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Baseball: The New Sport of Kings

March 16, 2008

Depending upon your perspective, it’s rather opportune or an irony that A. G. Spalding’s middle name was, indeed, ‘Goodwill.’ Mastermind of the 1888 baseball world tour that showcased star players from the National league, including his own Chicago White Stockings, Spalding conceived of his players as “baseball missionaries,” traveling to Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon, Egypt, and much of Europe, to proselytize both the greatness of the game as well as that of the US. Depending upon your perspective.

So newspaper reports that a letter was awaiting the team when they arrived in San Francisco–from a King, no less–inviting them to play in Honolulu seven days later, seem as much 19th century PR slug as genuine news item. Or as it appeared in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper on November 17, 1888:

Manager Anson, who is taking two American baseball nines to Australia, found a letter from King Kalakaua of the Sandwich Islands awaiting him in San Francisco. Kalakaua requested Anson to bring his players to Honolulu if possible. The dusky island potentate felt certain, he said, that the Sandwich Islanders would be delighted with the game.

Sounds quite impromptu and impressive, no? Minus the bit about the “dusky island potentate”…

In truth, the team’s exhibition in Honolulu had been in the works for weeks, enough time to build a grandstand for 800 at Makiki Field and plan an elaborate celebration led by the Royal Hawaiian Band. Spalding’s cousin, a Honolulu businessman, chaired the welcoming committee. As it happens, the ship that the team was on would arrive a day later than scheduled, and the games would not be played because of the blue laws at the time. (The team arrived on a Sunday.) Baseball by this point in Hawaii’s history was not some miraculous western invention but part of the rhythm of the islands, played by the sons of missionaries as early as the 1840s. Mark Twain too is known to have watched games while he was there in the 1860s, though his commentary after was disparaging.

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