Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Abraham Lincoln And Baseball

Technically, Abraham Lincoln, having nothing to do with the history of 19th century St. Louis baseball, is outside the purview of this blog. But I live across the river from St. Louis in Illinois, Abe Lincoln is our favorite son, and I feel like posting on our boy. Since it's my blog, I guess I can do what I want.

The picture posted above is a drawing called "Lincoln's Notification" and when I saw it, I vaguely remembered the story that went with it. I had heard the apocryphal story of how Lincoln was notified of his election while in the middle of a baseball game and knew I had read something about it. So I started digging and found a long piece on Lincoln and baseball in Baseball in Blue & Gray.

"While there is precious little evidence that Lincoln actually played, watched, or even paid attention to baseball," George Kirsch wrote, "nevertheless there are several tales that connect him to the sport. Certainly as president, Lincoln had ample opportunity to see a baseball game. Before, during, and after the (Civil War) baseball clubs competed on the President's Grounds near the White House in Washington D. C. In June 1865, just two months after his assassination, the New York Herald announced that a feature match would be played there in August between the Atlantics of Brooklyn and the Athletics of Philadelphia. That journal added that the slain president had "expressed a wish to see a game of the kind." Albert G. Spalding also contributed to the folklore of Lincoln and baseball. A few years after spinning his yarn about Doubleday and Cooperstown, Spalding claimed that he had received a letter describing the visit of a Republican committee that traveled to Springfield, Illinois to notify Lincoln of his selection as the party's nominee for the presidency. According to Spalding, the men found him "engaged in a game of Base Ball." When a messenger alerted him to the imminent arrival of the delegation, he replied: "Tell the gentlemen that I am glad to know of their coming; but they'll have to wait a few minutes until I make another base hit.""

Kirsch also quotes stories by Winfield Scott Larner and Frank Blair. Larner claimed that Lincoln and his son Tad had watched games played in Washington , "cheering with their fellow fans". Blair tells a great story about how Lincoln, during visits to his family, "loved to play town ball with the youngsters on the lawn."

In his book, Kirsch stresses how Organized Baseball attempted to tie together the Lincoln legend, baseball mythology, and American nationalism in an attempt to further the popularity of the game.


Richard Hershberger said...

The story about Lincoln's notification is contemporary to the event. A version of it appears in a San Francisco paper at the time, but with "base ball" correctly replaced by "town ball". I would not be surprised if the San Francisco paper picked it up from somewhere else. I'm not entirely convinced the story is true: it has the air of a campaign press release to it. But even so, it shows that baseball was prominent enough in the national consciousness to merit its use as a story element.

Jeff Kittel said...

Hi, Richard. Good to hear from you and thanks for stopping by the blog. Any comments or criticisms you have will always be welcome.

I always assumed that the Lincoln notification story was a nice blending of the Lincoln and baseball mythologies. While it could certainly be true, there's so much that surrounds both Lincoln and the history of baseball that is suspect that one just takes it with a grain of salt.

Richard Hershberger said...

I suspect that it *is* a blending of the Lincoln and baseball mythologies. What makes it interesting is that it is contemporary, when neither Lincoln nor baseball had the status they would later achieve.