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Collection The Spalding Base Ball Guides, 1889 to 1939

About this Collection

Spalding Base Ball Guides, 1889-1939 comprises a historic selection of Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide and the Official Indoor Base Ball Guide. The collection reproduces 35 of the guides, which were published by the Spalding Athletic Company in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide was perhaps the premier publication of its day for the game of baseball. It featured editorials from baseball writers on the state of the game, statistics, photographs, and analysis of the previous season for all the Major League teams and for many of the so-called minor leagues across the nation. The 15 Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guides included in this online collection were published between 1889 and 1939. The Official Indoor Baseball Guide concerns a game unfamiliar to most contemporary baseball fans because its demise occurred almost beyond living memory. These guides, too, offer rules and “how-to’s” of the game, information on the game’s founding fathers, photographic illustrations of teams and players from across the land, and game statistics. The 20 Official Indoor Base Ball Guides included in this collection were published between 1903 and 1926.

During his more than twenty-one years' involvement with baseball’s Major Leagues, A.G. (Albert Goodwill) Spalding (1850-1915) was a baseball player, manager, and executive. With his brother he began the sporting-goods manufacturing and retail business that still bears his name and is known to millions. He also founded a publishing house, the American Sports Publishing Company.

Between the late nineteenth and the mid-twentieth centuries, the American Sports Publishing Company issued works that can be classified in three general categories. The first is instructional manuals, such as How to Play Second Base, How to Bowl, and How to Play American Hand Ball. The second is rule books for many sports. The third category, and the one most widely used by researchers and sports historians, is the annuals that both narratively and statistically summarized the previous year's history, accomplishments, and records for a specific sport. A few of the sports covered are baseball, women's basketball, golf, college football, and track and field athletics. Collectively, these are known as Spalding Guides. In addition to the text, all guides included an advertising section for the Spalding sporting-goods empire that provides a fascinating history of the development of everything from baseball gloves, tennis racquets, and ice skates to golf clubs and football cleats; the Spalding Company made them all.

The Library of Congress has more than one thousand of these guides, believed to be the largest collection held by any institution. A small sample is offered here in Spalding Base Ball Guides, 1889-1939; in the future, the entire collection may be digitized and made available on this Web site. The twenty Official Indoor Base Ball Guides and fifteen Spalding's Official Base Ball Guides currently presented are examples of the annuals described above.

While the game of baseball covered in Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guides is well known to most Americans, the game described in the Official Indoor Base Ball Guides may at first seem unfamiliar--yet in its current incarnation it is probably played by more Americans than traditional baseball. According to The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary, indoor baseball is “[t]he original name for the game from which modern softball derived. Its rules were written by George W. Hancock of Chicago who was one of the group of young men who created the game, using a boxing glove for a ball and a broomstick for a bat, while waiting at the Farragut Boat Club for the telegraphed results of the Harvard-Yale football game on Thanksgiving Day, 1887. Thus, softball in its first incarnation was baseball played inside a gymnasium” (Paul Dickson, The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary [New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1990], p. 268).

Brief biographies of A.G. Spalding can be found in The Ballplayers, edited by Mike Shatzkin (New York: Arbor House/William Morrow, 1990; Library of Congress call number GV865.A1 B323 1990) and Biographical Dictionary of American Sports. Baseball, edited by David L. Porter (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000; Library of Congress call number GV865.A1 B55 2000). The definitive biography is A.G. Spalding and the Rise of Baseball: The Promise of American Sport, by Peter Levine (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985; Library of Congress call number GV865.S7 L48 1985).