in La Jolla, California.  He died in La Jolla in 1955 and is buried at the Forest Home Cemetery in Mount Pleasant.

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One Response to “Abe Lincoln and Baseball”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. “William J. Bryan was a Ballplayer” | Baseball History Daily - January 10, 2014

    […] fairly certain that claims of President Abraham Lincoln playing baseball were fabricated years after the fact, and the debate is ongoing over whether President Dwight […]

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