This trip down to the archive takes us to the far corner of the trophy room and reveals an rarely told story of Tottenham success. It may amaze you to discover that Tottenham Hotspur were actually the UK National Baseball Champions back in 1906 and 1908. If you think tracking footie from that era is a contradictory nightmare then try Baseball. Luckily the Baseball fraternity are very friendly (1). We also discover one of our international players played the sport and other links between Spurs and the great American pastime.
So as the Americans say .”Lets play Ball.”
In 1890 a number of the clubs in the North and Midlands formed a baseball league to generate revenue during the summer. Many of today’s top clubs took part in varying degrees. Aston Villa had a professional team and Derby County’s ground became known as the Baseball Ground. This league folded in 1901. Then in 1906 a number of the London clubs got together with the same idea. Interesting enough Tottenham’s director Morton Cadman and manager John Cameron(5) were both on the organising committee of the London League. This ran alongside the national championships that were now being competed for.1906 The season opened on 9th June and we played 8 games at home. That summer we beat a team called the Nondescripts 16-5 in the National Championship final. However little more is known from this season. Whilst what few references there are mention games being played at the Oval. We know games were played at the various clubs own grounds. Two books give the venue of the 1906 final as White Hart Lane (3,4).
The following year we actually operated two teams, these were in the British Baseball League and the London league. The club issued season tickets for these games. Tottenham lost in the first round to Clapham Orient who would win the title. We do know one of star players that season was Alf Whyman. Whyman had played for Spurs for three years and featured in the Southern league, scoring nine goals in all games. In 1908 he left Spurs to join New Brompton. Then in 1908 we again won the National title
Beating Leyton 6-5 in the final. The week before the Leyton newspapers claimed that Leyton would return victorious from the final with the trophy. The following weeks edition does not contain any reference what so ever to the game so we know little detail. The last game Tottenham played came in 1908 on August 8th just three weeks before our first game in the new season.
There is a black and white photo at (2) if you want to check it. It is rather poor quality, but the team are wearing dark tops and have Hotspur across the chest. We don’t know what colour the tops were but 1908 was the summer we were elected to the Football League and we were wearing our white shirt and blue shorts kit then. The football away kit being blue and white stripes.
This image is the scorecard from a British League game at Clapham Orient (your note they reference the football team). The Spurs line up for this game is the one credited with winning that summers National Championship, including the two reserves (Mills and Wiggins). The only name that corresponds with the football season just finished is J.Lee who played outside left in some of our Western League games. You will notice the programme refers to both the British and London leagues.
Despite claims at the time in the New York Times and San Francisco Bell newspapers that Baseball was thriving and that Cricket as a sport would soon be extinct the London League folded in 1911. The same year the game was banned from being played in public parks in London, as it was dangerous to passers by.
Some newspaper reports were sparse for this competition but there are claims that crowds of between 2,500 and 4,000 attended games. This seems unlikely for two reasons. One, if the games were so well attended I would imagine the clubs wanting to continue with the sport. The other reason is the Hackney newspapers at the time record attendances at both British and London league games were attended by less than a thousand spectators.
The same source mentions that season tickets for the baseball games at the Tottenham ground were on sale for five shillings. An examination of the Penny Illustrated newspaper of the time shows that their sports papers did show some photos of the Tottenham baseball team, but very little text. These can be found in the British Library archives. Including one of the trophy. I do have copies taken from microfilm but their quality doesn’t allow them to be reproduced here. You will see from note 4, that West Ham had a baseball team in the 1930’s but there is no evidence that Tottenham had one at that time.
There are several other Tottenham / baseball links. We do know that Jack Kirwan (6) played Baseball but as far as I know not for Tottenham. Jack was our first Irish international and later the first manager of Ajax football club.
There is a long held myth that Charles Roberts (the clubs chairman) was once upon a time a pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Dodgers now in Los Angeles have no trace of him and Julian Holland in his History of Tottenham says he played for A Brooklyn team not THE Brooklyn team.
There is yet another link between Tottenham and Baseball. Babe Ruth one of the American games biggest names. Ruth did visit England in February 1935 for six days. As far as there is any evidence this was his only visit to the UK. On the 9th Feb he attended a football match at White Hart Lane when we drew 2-2 with Derby County. The British press confirm he was at the Lane. The story is he also visited the dressing rooms after the game. The American press however managed to make rather a mess of their reports. They claimed he met Dixie Dean, Everton’s center forward in the ‘locker room’. Possibly they named him as he was one of the few footballer’s names their readers would recognize. Dean was actually playing for Everton in a home game that day. Their reports also state he condemned the poor pay footballers received, although other reports claim these comments were made about cricket when he was asked to pose with a cricket bat. The American press also claim Ruth was attending a FA Cup game when it was in fact a League game.
So as the Americans say ‘take me out to the Ballpark.’
f- peter shearman (old non de plume reserved for THFC matters)
Notes – 1 – I must thank the Baseball experts who not only answered my requests quickly but supplied more information than I asked ask for and pointed me towards other sources. If only football sites were as helpful.
2 - http://www.projectcobb.org.uk/national_champions.html#1900-09
3 - SBaseball Without Borders: The International Pastime
4 - British Baseball and the West Ham Club: History of a 1930s Professional Team, by Josh Chetwynd& Brian Belton
5- Hotspur Towers 32.
6- Hotspur Towers 6.
Thanks to – Joe Gray at Project Cobb, Baseball GB, Daniel Bloyce, The Hackney Spectator, Society for American Baseball Research, The British Library, The Penny Illustrated newspaper, The San Francisco Bell, Julian Holland, George Gmelch, Josh Chetwynd, Brian Belton and Stevie whose stateside for attempting (again) to try and explain the technical bits of the sport.
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