Home British baseballProject COBB Cobbette: Detectives, fairies, and baseball

Cobbette: Detectives, fairies, and baseball

by Joe Gray

Cobbette-(128x128)Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best known for creating one of crime fiction’s most enduring characters, Sherlock Holmes. The Scot’s accomplishments ranged from his prolific writing to the practising of medicine. Conan Doyle’s intellect was not, however, a sufficient safeguard against being duped to believe in the existence of fairies. In his book The Coming of the Fairies, Conan Doyle collaborated with the spiritualist Edward Gardner to publish photos taken by a 16-year-old schoolgirl, Elsie Wright, of her 10-year-old cousin, Frances Griffiths, using cut-outs of fairies as props. Conan Doyle and Gardner vigorously defended the authenticity of the images.

What he is less well-known for, though, is championing baseball in Britain (as mentioned in British Baseball and the West Ham Club). On 28 October 1924, in a month during which the Chicago White Sox and New York Giants toured Britain, Conan Doyle was quoted in the New York Times for his support of the game:

This game needs no expensive levelling of the field, as the outfit is within the reach of any village club. It takes only two or three hours in playing, it is independent of wet wickets and the player is on his toes all the time and not sitting on a pavilion bench while another man makes his century. If it were taken up by our different association teams as a Summer pastime I believe it would sweep this country as it has done America. At the same time it would not more interfere with cricket than lawn tennis has done.

The visit to Britain in 1924 of two major league teams was not the first exposure to baseball for Conan Doyle. In an article from 1993 published in Manitoba History, Michael W Homer notes that while on a spiritualism-related tour of the USA and Canada in 1923, Conan Doyle’s activities were not limited to just the occult.

On the day following his arrival [in Winnipeg] he took his family to a baseball game which was played at Wesley Park between the Winnipeg Arenas and the Minneapolis All-Stars. Although he was a sports enthusiast and had excelled in cricket as a young man, [he] frankly admitted that “I have all the prejudices of an old [cricketer], and yet I cannot get away from the fact that baseball is the better game.”

There is even a picture of Conan Doyle playing baseball in Jasper National Park, while on another North American tour in June 1914, which can be found here (source: Western Canada Pictorial Index).

If you have an interesting history snippet to share with a link to Britain (tenuous or otherwise) then please send a message to Joe Gray through the Get in contact page.

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Matt Smith May 8, 2010 - 12:00 pm

Great post Joe.

It’s a shame more people at the time didn’t accept his comment that “it would not more interfere with cricket than lawn tennis has done” as maybe there would not have been the oppposition in some areas that baseball faced from cricketing interests

Patrick Adams August 1, 2010 - 9:00 am

War and baseball

It has been argued that the American Civil War ensured that baseball became the major bat and ball sport in the US instead of cricket as unlike the latter sport it required little or no pitch preparation, which would have been harder to do in war time.

According to the Toronto Globe of Saturday 7 April 1917, Canadian servicemen made baseball as popular as cricket in Britain. This was built on by the Americans and 10,000 spectators saw a Canadian team beat an American side by 12 runs to 3 at Lord’s! The Globe of 12 November 1918 stated that this North American influence ensured that baseball became more popular than cricket in British Battalions.

Joe Gray August 1, 2010 - 8:23 pm

Hi Patrick,

Many thanks for your comment. And good luck with your book (I just spied out the material linked to through your posting name).



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