Baseball in Territorial Arizona: A History, 1863–1912 by John Darrin Tenney
In remarks at the 2017 NINE Spring Training Conference in Arizona, eminent baseball historian Dorothy Seymour Mills urged attendees to embrace opportunities to research and write regional, local, and familial accounts about "The People's Game." Although John Darrin Tenney was not personally present in the audience, his recent work on baseball in the Arizona Territory was on display in the book exhibit in the back of the room, and it provided a pertinent example of the initiative that she encouraged.
The title and subtitle of Tenney's book, Baseball in Territorial Arizona: A History, 1863–1912 lead readers to expect a data-rich record about the first half-century of baseball in the Arizona Territory; and the work indeed scores with Tenney's thorough mining of contemporary reports from regional newspapers, military documents, family letters, and photographs, a number of which vivify his text. Drawing on these sources he presents a detailed description of early games, teams, players, sponsors, and sites. He locates the initial appearance of baseball in Arizona with the arrival of military troops stationed at Fort Whipple and Camps Hualpai and Grant, and he identifies the expanding interest in baseball throughout the region by focusing on community teams and games in Yuma, Tucson, Tempe, Phoenix, Tombstone, Nogales, and Prescott. In subsequent chapters, Tenney utilizes the presence of African Americans and Mexicans on these community teams to remark on race relations among the pioneers of the region, and he takes advantage of the exhibition tour of the Boston Bloomer Girls in 1886 to comment on gender roles related to baseball. In addition, he aligns the rising popularity of baseball in the nineteenth century with the ability of mining and railroad enterprises in the Southwest to recruit and retain workers by establishing and supporting company teams.
Yet the interpretation that Tenney provides is more akin to a docudrama than it is to a cohesive historical narrative since he imaginatively expounds on brief newspaper reports about games and since he creatively reads early baseball photographs "to expand our understanding of what was going on besides the game" (2). This method frequently leads him to speculate about players' participation in games and to conjecture about Arizonans' response to baseball. Two examples of this approach suffice. One is related to Tenney's description of a player's performance following his excursus on the possible identity of an unnamed player—the only African American in the team photograph—on the turn-of-the-century Crimson Rims from Tempe. Tenney concludes that although "we don't know what position he played … or any of his statistics," [End Page 220] we can surmise that, "identity aside, our mystery ball player certainly did his part in helping the Crimson Rims become the elite ball club of the Salt River Valley" (112). On what basis? I wondered. Similarly, in commenting on the game and audience for the first territorial championship between teams from Whipple and Prescott, Tenney acknowledges that, since two photographs and few newspaper reports about the game comprise all that is known about the game, "much about the match is left to imagination and the speculative nature that follows" (47–48). In keeping with this free approach, he describes the weather for the game as "idyllic for players and spectators" with "warm sunshine and perhaps a light breeze" softening the afternoon, and he suggests that "gentlemen and ladies in attendance wore suitable day-wear apparel, though perhaps not in the same Victorian tradition that was the standard of the day in the Eastern United States" (42).
Tenney's docudrama method is also manifest in his style. Repeatedly, he incorporates the language of the era to refer to games as matches, players as ballists, teams as nines, fans as cranks, batters as strikers, an outfielder as a gardener, and so forth. As effective as this nineteenth-century rhetoric might be for creating a baseball period piece in conjunction with photographs, its frequent, independent use in a text inhibits the flow of a twenty-first century narrative, and it detracts from the analysis of the emergence and significance of baseball in the region.
While the text of Baseball in Territorial Arizona is often ponderous, baseball historians and sociologists will likely find its documented data, appendices, and index useful. One appendix identifies more than twenty-five historic Arizona newspapers that Tenney perused in his research, and another lists more than thrity-five teams that played in the area. The index not only includes the names of players, teams, sponsors, military troops, towns, and baseball plays; it also identifies entertaining cultural practices associated with the game, like "fireworks" and "ice cream." [End Page 221]