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Collection By Popular Demand: Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s-1960s

Baseball Beginnings

In The Book of American Pastimes (New York: The Author, 1866), Charles A.Peverelly wrote: "The game of Base Ball has now become beyond question the leading feature of the out-door sports of the United States ... It is a game which is peculiarly suited to the American temperament and disposition; the nine innings are played in the brief space of two and one half hours, or less. From the moment the first striker takes his position, and poises his bat, it has an excitement and vim about it ... in short, the pastime suits the people, and the people suit the pastime."

"Union Prisoners at Salisbury, N.C." Color lithograph of Sarony, Major & Knapp. Published by Goupil & Co. Copyright by Otto Boetticher, 1863. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction numbers: LC-USZC4-3036 (color); LC-USZ62-38 (b&w))

This print depicts Union soldiers playing a baseball game in a Confederate prisoner of war camp in North Carolina during the American Civil War. Baseball had evolved into an organized sport in the 1840s and 1850s. Many early teams were established in New York City and Brooklyn. Alexander Cartwright (of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club), drew up rules that were widely adopted. By 1866 baseball was being referred to as the national pastime.

The Brooklyn Atlantics dominated early baseball by winning championships in 1861, 1864, and 1865. The Atlantics usually crushed their competition, scoring two or three times more runs than their opponents. The game was an amateur sport. According to the rules of the National Association of Base Ball Players, athletes could not accept wages to play ball, although gifts and jobs were sometimes offered as a means of compensation.

"Champions of America." Albumen photographic print by Charles H. Williamson, Brooklyn, New York, copyright 1865. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction numbers: LC-USZC4-4572 (color); LC-USZ62-94553 (b&w))

This team portrait is an original photograph mounted on a card; a forerunner of the baseball cards that became popular in the 1880s. At the start of the 1865 season, the Atlantics presented opposing teams with framed photographs of the "Champion Nine." The photographer, Scottish-born Charles H. Williamson (1826-1874), opened a daguerreotype studio in Brooklyn in 1851 and worked as a photographer until his death.

This decorative label is an early example of a tobacco company using a generic baseball scene to help sell its product.

"Star Club" tobacco label. Wood engraving, copyright by Ruhe & Weikel, proprietors, 1867. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction number: LC-USZC4-3227 (color))

Members of the Washington, D.C., National League team appear in studio poses that were also used on individual baseball cigarette cards. Catcher Connie Mack (see detail below) later managed the Philadelphia Athletics for fifty years and was elected to the Hall of Fame. In some of the individual pictures you can see a string suspending the ball. The players that year were: C. Carroll, E. Daily, P. Dealey, J. Donnelly, J. Farrell, F. Gilmore, P. Hines, C. Mack, A. Myers, B. O'Brien, H. O'Day, D. Shaw, G. Shoch, J. Whitney.

"Washington Base Ball Club." Uncut set of photographs for cigarette cards, copyright by Goodwin & Co., New York, 1887. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction number: LC-USZ62-1013 (b&w))
Selected details from above set of cigarette cards: G Shoch, C. Mack, P. Dealey, and C. Carroll.
"Baltimore and All-America base ball teams, California tour 1897." Photographic print by Marceau, foto, San Francisco, copyright 1897. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction number: LC-USZ62-97621 (b&w))

This souvenir group portrait shows the Baltimore Orioles and a team of players from other National League clubs who barnstormed in exhibition games. At least three of the men portrayed, Jesse Burkett, Jimmy Collins, and Hughie Jennings, were later elected to the Hall of Fame.

According to baseball historian Paul Dickson, this photograph is believed to be the first photo of a "softball" (indoor baseball) team.

"Chicago indoor base ball team." Photographic print, copyright by X.O. Howe, 1897. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction number: LC-USZ62-97619 (b&w))
"The Maine Base Ball Club." All blown up at Havana except no. 1, J.H. Bloomer. Photographic print, copyright by Geo. C. Mages, Chicago, May, 1898. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction number: LC-USZ62-26149 (b&w))

This proud but ultimately tragic assemblage of players, coaches, and mascot is the baseball squad from the battleship USS Maine. The team had just won the Navy baseball championship held in Key West, Florida, in December 1897, beating a team from the cruiser USS Marblehead eighteen to three. The Maine's star was a black pitcher named William Lambert (upper right), and engine stoker from Hampton, Virginia, who was described by one shipmate as "a master of speed, curves, and control."

Two months after this celebratory photograph was taken, on February 15, 1898, all but one of these men died when the Maine exploded and sank in Havana harbor, killing 260 of the ship's crew and sparking the Spanish-American War. Other than the goat, which was left behind in Key West when the ship was ordered to Cuba, the lone survivor was John Bloomer (upper left). Only minutes before this devastating--and still mysterious--explosion, C.H. Newton (middle row, second from left) had sounded taps for the crew at the usual time of 9:10 p.m. Caption written by Alan Bisbort for the 1997 Library of Congress Baseball Calendar.

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