“I Saw this Same Proud Bird of Freedom, the American Eagle, Soaring Aloft”

21 Apr

“Land and Water” was a British magazine that existed in various incarnations from the early 1860s until 1920.

In 1874, the magazine opined on the Boston Red Stockings and Athletics of Philadelphia crossed the Atlantic to play baseball in England:

“The Yankees have come over to show Englishmen what baseball really is in its pure, unadulterated state.  America swears by baseball, and when America swears the earth totters.  You want, I admit, to see the Yankees at work before you can understand the science and niceties of the sport.  They are wonderful in all reality when they are stripped and ready for the fray.  Baseball encourages fielding more than anything, and the Yankees are perfect marvels in the matter of fielding.  Kittens are dull and apathetic by comparison if you estimate their playfulness.”

The British were impressed with the way the Americans practiced:

“You see them all over the ground before the real business begins in different groups, all at exercise of some sort.  The first thing that strikes you will be their skill in catching, and their extraordinary aptitude for fielding and returning the ball smartly, in whatever position they may be placed, or in whatever fashion it comes.  You see no respect for persons, for the ball is thrown as hard as ever it can be hurled, and yet, though the distance is only a few yards, it is caught like lightening, and there is the action for return as the game were in progress and one of the bases empty.”

The magazine asked Cricketer Tom Brown his opinion of the American game:

“Cricket is more than a game, it is an institution, and baseball will never supersede or do the slightest injury to our own natural sport in any way.”

In spite of Brown’s assessment, the magazine conceded that baseball would “prove a pleasant relief after some of our own British amusements.”

 

woodcut

A “Harper’s Weekly” woodcut from the 1874 tour.

 

And, the magazine said, the relative speed of a baseball game might appeal to some British fans:

“It is not everyone that can afford to spare three days or one whole day for sport, however much his inclinations may lead him. It is this drawback alone prevents the acclimatization of cricket in America, and it is by a parity of reasoning the absence of all the waste of time that makes baseball such an enthusiasm over the Atlantic.  You will have to see a game before you can appreciate its advantage.  You may come to scoff, but in all probability, you will go away to pray.  A game at baseball rarely, if ever, exceeds two hours in duration.”

But, watching the exhibition would be nothing close to experiencing a game in Boston or Philadelphia, the magazine said:

“A contest between Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire at cricket is perhaps the nearest approach in an English way, but the roar that proceeds from every Yorkshire throat when a Nottingham wicket falls at Sheffield, is a mere whisper compared with the hubbub that attends a baseball game of interest from the first ball pitched to until the last strike.”

The game was explained to readers by comparing it to cricket:

“The positions of pitcher and catcher are closely akin to those of our bowler and wicket-keeper, though the latter is more of a combination of wicket-keeper and long-stop. Much of the success of the nine depends on the manner in which these two posts are filled, as to succeed they should thoroughly understand each other, and be well acquainted with each other’s movements…A fieldsman at baseball must have good nerves, and not be easily disconcerted.  He is especially to be perfect, or else every mistake is registered to his disadvantage.  It is without s doubt an excellent plan, but the records of the game are pitiless, and every error is registered by the scorer with the same merciless severity and strict impartiality.”

As for the game itself, the magazine’s correspondent said:

It was on Thursday afternoon last (July 30) that I saw this same proud bird of freedom, the American Eagle, soaring aloft. It was the first appearance of the American champions on English soil; and for one, I was curious to see the Yankees disport themselves in England at their own pastime…(the teams) were wonderfully well matched, too, in every way the competing nines; and the wonderful aptitude and agility shown by the catcher, the unerring accuracy displayed by all fieldsmen, and the general dash and briskness of the play all around, elicited frequent applause.”

The Athletics won the game 14-11 in 10 innings, in front of a crowd of just 500.  The magazine’s correspondent was too polite to mention the small crowd:

“Towards the end, we had got thoroughly excited, and the interest was universal.  It may be that we should have enjoyed it more throughout had we only understood, some of us, the state of the game…Nevertheless, there was but one feeling amongst us, that the Americans had shown us some excellent sport, and taught us, unintentionally perhaps, more than one useful lesson.  There was such backing up, as one would like to see in every cricket match if there was only a chance.  There was an amount of discipline, too, among the players that would have gratified the most inveterate martinet, and an air of unselfishness among the players that was devoid of anything like the taint of personal gratification.  It may be that baseball will show up conspicuously some of the faults of our English game. If so the American invasion will not have been in vain.”

 

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