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Barbara Schmidt

Mark Twain and Baseball
Did he ever watch a game?
Did he ever write about it?
What did he think about this sport that was born in the 19th century?

On May 20, 1875, the following notice was published in the Hartford Courant newspaper:

To the Public

TWO HUNDRED & FIVE DOLLARS REWARD--At the great baseball match on Tuesday, while I was engaged in hurrahing, a small boy walked off with an English-made brown silk UMBRELLA belonging to me, & forgot to bring it back. I will pay $5 for the return of that umbrella in good condition to my house on Farmington avenue. I do not want the boy (in an active state) but will pay two hundred dollars for his remains.
Samuel L. Clemens.

Samuel Clemens's notice is one of the earliest indications that he was taking an active interest in the new national pastime of baseball. On May 18, he attended a baseball game with his close friend Rev. Joseph Twichell and watched the local team Hartford Dark Blues play the Bostons Red Stockings. Boston won the game 10 - 5. The captain and pitcher for the Boston team was Albert Goodwill "Al" Spalding and his path would cross that of Sam Clemens's again over a decade in the future.

The sport of baseball in America is most closely associated with Alexander Cartwright who established rules for the game in 1845 for the Knickerbocker Club of New York. Samuel Clemens was ten years old and living in Hannibal, Missouri that year. The Civil War between the states hindered rapid growth of the sport. However, after the war, the game once again took hold across the country. In 1869, the New York Times indexed at least 126 stories for the sport of "Base ball." By 1876, that number had risen to 189. By 1887, the Times was spelling the sport "Baseball" and the number of stories had soared to over 500. The game was a rough and tumble sport and injuries were not uncommon.

Kemble's pitcher
Baseball illustration by E. W. Kemble from the Dave Thomson collection. Kemble was the artist who illustrated the first edition of ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN

In 1962, Bernard DeVoto, editor of the Mark Twain Papers published for the first time a manuscript which he identified as "A Later Extract from Methuselah's Diary" in the collection Letters from the Earth. DeVoto estimated Twain wrote the manuscript in 1876 during a summer the family spent at Quarry Farm in Elmira. In the manuscript, which is a form of a diary written by the Biblical character Methuselah, Twain comments on the violence aimed at baseball umpires. Part of the baseball segment written in the voice of Methuselah reads:

He that bore the club did suffer the ball to be flung at him divers times, but did always bend in his body or bend it out and so save himself, whilst the others spat upon their hands, he at the same instant endeavoring to destroy the Umpire with his bludgeon, yet not succeeding, through grievous awkwardness. But in the fullness of time was he more fortunate, and did lay the Umpire dead...(Letters from the Earth, p. 71).

In the summer of 1887, while once again spending the summer in Elmira, Clemens found himself playing the role of umpire, at least in the local and national press, for a local Elmira baseball match up. Clemen's role as umpire was widely reported in newspapers across the country. The following story appeared in the local Elmira paper.

Elmira Daily Advertiser Saturday, July 2, 1887, page 5:

A number of distinguished people will be on hand to-day to see the old-fashioned game of base ball at which Mark Twain will be one of the umpires, between the Alerts and Unions. These two clubs were the leaders in the sport in southern New York twenty one years ago, and were reorganized for this one game. The players are all prominent business and professional men. Mark Twain, who is at his summer home at Quarry Farm, consented to be one of the umpires on condition that a chair, a fan, an umbrella and a pitcher of ice water be furnished him. Colonel D. C. Robinson assured him that they would be supplied, and the engagement was made. The Rev. Thomas K. Beecher, of Park church, will be the other umpire, and John R. Joslyn is to be the referee. The scorers who have been appointed and will doubtless serve, are ex-Comptroller James W. Wadsworth of Geneseo, Senator J. Sloat Fassett, General Charles J. Langdon, Chief-of-Police Levi D. Little, Professor John B. Marsh, Postmaster E. F. Babcock, Samuel C. Taber, Dr. T. A. Wales, Willard N. Pratt, Colonel A. E. Baxter, H.S. Brooks, Charles Hazard. Messrs. Taber and Hazard were the original scorers in 1866, and the original score books will be on the ground.

Colonel Robinson has received a letter from Governor Hill expressing a deep interest in the game and promising to be present if his duties will permit. Governor Hill's fondness for base ball is well known, but the reasons for his enthusiastic interest are not generally understood. In the letter to Colonel Robinson the governor hurrahs for the Alerts and urges them to victory. Though never a base ball player, Governor Hill has had the experience of a manager, filling that post of duty for the Alerts, and it was due to his management that the Alerts became the champions of the southern tier. In 1866, before the organization of leagues, the Newburg club, the champion of the Hudson river towns, announced a tour through the western part of the state, and were invited to spend a week in Elmira. The Unions, rivals of the Alerts, planned to give the visitors a grand reception, and for that purpose went to Waverly to meet them. The Alerts, under Manager Hill's leadership quietly went to Susquehanna and met the Newburgers, giving them a most cordial welcome and took the wind out of the Union's sails completely, taking personal charge of the visitors and arousing the envy of the Unions for the several days of the contests.

The game to-day will begin at 4 p.m., and five innings only will be played. Permissions will be given the players to carry umbrellas into the field for protection from the sun if they see fit. The rumor that messenger boys will be employed to carry the ball is emphatically denied. Tricycles will also be barred out.

Two or three of the old rules will be observed:
1. The ball will be pitched, not thrown as now.
2. The umpiring conclave are not required to call balls or strikes unless they choose.
3. Any boy who "Haw-haws" at a muff by his parent may be disciplined behind the grand stand, but not in it.
4. In case of violent disagreement among the umpires the question at issue shall be decided by a majority vote of the triumvirate, and not by noise in the grand stand or the teams.
5. Players will not be allowed to receive flowers while running bases.
6. The audience is required not to say "Hi," "Hi," to members of either team who weigh over 200 pounds while such players are making second base.

Nearly all the New York papers will be represented on the ground. A ball used in an Alert-Union match in 1866 is still in existence and will probably be exhibited on the ground.

The usual admission will be charged to gentlemen, the proceeds, if there are any above expenses, will go to Manager Smith's ball fund. The ground and track will be sprinkled so that the grand stand will be cool and comfortable. The reserved seats in the lower part of the grand stand will be twenty-five cents, in the up-part ten cents.

The nines will play in the following order: Alerts- J.S. Denton, pitcher; John Bennett, catcher; William M. Easterbrook, 1st base; Frank M. Blossom, 2d base; John Bailey, 3d base; Chauncey M. Beadle, short stop; Charles Hart, left field; the Hon. Seymour Dexter, center field; and John A. Reynolds, right field.

Unions- Mayor Stanchfield, pitcher; John Potter, catcher: I.D. Burt. 1st base; W.L. Hylen. 2nd base; L.M. Milispaugh, 3d base; D.C. Robinson, short stop; C.E. Rapelyea, left field; S.T. Seeley, center field, Burr Hendricks, right field.

On Sunday, July 3, the Elmira Sunday Telegram also reported on the baseball game. This report was paraphrased with quotes in the Mark Twain Society Bulletin for February 1981:

The rules followed were those of 1866 when the two teams were first organized right after the Civil War. "Base ball was then in its infancy, so to speak, and only the fundamental principles are now displayed. Pitched balls were the rule, bound catches were considered out, there was no calling of strikes and balls, and all the modern features of the game were unknown. Still it was immensely popular with the public and those who participated as well." The Unions beat the Alerts in the old timers contest, 23 to 10. According to the Telegram, "Samuel L. Clemens and T. K. Beecher, the advertised umpires were on hand early, but after looking at the heated appearance of things around home plate decided to occupy a cool seat elsewhere and left their important duties to John R. Joslyn (Mark Twain Society Bulletin, February 1981).

The Washington Post of July 3, 1887 also clarified:

Washington Post, July 3, 1887, p. 5.
Mark Twain Didn't Umpire.

ELMIRA, N.Y., July 2. - "Mark Twain" and the Rev. Thomas K. Beecher were advertised to umpire an old-fashioned game of baseball in this city this afternoon. The Mayor and other representative men of the city played in the game, but neither Clemens nor Beecher acted as umpire. "Twain" said he could not make a martyr of himself, notwithstanding the fact that he would be glad to perish in a good cause, and took a seat by Mr. Beecher in the grand stand. "Twain" used a big fan in a vigorous manner, and said that he would encourage the players with his presence, but he must refuse to go out in the sun.


The Elmira Daily Advertiser also provided a follow-up story:

Elmira Daily Advertiser, Monday, July 4, 1887, p. 5.

Mark Twain's effort to umpire a game of old-fashioned base ball on Saturday afternoon at the Maple avenue park, was not unmixed with an element of good natured humbuggery. The humorist rode to the grounds behind General Langdon's spirited team, and after an innocent visit to the ice water tank he sauntered slowly upon the diamond. The large audience thought that Twain and Mr. Beecher would stand behind the bat or at a reasonably safe distance therefrom and tell humorous stories while they called the batmen out or remonstrated gently but firmly with the kickers. But this was not to be, for the two umpires contemplated the game from a cool seat in a far-off pavilion, and the audience was not given an opportunity to see how dexterously Twain could wield his serviceable horn-handled cane, in a case of necessity. He is a decided reformer in base ball umpiring. He does it by proxy, like a statesman supplies autograph letters to signature-hunters.

Mark Twain's participation in the match up as umpire attracted attention from newspapers across the country. The New York Sun carried the story. Humorist Henry Guy Carleton wrote a lengthy piece for the Boston Globe on July 3, 1887 accompanied by illustrations which spoofed Twain's role as an umpire. Carleton's story was edited and reprinted in the Los Angeles Times on July 16, 1887. On July 22, 1887, the Los Angeles Times followed up with yet another story which was picked up from the Philadelphia Times:

Los Angeles Times, July 22, 1887

Mark Twain as an Umpire
[Philadelphia Times.]

Mark Twain seems to have solved the problem of protection to base-ball umpires while in the discharge of their duties. Realizing that he was taking his life in his hands when he began to umpire a game at Elmira, he took with him also a dangerous-looking package which he carefully deposited near his post of duty. Before the game began he blandly informed the audience that he didn't propose to be mobbed by the aristocracy of Elmira, or any equally disreputable assemblage, and that he had written his obituary the night before. The mysterious package, he said, contained dynamite, and when his decisions gave dissatisfaction he cooly placed one foot upon it and the hubbub immediately ceased. To carry out his threat Mark would have had to go up with the others in the explosion, but he was fully as anxious to go as anybody in the field. The expedient is worth trying.

Kemble umpire
Baseball illustration by E. W. Kemble
from the Dave Thomson collection.

When Mark Twain published his next novel in 1889, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, he included in Chapter 40 a segment on the game of baseball which once again addressed the dangers inherent in the position of umpire:

It was a project of mine to replace the tournament with something which might furnish an escape for the extra steam of the chivalry, keep those bucks entertained and out of mischief, and at the same time preserve the best thing in them, which was their hardy spirit of emulation. I had had a choice band of them in private training for some time, and the date was now arriving for their first public effort.

This experiment was baseball. In order to give the thing vogue from the start, and place it out of the reach of criticism, I chose my nines by rank, not capacity. There wasn't a knight in either team who wasn't a sceptered sovereign. As for material of this sort, there was a glut of it always around Arthur. You couldn't throw a brick in any direction and not cripple a king. Of course, I couldn't get these people to leave off their armor; they wouldn't do that when they bathed. They consented to differentiate the armor so that a body could tell one team from the other, but that was the most they would do. So, one of the teams wore chain-mail ulsters, and the other wore plate-armor made of my new Bessemer steel. Their practice in the field was the most fantastic thing I ever saw. Being ball-proof, they never skipped out of the way, but stood still and took the result; when a Bessemer was at the bat and a ball hit him, it would bound a hundred and fifty yards sometimes. And when a man was running, and threw himself on his stomach to slide to his base, it was like an iron-clad coming into port. At first I appointed men of no rank to act as umpires, but I had to discontinue that. These people were no easier to please than other nines. The umpire's first decision was usually his last; they broke him in two with a bat, and his friends toted him home on a shutter. When it was noticed that no umpire ever survived a game, umpiring got to be unpopular. So I was obliged to appoint somebody whose rank and lofty position under the government would protect him....The first public game would certainly draw fifty thousand people; and for solid fun would be worth going around the world to see. Everything would be favorable; it was balmy and beautiful spring weather now, and Nature was all tailored out in her new clothes.

Twain's passage on baseball in the first edition of A CONNECTICUT YANKEE I KING ARTHUR'S COURT was accompanied by this illustration by artist Dan Beard.

As chance would have it, the same month that Clemens was finishing up his manuscript for Connecticut Yankee, he participated in a banquet honoring two American baseball teams who had traveled the world from October 1888 to April 1889 giving exhibition games and promoting the sport worldwide.The young pitcher Clemens had watched pitch back in Hartford in 1875, "Al" Spalding, was now president of the Chicago National League Club and had financed the world tour. The teams had traveled to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and on to Australia, Ceylon, Egypt, Italy, France, and England, before returning to New York. When the teams returned to New York in April of 1889, Spalding and the players were feted with a round of celebration and speech making. Among the many notables in attendance were the future President of the United State Theodore Roosevelt, artist Frank Millet and Twain's close friend the Rev. Joseph Twichell. Mark Twain was introduced as a native of the Sandwich Islands--a tribute to his early days as a traveling newspaper reporter there in the 1860s. The event was well covered by the newspapers including the New York Times. Twain's speech which compared the sport of baseball to the Sandwich Islands was reported by newspapers across the country.

From the Boston Daily Globe, April 9, 1889, p. 1

Though not a native, as intimated by the chairman, I have visited, a great many years ago, the Sandwich Islands-that peaceful land, that beautiful land, that far-off home of profound repose, and soft indolence, and dreamy solitude, where life is one long slumbrous Sabbath, the climate one long delicious summer day, and the good that die experience no change, for they but fall asleep in one heaven and wake up in another.

And these boys have played base ball there! Base ball, which is the very symbol, the outward and visible expression of the drive, and push, and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century! One cannot realize it, the place and the fact are so incongruous; it's like interrupting a funeral with a circus. Why, there's no legitimate point of contact, no possible kinship, between base ball and the Sandwich Islands; base ball is all fact, the Islands all sentiment. In base ball you've got to do everything just right, or you don't get there; in the islands you've got to do everything just wrong, or you can't stay there. You do it wrong to get it right, for if do it you right you get it wrong. There isn't a way to get it right, but to do it wrong, and the wronger you do it the righter it is. The natives illustrate this every day. They never mount a horse from the larboard side, they always mount him from the starboard; on the other hand, they never milk a cow on the starboard side, they always milk her on the larboard; it's why you see so many short people there--they've got their heads kicked off. When they meet on the road, they don't turn out to the right, they turn out to the left.

And so, from always doing everything wrong end first, that way, it makes them left-handed-left-handed and cross-eyed. They are all so. When a child is born, the mother goes right along with her ordinary work, without losing half a day--it's the father that knocks off and goes to bed till he gets over the circumstances. And those natives don't trace descent through the male line, but through the female. They say they always know who a child's mother was. Well, that odd system is well enough there, because there a woman often has as many as six or seven husbands, all at the same time--and all properly married to her, and no blemish about the matter anywhere. Yet there is no fussing, no trouble. When a child is born the husbands all meet together in convention, in a perfectly orderly way, and elect the father, and the whole thing is perfectly fair; at least as fair as it would be anywhere. Of course you can't keep politics out; you couldn't do that in any country, and so, if three of the husbands are Republicans and four are Democrats, it don't make any difference how strong a Republican aspect the baby has got, that election is going Democratic every time. And in the matter of that election those poor people stand at the proud altitude of the very highest Christian civilization; for they know, as well as we, that all women are ignorant, and so they don't allow that mother to vote.

In those Islands the cats haven't any tails, and the snakes haven't any teeth; and what is still more irregular, the man that loses the game gets the pot. And as to dress: the native women all wear a single garment--but the men don't. No, the men don't wear anything at all. They hate display; when they even wear a smile they think they are overdressed. Speaking of birds, the only bird there that has ornament feathers has only two--just barely enough to squeeze through with--and they are under its wings instead of on top of its head, where of course they ought to be to do any good. The native language is soft, and liquid and flexible, and in every way efficient and satisfactory--till you get mad; then, there you are; there isn't anything in it to swear with. Good judges all say it is the best Sunday language there is; but then all the other six days in the week it just hangs idle on your hands; it isn't any good for business; and you can't work a telephone with it. Many a time the attention missionaries has been called to this defect, and they are always promising they are going to fix it; but no, they go fooling along and along, and nothing is done.

Speaking of education, everybody there is educated there, from the highest to the lowest; in fact, it is the only country in the world where education is actually universal, and yet every now and then you run across instances of ignorance that are simply revolting-simply degrading to the human race. Think of it--there, the ten takes the ace, but let us not dwell on such things; they make a person ashamed.

Well, the missionaries are always going to fix that, but they put it off, it off, and put it off, and so the nation is going to keep on going down and down and down till some day you will see a pair of jacks take a straight flush.

Well, it is refreshment to the jaded, water to the thirsty, to look upon men who have so lately breathed the soft airs of those islands of the blest and had before their eyes the inextinguishable vision of their beauty. No alien land in all the world has any deep, strong charm for me but that one, no other land could so longingly and so beseechingly me, sleeping and waking, through half a lifetime, as that one has done. Other things leave me, but it abides; other things change, but it remains the same. For me its balmy airs are always blowing, its summer seas flashing in the sun, the pulsing of its surfbeat is in my car; I can see its garlanded crags, its leaping cascades, its plumy palms drowsing by the shore, its remote summits floating like islands above the cloud rack; I can see the spirit of its woodland solitudes; I can hear the plash of its brooks, and in my nostrils still lives the breath of flowers that perished 20 years ago.

And these world-wanderers have lately looked upon these things!--and with eyes of flesh, not the unsatisfying vision of the spirit. I envy them that! Yes, and I would envy them somewhat of the glories they achieved in their illustrious march about the mighty circumference of the earth if it were fair; but no, it was an earned run, and envy he out of place. I will rather applaud-add my welcome to the vast shout now going up, from Maine to the Gulf, from the Florida keys to frozen Alaska, out of the throats of the other 65,000,000 of their countrymen. They have carried the American name to uttermost parts of the earth--and covered it with glory everywhere.

That is a service to sentiment; but they did the general world a practical service--a service to the great science of geography. Ah! think of that! We don't talk enough about that--don't give it its value. Why, when these boys started out you couldn't see the equator at all; you could walk right over it and never know it was there. That is the kind of equator it was. Such an equator as that isn't any use to anybody; as for me, I would rather not have any equator at all than a dim thing like that, that you can't see. But that is all fixed now; you can see it now; you can't run over it now and not know it's there. And so I drink long life to the boys who ploughed a new equator round the globe, stealing bases on their bellies!

Twain's speech was also included in Harry Palmer's magnificent volume titled Athletic Sports in America copyrighted in 1889 (pp. 444-47) by Hubbard Brothers of Philadelphia although the last paragraph about the equator was omitted. Palmer presented an inscribed copy of the book to Al Spalding and that volume is now in the Kevin Mac Donnell collection. The full text of Twain's speech later appeared in the Harper & Brothers 1923 edition of Mark Twain's Speeches.

When Mark Twain spent time in Bermuda, he enjoyed watching the baseball games. Newspapers often reported his presence in the grandstands.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 8, 1908, p. 2

Famous Author Makes the Bermudans Notice Rooting Powers

Special Correspondence of the Post-Dispatch.

HAMILTON, Bermuda, March 7. -- Mark Twain, in the role of a baseball fan of the most flagrant species was the unique spectacle enjoyed here on Wednesday last by Bermudians and visiting Americans. The famous author exhibited such a command of the essentials and fine shadings of rooting as to bespeak himself a past master of the art.

Wednesday's game was between the Hamilton and Princess hotels nines, at Richmond Ground. Baseball has got a grip o the loyal subjects of His British Majesty in Bermuda, and the promise of a tussle on the diamond is sufficient to muster an enthusiastic crowd, which of late has included nearly everybody who counts at all in a social way.

Smoke and Noise.

Mark Twain was a champion of the Princess nine. He sat in the front row of the grandstand, and there was not a good play nor a bad one which escaped him. When he was particularly pleased with something the Princess team did he would subside, after applauding it in a cloud of smoke which rolled from a big, black cigar. Several times he puffed so hard as to almost obscure his white-flanneled figure and silvery mane. But even his good rooting could not save the Princesses from defeat.

The connection of Mark Twain with the sport of baseball has influenced the works of California writer Darryl Brock. Brock's two works of fiction If I Never Get Back and Two in the Field are time travel stories which feature Mark Twain involved with a baseball team from the nineteenth century. In addition, Brock also wrote a small booklet titled Mark Twain and the Great Base Ball Match (Havilah Press, 1999) which reported in depth the baseball game Samuel Clemens attended with Joseph Twichell that spring day in 1875--the day his umbrella disappeared.

For more baseball illustrations at this site see the Baseball quote page.



Brock, Darryl. If I Never Get Back (Plume, 2002).
Brock, Darryl. Mark Twain and the Great Base Ball Match (Havilah Press, 1999).
Brock, Darryl. Two in the Field (Plume, 2002).
Carleton, Henry Guy. "Twain as Umpire," Boston Daily Globe, July 3, 1887, p. 1.
"Depew's Curves," Boston Daily Globe, April 9, 1889, p. 1.
Mac Donnell, Kevin. Personal correspondence, 23 March 2005.
Mark Twain's Letters, Volume 6, 1874-1875. Edited by Michael B. Frank and Harriet Elinor Smith. (University of California Press, 2002)
"Mark Twain," Los Angeles Times, July 16, 1887, p. 10.
"Mark Twain as an Umpire," Los Angeles Times, July 22, 1887, p. 10.
"Mark Twain Baseball Umpire," Mark Twain Society Bulletin, Volume IV, No. 1, February 1981.
"Mark Twain Didn't Umpire," Washington Post, July 3, 1887, p. 5.
Palmer, Harry Clay. Athletic Sports In America (Philadelphia: Hubbard Bros., 1889).
Spalding, Albert G., America's National Game (University of Nebraska Press, 1992)
Twain, Mark. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (University of California Press, 1983).
Twain, Mark. Letters from the Earth. Edited by Bernard DeVoto. (Harper & Row, 1962)

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