Spalding’s World Tour
By Mark Lamster
Public Affairs: 368 pp., $26 hardcover
Albert Spalding in 1888 led two teams of baseball players across five continents in an effort to bring America’s game to the rest of the world (and help Spalding establish his sporting goods empire on distant shores). By ship, train, and even camel, the group played games in locales such as Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne, Cairo, Naples, Rome, Paris, London, Glasgow, Belfast, and Dublin among many others — 57 games in total between the “Chicago” and “All-America” teams.
But the games were only part of the adventure. If you think that labor strife, deceit, and controversy are new developments in baseball and long for the “good old days,” then this book will provide the strong dose of reality you need. Did you know, for example, that relations between players and management grew so acrimonious that in 1890, many of the brightest stars in the game quit and started their own league?
Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised at the events happening today in baseball. If I learned anything from this book it’s that labor strife, deceit, and controversy are as much a part of the game we love as are balls, strikes, and outs. They might not be a part of the game that we like or are proud of, but they exist and always have. To deny this is to deny the game itself, beautiful but flawed (why else play on a diamond?) — just like those who play and follow it.
Spalding’s World Tour is a must-read for anyone with more than a passing interest in baseball history. Dotted with U.S. presidents, foreign heads of state, literary figures, and other fascinating characters, the tale of Spalding and his men is a compelling one, and is well-placed in the hands of Lamster, whose extensive research (the book boasts 28 pages of end notes and an impressive bibliography) and obvious love for the subject bring it to life.
One of Spalding’s heroes, P.T. Barnum, is purported to have said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” The fact that history has misattributed David Hannum’s quote to Barnum makes for a nice parallel with Spalding’s own misattribution of baseball’s origins to Abner Doubleday. Regardless of who said what, if you need a reminder of why you and I are among the legions of “suckers” for baseball, Spalding’s World Tour is a fine place to look. By the time you finish the book, the answer will be as obvious as a 3-1 fastball: we cannot help ourselves.
Learn more about Mark Lamster and Spalding’s World Tour at marklamster.com.