- A Very Peculiar PracticeThe London Baseball League, 1906-1911
Baseball has been played sporadically in England since a first exhibition tour in 1874, led by the former American professional Harry Wright and involving the great American pitcher, manager, and subsequent sporting goods tycoon Albert Goodwill Spalding. Although this particular tour had no real impact on the English public, a similar venture in 1889, this time led principally by Spalding, did spark a decade of development for baseball, which included numerous players among the indigenous population.1
The initial decision to develop baseball in England in 1890 was largely influenced by a number of Association Football clubs—based in the north and midlands of England—whose chairmen were looking for ways to generate income during the close, summer season. The league and cup competitions that were set up during this time enjoyed fleeting success. The most famous team of that era, the Derby Baseball Club, regularly attracted thousands of spectators, and the ground where the team played became known as "The Baseball Ground"—a site where Derby County football club played for almost a hundred years.
Despite the fleeting success of these developments, the English press were rarely supportive. In fact, when they showed any interest whatsoever, it was normally to pour scorn on the developments taking place. Baseball was regarded as a poor man's cricket and was considered a form of "glorified rounders."2 Another issue facing those who wished to promote the game was that throughout much of this decade of development, only a handful of the clubs that were set up were based in London. London, of course, was the major metropolis, and where any American businessman residing in the country at that time was likely to have set up home. So London was regarded as an essential location for baseball to be considered a success. Some London-based teams were established, but these were mostly American-led initiatives. The league that was established folded in 1901, without so much as a word written in the press of its demise. [End Page 118]
This essay will focus on the next development that took place while seeking to establish baseball in England. What makes this period so interesting, aside from the fact that nobody has written about it before, is that the developments were entirely based in London; that the by now very successful Football League clubs based there were chiefly responsible for its development; and that, to begin with at least, the major proponents of the game were from the indigenous population. However, despite this, baseball still received next to no coverage in the national press, and only sporadic, yet occasionally supportive, coverage in the local, London-based newspapers.
On April 9, 1906, the British Baseball Association (BBA) was established during a meeting at the Charterhouse Hotel, London. The London Times, reporting on baseball for the first time in over a decade, reported that the development of the BBA "was supported by delegates from the Millwall, Crystal Palace, Tottenham Hotspur, Clapton Orient, Woolwich Arsenal, Fulham, Leyton, West Ham, and Chelsea [football] Clubs."3 At this meeting it was proposed that a league, based in London, should be formed.4 The drive from these football clubs mirrored that of those who were responsible for developing baseball in the 1890s.5 Again clubs were seeking to generate income in the close season. For instance, the Directors' Report for Woolwich Arsenal Football Club expresses this concern: "The directors have long felt that your football ground should be utilized as far as possible during the "close season," and an endeavour is being made this summer, in conjunction with other football clubs in London, to introduce the game of baseball as a summer attraction."6
Only Clapton Orient, Fulham, Leyton, Tottenham Hotspur and Woolwich Arsenal actually took part in the first season. Brentford and Millwall football clubs also had teams—though they were not organized in time to play league matches.7 It is not known why, but Chelsea and West Ham appear not to have established baseball teams. The Nondescripts baseball club, who played in Canning Town, was also created "as a result of the...