- When Baseball Met Big Bill Haywood: The Battle for Manchester, New Hampshire, 1912–1916 by Scott C. Roper and Stephanie Abbot Roper
Why did Amoskeag Manufacturing Company build a concrete and steel baseball stadium in 1913? Scott C. Roper and Stephanie Abbot Roper argue that the largest textile company in the world did so under the guise of a corporate benevolence program as a means to reassert control over its workforce and continue its manipulation of the internal affairs of Manchester, New Hampshire. When Baseball Met Big Bill Haywood uses Amoskeag’s construction of Textile Field to explore cultural, economic, and political developments in Manchester during the Progressive Era. While Roper and Abbot Roper revive the story of Textile Field’s construction, their lack of substantive primary sources occasionally produces fragmented conclusions that limits the monograph’s scholarly significance.
When Baseball Met Big Bill Haywood describes how “Big” Bill Haywood and other members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) descended on Manchester in 1912 in hopes of sparking a revolution. Roper and Abbot Roper contend that the Amoskeag Textile Company countered the IWW and threats of worker unrest by investing in corporate benevolence programs. They assert that the Boston Red Sox World Series victory in 1912 boosted New Englanders interest in baseball, and Amoskeag responded by building Textile Field, the most modern and state-of-the-art stadium in New England outside Boston. Believing that the sport assimilated immigrants into American culture, Amoskeag turned to baseball as a tool to control and “Americanize” their workforce. Roper and Abbot Roper claim the company used the stadium to boost its appeal after wage disputes tarnished its image. Despite Amoskeag’s attempts to use baseball to maintain control over the city and its workers, the book suggests the company failed because it eventually closed after forces unleashed by the First World War weakened its economic influence.
The authors rely on periodicals to reconstruct the events and mood of Manchester in the four-year period covered. Appearing most frequently are the Amoskeag Bulletin, the company propaganda that represented the “voice” of Amoskeag; the L’Avenir National, which provided the immigrant perspective; and the Manchester Daily Mirror. The Mirror characterized the city’s conflicting relationship with Amoskeag since it sided with the textile company at times but also challenged its political stranglehold over the city. Roper and Abbot Roper blend these sources with an abundance of secondary sources to provide evidence for Steven Riess’s claim in his study Touching Base (1999, 213) that the “baseball creed”—teaching American values while assimilating immigrants—while not true in reality, affected people’s actions. Although When Baseball Met Big Bill Haywood bolsters arguments of other scholars and tells a compelling story about Manchester in the Progressive Era, it does little to provide any new arguments to the field of sport and labor history.
Roper and Abbot Roper list nineteen primary sources that are all periodicals, which limits the scope of their analysis. On page 150 they ask, “Why . . . did the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company risk alienating all professional baseball over use of Textile Field?” The answer to this question may lie somewhere in the Amoskeag records, which is not listed as one of the sources consulted. In addition to the constraints of a uniform source base, some [End Page 129] of the conclusions seem inconsistent. They assert that “Manchester’s foreign-born residents did not take a strong interest in baseball at any level” (199), while also acknowledging that many immigrants were unable to attend games since they were working when games were scheduled. At times, the authors use anecdotal evidence to drive their argument, and their attempt to provide a connection to the works of Roy Rosenzweig’s Eight Hours for What We Will (1985), Harold Seymour’s volumes on baseball, and Reiss’s book produces sharp transitions between chapters. Some chapters appear isolated from the book’s broader argument and offer only ancillary information. Even...