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The First Global Sports Franchise – Guest blog article by Keith Robbins

Al Spalding

Al Spalding

With the MLB Stars venturing to Cuba this week for a long awaited Goodwill Tour, baseball shows itself as not just the National Pastime, but as “The World’s Favorite Pastime.”

The Braves lead the International charge for Baseball, both at the team level and at an individual fan level, and with typical Braves flair these international efforts were both an utter failure and glorious success.

Lets first take a look at the teams’ failure. When one goes online looking at the Braves 1874 Championship season, there is a curious gap of no games played in the month of August. Was it a month-long rainout, a financial catastrophe, or something more sinister?

No, it was a month long International Baseball Road Trip. The Bostonians were on the other side of “The Pond,” playing baseball and cricket in the United Kingdom. From July 30 to August 25 the Bostonians played 14 baseball exhibitions and seven cricket matches. The baseball games featured Bostonians of lore:  Deacon White, Ross Barnes, Cal McVey, AG Spalding, Andy Leonard,  George and Harry Wright and Harry “Silk Stockings” Shafer, Their baseball opponents were the old rivals – the Original Athletics of Philadelphia led by AJ Reach “Cap” Anson, and a young Thomas Murnane.

For the record, on the field the Bostonians were successful winning 8 of the 14 games played. On the cricket grounds, the combined team lead by the old Cricketers of the Wright brothers and AJ Reach. and went undefeated according the 1889 Spalidng Guide.

However, at the box office and in hearts of the British viewers, the trip was a total failure; as the 1889 Spalding Guide reported, “In fact, the Britishers did not take to the game kindly at all.”

Yet in baseball there is the other side of the box score, and in this the Braves are esponsible for an international baseball success.

The Braves are part of the foundation of Baseball becoming the National Pastime of Japan.

During the dynasty years of the Red Stockings, the Japanese baseball tradition begins with avid Japanese born Braves fan and railroad engineer Hiraoka Hiroshi. When he returned to Japan he brought with him  a love of the game and a set of baseball equipment. After business hours Hiroshi enthusiastically taught his fellow railroad staff the game and soon established the Shinbashi Athletic Club (SAC), the first private baseball club in Japan. As noted by Sayuri Guthrie-Shimizu in her book, “Transpacific Field of Dreams,” Hiroshi sent his favourite Boston baseball pitcher and now baseball equipment mogul a letter in in early 1884 bemoaning the sacristy of baseball equipment in Japan. Soon before the start of the 1884 baseball practices in Japan, the SAC received a gift box worth $500 to $600 in 1880s dollars worth of baseballs, bats, gloves, and catchers masks. (in 1880, $500 dollars could buy you a nice house in Boston). Along with this care package a hopeful letter that baseball in Japan would “rise like the sun.”

Thus we can glean three International strikes from the history of  Braves Baseball:

  1. Why did AG Spalding and World Baseball Tourists not go to Japan in 1888-89? Because baseball was already there courtesy of the Original Red Stockings and the first Japanese super fan Hiraoka Hiroshi.
  2. Feeling sad that an Asian born player scored the winning run or pitched a shutout against your hometown favorite Braves? Take heart and show respect to that player for it was the Braves that played a significant role in bringing baseball to Asia over a century ago.
  3. The next time you hear baseball referred to as the National Pastime, say its a myth, Baseball is the actually “The World’s Favorite Pastime;” and, it was the Braves that played a vital role in beginning baseball’s international Goodwill mission.

Sources:

N/A (2012-05-12). Spalding’s Baseball Guide and Official League Book for 1889 (Kindle Locations 1713-1780).  Kindle Edition.

Guthurie-Shimizu, Sayuri, Transpacific Field of Dreams: How Baseball Liked the United States and Japan in Peace and War. University of North Carolina Press, 2012. pp 20-31.

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