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  • “Cleaning Up the Wild and Wooly West”The Washington Nationals’ 1867 Baseball Tour Through the Ohio Valley
  • Ryan Swanson (bio)

In July 1867, the ballplayers of the Washington National Base Ball Club embarked upon what they believed to be a critically important baseball tour. The club, led by future Maryland Senator Arthur Gorman, planned a three-week foray that would stop in six major cities in and around the Ohio Valley. There would be games, of course, but also lavish balls and friendly mentoring. Simply put, the mission of the trip was for the white baseball leaders of Washington, D.C. to bring their white counterparts in other parts of the country into the baseball fold. A series of games seemed to be a logical first step in that direction.

The Nationals, in taking the tour, led the first wave of a reconciliation movement that would quickly overtake organized baseball during the decade following the Civil War. The club set out to convince the ballclubs of the Ohio Valley that, despite lingering war tensions and regional differences in baseball game play, baseball should be nationally cohesive. The game should be played by the same rules in, say, New York City as in St. Louis. The ballplayers of Louisville should join the “baseball fraternity” that was dominated by ballplayers from Philadelphia and Boston, among other places. Or as the Base Ball Player’s Book of Reference, published shortly before the Nationals’ tour, declared: “[Base Ball] is equally to be commended to the patronage of every reputable citizen North, East, South, and West as the most suitable game for the national out-door sport of the American people.”1

In terms of the onfield competition, the players of the National Club had few concerns about their superiority. The DC club expected to win all of its contests. After all, the Nationals played on the East Coast, in a major city. While not quite as decorated as the teams of New York City or Philadelphia, the Washington players viewed themselves as deserving of a perch at the top of baseball’s quickly emerging hierarchy. In all, a traveling party of forty individuals left the District in the suffocating heat of mid-summer. The ballplayers looked forward to playing a half dozen or so games, traveling in high style, and, generally making what Albert Spalding called baseball’s “wild and woolly west” a more suitable place for America’s budding “National Pastime.”2 [End Page 23]

The sporting community of the United States—ballplayers, fans, newspapermen, sporting goods businessmen—paid close attention to the plans of the National Club. Washington, D.C. itself, of course, was in the eye of public news. The Reconstruction process and the troubled administration of Andrew Johnson dominated the post-Civil War headlines. The Nationals were the nation’s capital’s best club. The National Police Gazette, which was not a particularly enthusiastic supporter of baseball, lavished the National Club with attention during the late days of June, as their trip to the cities of Columbus, Cincinnati, Louisville, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Chicago loomed. “The National Base Ball Club, of Washington, D.C.,” the Gazette reported, “are making the most extended tour ever undertaken by any club in the country.” The Chicago Tribune looked forward to the Nationals’ visit to the Windy City. Chicago’s baseball clubs planned a meeting of all Illinois state baseball organizations to coincide with the DC club’s stay. The baseball clubs of Cincinnati orchestrated a similar tournament corresponding with the Nationals’ visit. Lofty plans emerged all around. “In order to firmly establish our favorite sport as the National Pastime,” the Chicago Tribune summarized in discussing the Nationals’ visit and the Illinois baseball convention, “it must be systematized.”3

What would baseball become? This was the question that consumed men like Henry Chadwick, the self-proclaimed “Father of Baseball.” Chadwick wrote hundreds of baseball articles, pamphlets, books, and annual guides for a rapidly expanding base of baseball enthusiasts during the second half of the nineteenth century. Would the game be “systematic” and national? Would it be “manly?” Would the game’s popularity extend fully into the Ohio Valley, and then further west and south...


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pp. 23-42
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