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Spalding’s Austrian Baseball Tour.

July 2024
1min read

Albert Spalding’s middle name was Goodwill, which seemed fitting in 1888 when the baseball impresario and sporting goods king decided to take the game on a grand tour to parts of the world as yet unexposed to the glories of the American national pastime. His own Chicago White Stockings and an All America team drawn from both professional leagues would play exhibition games around the globe. As the group sailed from San Francisco, a journalist envisioned “Baseball at Calcutta and Bombay, or on the Island of Ceylon, where the branches of the sacred Bo tree might form a natural grandstand. Perhaps the serene Lord of all the Earth, the Emperor of Siam, may invite the party to his court; and should he be pleased with the game, he will no doubt present Mr. Spalding with a genuine sacred white elephant.” Such hyperbole was not far off the mark; by the time “Spalding’s Baseball Tourists” sailed for home six months later, they had dined with the king of Hawaii, exchanged toasts with the ermine-robed mayor of Sydney, and chatted with the future Edward VII, who later told the press that while he thought baseball “an excellent game,” he considered cricket as “superior.” In Rome the prelate of the American College declared that with religion for a bat and morality for an umpire his seminarians would knock the ball evil over the fence, scoring a home run each time.

The contests were cheered on five continents by citizens of thirteen nations. Near the end of the tour one reporter cabled home, “Only one continent now remains to be subjugated by the American baseball bat. Australia surrendered after a three weeks’ campaign of great brilliancy; Asia was met and overcome at Colombo; Africa sent her forces up the Nile, only to be overcome and brought to terms in the shadow of the great pyramid. To-morrow we land in Europe, to begin a triumphal march from Brindisi to Belfast. When the Spalding party steams up New York harbor in the first week of April they will come prepared to serve up the whole earth on the home plate.” As the two teams batted the ball around the world it seemed as if the sun would never set on a baseball game, but the impact of Spalding’s Tour was ephemeral. Today only Cuba and Japan share our enthusiasm for the game, and neither was on the 1888 itinerary. Still, Spalding pronounced himself satisfied when he toted up the score and found that expenses for the trip had just about been met by the $50,000 in receipts.

…C. D.


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