This is postÂ one in a ten-post countdown to SABR Day 2011. The series is going through the decades of the 20th Century, backwards from the 1990s. On SABR Day itself, there will be a special feature on the 1890s,Â which will celebrate the significant link between keeping score and baseball history. This article will be published at 05:00 British time in order to coincide with the start of the day in the time-zone of the Cleveland-based SABR office. To view all the Cobbettes published to date, click here.
The Enfield Spartans were one of the leading teams in British baseball during the closing years of the 20th Century, supplementing three straight official national titles between 1989 and 1991 with a championship win in a breakaway national league in 1994. Â As was well known at the time but is less so now, the team had a fascinating link to Jim Bouton’s seminal baseball diary Ball Four (one of Matt Smith’s Essential Baseball Books). The association is described below.
InÂ Ball Five, a 10-years-later epilogue, Bouton describes how he launched his big league comeback in the mid-1970s with the Portland Mavericks, an independent team that played in the Class A Northwest League:
â€œThe Mavericks were the dirty dozen of baseball, a collection of players nobody else wanted, owned by actor Bing Russell [â€¦] In a league stocked with high-priced bonus babies, Mavericks players made only $300 per month and had to double as the ground crew. Revenge being a strong motivator, the Mavs had the best team in the league [â€¦] The afternoon before a game we’d drive through the streets of whatever town we were playing in and insult the citizens over a loudspeaker [â€¦] No insult was too outrageous. ‘Hey lady, that sure is an ugly baby you got there.’ And so on. Needless to say, that night the stands would be filled with hundreds of irate fans rooting passionately for our defeat.â€
While with the Mavs, Bouton met a young southpaw named Rob Nelson (“Nellie” to his friends), who would become his business partner in the hugely successful Big League Chew venture. In fact, it was in the bullpen in Civic Stadium, Portland’s home ground, that the pair dreamed up the idea. (Bouton later described Big League Chew asÂ â€œthe only good idea to ever come out of a bullpen.â€)