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Old 11-01-2013, 11:47 AM   #1
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The (English) Baseball League (est. 1888): A History

The Introduction of Baseball in Britain

Al Spalding wound up a great albeit short career with the National League’s Chicago White Stockings as a sore-armed 27-year old pitcher in 1877. An eventual Hall of Famer who futilely tried to recast himself as a first baseman before completely retiring from the field, Spalding became the team’s secretary en route to becoming its president in 1882 and, later, the founder of one of the greatest sporting goods manufacturers the world has ever known.

During his first year in his new capacity with the Chicago team, Spalding conceived the idea of evangelizing the sport of baseball by means of an around the world tour. Obtaining the financial backing of White Stockings’ owner William Hulbert, Spalding packed up twenty-two of the National League’s top ballplayers in October of 1878 and embarked on a six-and-a-half month journey to play exhibition games around the globe, departing from San Francisco en route to Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, Ceylon, Egypt, Italy, France and, finally, Great Britain.

Having landed in England in early March of 1879, the Spalding contingent played two exhibition games in London (including one game played before Edward, Prince of Wales, who reportedly was smitten with the game he’d just seen). The group then traveled north to Birmingham, Derby, Stoke, Manchester and Bolton, before moving on to an unusually extended tour through Lancashire, the ancestral home of the Spalding family. The Lancashire leg of the tour encompassed the cities of Burnley, Accrington, Blackburn, Darwen, Preston, and Blackpool, from which the American baseballers embarked on their return trip home to the States.

While playing in Derby, Spalding caught the attention of another young entrepreneur named Francis Ley, the founder of Vulcan Iron Works. While not sporting himself, Ley was an enthusiastic proponent of the value of physical activity as a way to promote good health and increased productivity among his employees. He was entranced by the symmetry and pastoral beauty of the baseball pitch, as well as the game’s emphasis on specific and distinct roles for each player. Smitten with the game on at least an equal basis with His Royal Highness, Ley quickly sought the support of his fellow industrialists in the region to promote this young and youthful game among their workers. Thus began the collection of industrial-based clubs which formed the genesis of league baseball in the north of Britain.

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Old 11-01-2013, 11:48 AM   #2
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The Rise in Popularity of Club Baseball in Britain

Baseball caught on unusually quickly throughout the north of England as well as in Scotland. Baseball was recognizable due to its similarity to the children’s game of rounders, in that the object of run scoring (similar to scoring a rounder) was instantly and easily understood. The game was seen as an adult’s version of rounders—a fast, exciting, and delightfully rough-and-tumble tonic against the game of cricket, which quickly became redefined as a game more suited to the upper class of the south, due to its perceived genteel and leisurely (some would say stuffy and plodding) nature. The game of baseball also appealed both to football fans who enjoyed its neat fit as a bridge sport between football seasons, and to those sporting people who never became particularly enchanted with football or cricket in the first place.

Within two years of baseball’s introduction to the British public, a major industrial-based association, putting on display the best talent the nascent British game had to offer and thus attracting the keen attention of the press and local residents, had sprung up among the iron, shipbuilding and textile employees of the Lancashire and Derbyshire regions. In addition, numerous baseball associations, mainly of industrial, trades, and university and collegiate origin, sprang up quickly in Staffordshire, Cheshire, Durham and Northumberland in 1881; Cleveland, Lincolnshire, Liverpool, Shropshire and Northamptonshire in 1882; and in Nottinghamshire, Walsall and Scarborough and the East Riding in 1883.

The game also spread quickly south, with associations set up in Surrey, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire that same year of 1883; London, Norfolk, Sussex, Essex, Kent and Middlesex in 1884; Cambridgeshire, South Hampshire and Dorset in 1885; and Somerset and Suffolk in 1886. By the spring of 1887, over 2,700 clubs and nearly 100,000 players were registered to forty-seven baseball associations throughout England, Scotland and Wales. This exponential growth would not have been possible had baseball not immediately caught the fancy of the middle and working classes outside of Britain’s largest cities.

Also important to the growth of the game were cup competitions established within and among the associations. Beyond locally-contested cups and derbies established between area-adjacent clubs, the establishment of the Baseball Association (BA) Cup in 1882 is seen as a critical growth step for the sport, with the establishment of the SBA (Scottish Baseball Association) Cup and the Welsh Cup in 1883 following soon after. (It should be noted that while baseball spread like wildfire in England and Scotland, its uptake was much slower in Wales, where rugby ruled supreme; and in Ireland [outside of the Ulster Province], where baseball was derided as a “foreign sport”.)

By 1887, over 300 clubs from around the island were participating in that year’s English BA Cup, culminating in the “Mad Dash Cup Final” in which champion Derby County defeated Burnley 4-3 in ten innings on Vivian Sharp’s daring consecutive stolen bases and subsequent scoring of the winning run on a passed ball, to the delight of over 15,000 fans crowded into the Kennington Oval in London.

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Old 11-01-2013, 11:49 AM   #3
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The Rise of Gate-Money Baseball

As with other sports in England at the time, there was a significant rift between two key factions: one mainly in the north and midlands which wanted to capitalize on the increasing popularity of baseball by creating a professional league of the highest competence; and another mainly in the south which favored maintaining baseball as a purely amateur exercise contested strictly for the love of the game.

What there was little dispute about was that, due to in large part to the substantially increased leisure time and real wages afforded to the working- and middle-classes during the prior four decades, thousands of people could be persuaded to pay a reasonable fee to watch the very best baseballers in action on a regular basis, particularly with the advent of the Saturday half-holiday granted to skilled tradesmen. The fact that the major beneficiaries of this prosperity centered among the textile and engineering workers, as well as those in shipbuilding, transport and mining, helps explains the early game’s dominance in Lancashire and West Midlands, as well as its late adoption in Liverpool, which was dominated by a casual non-unionized workforce; and by the northeast, where the Saturday half-holiday was not introduced until the mid-1880s.

Whatever the particular appeal of baseball was, there was no doubt there were large number of people willing to pay money to watch it. Gate-money sport had already been well-established in cricket and athletics, and was emerging in horse-racing and both association and rugby football. While crowd estimates can be culled only from newspapers of the time and thus are notoriously unreliable, it is generally accepted that gates increased from the 500-1,000 range for baseball cup matches in the 1870s to over 10,000 for championship cup matches in the mid-1880s, with the largest attendances to be found in Scotland and the north of England.

Notwithstanding the perceived “threat” to the “integrity and purity” of the game being seen by some observers, who lamented that games should be conducted “for the honour of victory alone without any ulterior thought as to how much the ‘gate’ is worth”, the emergence of gate-money baseball did create a demand and a need for clubs to secure the very best players possible, since the ardor of even the most enthusiastic supporter wanes when the club fields a poor product that loses frequently. A poor start to the 1884 season led Athletic News to advise Blackburn Rovers to strengthen their squad lest they “not only lose a lot of engagements, but [also find] a considerable falling off of receipts.” In addition to the need to field the best players, there were also the dual problems of finding similarly-matched competition against which to fairly contest games, and of games canceled at the last minute by clubs made up of less-than-fully-committed players.

This quickly-growing set of problems, coupled with insinuations by the sporting press and aggrieved opponents that the best industrial clubs of the north were already using “play for pay” baseballers anyway, led to a strong and sudden push after the 1887 season to create a league that would ensure both the highest level of competition available, and the stability to maintain a stable schedule of matches throughout an entire spring and summer. Most importantly, it was decided in the very first stages of planning that this league would allow baseballers to be paid for playing for the clubs.

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Old 11-01-2013, 11:50 AM   #4
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The Creation of the (English) Baseball League

It is often mistakenly believed that fully-sanctioned professional baseball in Britain began with the Baseball League in 1888. In fact, professionalism was legalized by the BA in 1885, although many teams were slow to admit to employing professionals, and it was an innovation that took time to spread. Unsurprisingly, Lancashire clubs were among the first to register paid players. During the summer of 1886 at least two dozen clubs were engaging some 339 professional baseballers; this figure rose to 47 clubs and 612 professionals by the end of the 1887 season. From Lancashire, professional baseball spread outward to contiguous counties, creating a network of competition encompassing Stoke and Burslem Port Vale in the Potteries; West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa and the Small Heath Alliance in the Black Country and Birmingham; and across to Derby and Notts counties in the East Midlands. Early professionalism, it was noted, was a phenomenon “confined to the north-west (of England) and the midlands”. As a result, the mainly southern faction’s unyielding opposition to professionalism hampered the development of clubs in London and throughout the south into the 20th century.

The Baseball League was created essentially to address the administrative and financial difficulties that had arisen in the wake of professionalism. The most important of these was that professional clubs usually lacked a reliable and permanent schedule (aka a “fixture list”). Such clubs, now facing large bills for player wages in addition to other expenses, could no longer depend on a haphazard schedule of local cup games in which the opponents might be too weak to attract a crowd, or “friendly” matches where visiting clubs might arrive with something short of a full side—if they showed up at all. In a situation where fixtures were created and cancelled in a capricious way, order was needed.

That order came in the person of William MacGregor, an ex-pat Scot and a director of the Aston Villa Baseball and Football Clubs. MacGregor circulated a letter suggesting that “ten or twelve of the most prominent clubs in England combine to arrange home and away fixtures each season.” This was not an idea new to baseball—it had already existed for almost two decades in the US already, although MacGregor insisted that the County Championship contested in cricket provided him the inspiration for organizing.

Nevertheless, with the agreement of eleven clubs in addition to Aston Villa—six from Lancashire (Accrington, Bolton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers, Burnley, Everton and Preston North End), three from Staffordshire (Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers), and one each from Warwickshire (Aston Villa), Nottinghamshire (Notts County) and Derbyshire (Derby County), the Baseball League was born.

It seems likely that not a few of the clubs were chosen less for their high quality of play than for their good facilities, location and potential to draw large crowds on a consistent basis. Only two of the original twelve clubs (Burnley and Derby County) had previously won the BA Cup, and a number of clubs left out were considered to have a better case for inclusion based on their quality of play than some of those chosen. Nevertheless, it was widely agreed that for the League to have the best chance to become an ongoing concern, a strong financial footing would be necessary to serve as a solid foundation for the prospect of permanent success.

And so, with the League established and the fixtures set, the 1888 season got underway.

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Old 11-01-2013, 12:00 PM   #5
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Baseball League 1888: Clubs



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Old 11-01-2013, 12:01 PM   #6
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Baseball League 1888: Club Locations



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Old 11-01-2013, 12:10 PM   #7
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Baseball League 1888: Results


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Old 11-01-2013, 12:16 PM   #8
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Baseball League 1888: Final Table and Voting Results


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Nine non-league clubs challenged the three clubs needing to seek re-election in the vote for League membership. Voting:

Code:
10	Everton 		Re-elected to the League
9	Preston North End	Re-elected to the League
7	Accrington		Re-elected to the League
5	Mitchell St George's	Not elected to the League
4	The Wednesday		Not elected to the League
2	Bootle			Not elected to the League
2	Sunderland		Not elected to the League
1	Newton Heath		Not elected to the League
0	Grimsby Town		Not elected to the League
0	South Shore		Not elected to the League
0	Sunderland Albion	Not elected to the League
0	Walsall Town Swifts	Not elected to the League

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Old 11-01-2013, 12:18 PM   #9
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Baseball League 1888: Team Batting, Pitching, Fielding


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Old 11-01-2013, 12:19 PM   #10
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Hmm British baseball a mostly midlands game? Interesting.
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Old 11-01-2013, 12:21 PM   #11
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Baseball League 1888: League Leaders



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Old 11-01-2013, 12:23 PM   #12
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Baseball League 1888: Co-Champions


Burnley Clarets


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Derby County Rams


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Old 11-01-2013, 12:26 PM   #13
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Baseball League 1888: Top Game Performances


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Old 11-01-2013, 12:28 PM   #14
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Baseball League 1888: Top 20 Batsmen and Pitchers


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Old 11-01-2013, 12:29 PM   #15
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Baseball League 1888: Top Prospects


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Old 11-01-2013, 12:32 PM   #16
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Baseball League 1888: Financial Report


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Old 11-01-2013, 12:38 PM   #17
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The almanac for the Baseball League 1888 season can be acquired here, to be perused at your leisure (WinRAR required to unzip the almanac):

http://goo.gl/Haijjj
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Old 11-01-2013, 12:39 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by canadiancreed View Post
Hmm British baseball a mostly midlands game? Interesting.
Yup, that's where it starts out. I doubt it will be contained to that area for very long.
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Old 11-01-2013, 03:36 PM   #19
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Excellent set-up and interesting premise. I'll be following.
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Old 11-03-2013, 11:24 AM   #20
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The Goal of This Dynasty

... will be to recast England as though it became a baseball country, and replicate the professional league's development there along the same lines as how the Football League actually did develop. To me, that line of development feels the mostly likely to have actually happened, had baseball actually taken root way back when. It won't be an exact replicate, and I will change some things here and there for ease of management or the sake of what I think is a better storyline, but it will be as close as I can reasonably make it without making myself too crazy over minute details (which I have already done too much of as it is).

That means I will be rotating the same clubs into the Baseball League that played in the Football League during the same years they rotated in IRL, at least as a starting point. The difference is that I will let the seasons play out independent of my direct input and allow the clubs who win to have a chance to advance through history as the dominant teams of English baseball, if that's how it plays out. IOW, I won't be forcing Man U or Liverpool or Man City or whoever to become dominant in the Baseball League, just because that's how it happened in football. Maybe it will turn out to be Luton Town or Preston North End or Coventry City who dominate. Who knows. We'll see.

This also means I won't be taking control of a team and trying to pilot it to victory or dominance. All I'm going to do is play "God", meaning I will establish and adjust the parameters through history that the teams will play under, and the teams (i.e., AI) will take it from there, throughout the entire history. I don't know if that's practical or whether there will be some "gotcha" I haven't thought of. I guess we'll find that out together, won't we?

Also, because I am "God" in this universe and not an owner with a vested interest, I won't be playing out the season game by game and posting exhaustive updates on cup races and whatnot. I will sim the entire season and provide results, including standings, league leaders, prospects, financial reports and, if practical, I will generate an almanac and upload it for folks to download and peruse, if they like. There are a lot of seasons to cover here. I couldn't live long enough to manage this playing games on a day by day basis and reach the present day and beyond, which is my eventual goal.

In addition to results posts, I will also seed in two other types of posts: "news stories" from the years we will be traversing through; and out-of-context (OOC) posts describing how I am managing this league to reflect as close to a reality as possible, to give you an insider's look into how this is being done. The news stories won't be actual real-life stories, but they will be written as though they did happened and will use real life as a guide for subject matter and development. It's a bit hard to explain, so you'll see what I mean as things progress. I will try to remember to put the news stories and other posts written in a "you are there" manner in Georgia font; the OOC posts will be in normal font.

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