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NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture 12.2 (2004) 164-166
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James E. Elfers. The Tour to End All Tours: The Story of Major League Baseball's 1913-1914 World Tour. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003. 292 pp. Paper, $24.95.
Historians and fans of baseball will find much to admire in James Elfers's fast-paced account of the Chicago White Sox and New York Giants' barnstorming trip around the world on the eve of World War I. Bringing to life a cast of colorful characters, ranging from Jim Thorpe to Christy Mathewson and from Charles Comiskey to John McGraw, The Tour to End All Tours plots the crafting of the great tour, its antecedents in Albert Spalding's similar worldwide excursion twenty-five years before, and the Americans' city-by-city encounters with local officials and amateur athletes. From October 1913 through February1914, Elfers tells us, the White Sox and the Giants played one another some forty-six times, granting audiences from Cincinnati to London a tireless display of the "American game" and making news in thirteen host countries. The [End Page 164] logistics of the trip were daunting, the travel at times harrowing, and Elfers' retelling addresses issues of fundamental importance to students of American sport and U.S. history.
Above all,The Tour to End All Tours reminds us of baseball's emerging popularity in the early twentieth century with a diverse group of fans in the United States and abroad, and it shows some of the ways in which key actors shaped that popularity. As a chronicle of the commercialization of spectator sports worldwide, it places Comiskey and McGraw center stage. There can be no doubt, as Elfers makes clear, that those men had high hopes of great financial gain, even as they repeatedly declared that their interests lay solely in spreading the baseball gospel to other nations. Moving into countries with long baseball histories (such as Japan and Australia) and into others that had never seen the game (such as Italy), their tour also captured the imagination of baseball fans in the United States who heard of hometown heroes performing impressive feats before distant, foreign crowds. To the delight of residents in Chicago, New York, and other U.S. cities, sports journalists like Ring Lardner made heavy use of the telegraph to provide constant updates on the ballplayers' fate, and those "reports from the field," along with participants' subsequent memoirs, provide the critical documentary basis for Elfers's historical reconstruction of the trip.
Nearly every page of Elfers's account speaks to the production of baseball as a business and an enterprise, and his narrative of the tour provides a critical window into the ways in which baseball emerged on the world stage in an era of increasing U.S. involvement overseas. Ballplayers mixed and performed in front of U.S. consular officials, royalty interested in understanding American culture, and U.S. tourists and military personnel abroad, and The Tour to End All Tours reminds us that U.S. servicemen stationed in diverse places have long been critical proponents of the game. Elfers emphasizes the joy many took in meeting U.S. athletes, and he documents the persistence of rabid ties to hometown clubs among those who witnessed a White Sox-Giants contest far from New York and Chicago. For many in the crowd, baseball signaled "home," but it also spoke to common ideas about U.S. sportsmanship and national strength. And while Elfers does not explore the point in great detail, we see in the planning of the tour and its reception elsewhere a glimpse into the changing place of the United States in the world at large. In the view of many participants, in fact, the games displayed an underlying arrogance of national power; talk of home runs and strikeouts were rarely far from musings about Muslim backwardness, the fading British empire, or the closed, insular nature of Chinese society.
The Tour to End All...