(Header image from Bettman Archive / Baseball America.)
Back in the Twenties, my grandfather and his brother who were both professional fighters, boxed out of New York for some time. My Grandpa returned home to Glasgow after a while but my great uncle saw a better future in the States and brought his wife out to join him. They were young, not very well off and started their family life in Brooklyn.
Once every couple of years or so, they’d return to Scotland for a few weeks to catch up with family and friends. I eagerly awaited these visits, not least because they’d bring with them a selection of Archie Comics and Harvey Comics (Little Audrey, Richie Rich and Casper) and of course…. ‘candy.’ Peanut Brittle especially!
Growing up in Glasgow / Clydebank, they were no different to my other aunts and uncles, and were big football fans. But with none to watch in New York (‘soccer’ football that is) they had followed the fortunes of their local baseball team – The Dodgers. That is, until the year of my birth, 1958, when the franchise was rather contentiously moved to Los Angeles.
I can’t recollect if they switched allegiance, but the tales they were so keen on relating to me, centred around their times spent at the iconic Ebetts Field, calling opposition pitchers ‘bums,’ and singing ‘Take Me Out To The Ball Game’ during the 7th inning stretch.
They’d tell me of players to have worn the famous shirt: Sandy Koufax and Pee Wee Reese I remember them talking of. And of course, Jackie Robinson.
Admittedly, being only a kid, I was more interested in the latter because his name was the same as my nickname. Racism was not something this innocent wee boy from Glasgow was familiar with. (Robinson was the first black player to play Major League since Moses Fleetwood Walker joined the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884, thereby breaking for good, baseball’s shameful sixty-three year old ‘color line’ in 1947.)
Then one year, it would have been around the late ‘60s when I was nine or ten years old, they brought me a present that would shape my sporting choices many years down the line – a spring-loaded baseball tee with plastic bat and ball.
The object was to place the ball on the tee, slam your foot down on the pedal built into the base, making the ball shoot up into the air, and then simply swing the bat and hit the ball. Dawdle!
Well, not really! Practice does make perfect though, and eventually I more or less mastered it.
I was also given a book – a First Edition, paperback from 1954: ‘The Dodger Way To Play Baseball,’ by Al Campanis, a Dodger player in 1943 and at time of publication, Vice President of the Dodgers organisation.
It obviously meant nothing to me then, but fifty-five or so years later, I still have it. Several pages have been ‘dog-eared’ so I assume I did refer to it later in life.
And that was about the extent of it. There was no obvious interest in baseball in the UK at that time, though it had been popular when played as ‘exhibition’ games and between American servicemen stationed here during the wars.
(The sport had also been played at Everton Football Club, amongst others, and a Liverpool based League was formed in 1933 by Everton Chairman John Moores. In fact, Everton’s legendary goalscorer Dixie Dean was an avid fan and played for the Liverpool Caledonians.)
Sadly, by great uncle passed away at a relatively young age and my aunt returned to Clydebank. Though their children and grandchildren remained Stateside, contact was infrequent and baseball chat diminished. The only contact I had with the sport for the next nineteen years was restricted to tuning in to the United States Armed Forces Network on the ancient valve radio I had picked up at a Scout jumble sale.
Again, I couldn’t understand all the terms and expressions, but still managed to gain an almost romantic feel for this game which was relayed through my mind in grainy black and white, as all the images I’d seen of the sport were that way.
In 1986 though, I moved to England (Stockport.) Having left behind my football team and athletics club as well as all my social pals, I thought a good way of meeting folk and making new friends would be …. to form a baseball club!
I checked, and the British Baseball Federation actually had a North West League! Nothing in Manchester, but established clubs existed in Liverpool, Skelmersdale, Burtonwood US Airbase and Preston.
I could write a book on what happened next – but fear not dear reader, I’ll skip through the salient points:
. I formed STRETFORD A’s in Manchester. Other new teams followed, but it was The A’s that were awarded the inaugural ‘Rookie Team of The Year’ trophy. Baseball is still played in the city to this day, not the same team, I understand, but the current Manchester club have retained the A’s moniker.
. When I moved back to Glasgow three years later, the British Baseball federation asked I liaise with the existing three teams that had been formed and bring them under the Federation’s umbrella. I did, and so the Scottish Regional League was formalised.
. I was playing for Glasgow Diamonds (nobody liked us, we didn’t care) and BBF asked if I could help develop the sport and league. We went from three to eight teams as a result!
. With the help of some other enthusiasts, national media became interested and coverage became quite common in the national press (Dailies and Sundays) and interviews were sought by BBC Radio and commercial radio. Both regional BBC and STV television stations ran features.
. THEN came the crash! I’ll save the details for my book or maybe even the film, but there comes a time when a hobby, a love, a sport, becomes ‘work.’ There were lots of other factors playing in too, but I’d done my bit, and bowed out from both playing and administering baseball around 1995.
It had been an exciting time, that’s for sure. And playing / helping develop a sport that had been so enthusiastically described to me as a nine year old, really was such fun.
I’ll bet my Great Aunt Winnie and Great Uncle Dan would have been delighted, and well chuffed, to see all THAT came from just THIS
…and The Brooklyn Dodgers.
Much as I’m excited to watch the Major League games (I have them all streamed throughout the season) I’m still fascinated and drawn to the black and white photo era of the sport.
I also read and watch as much of the Minor Leagues I can. Those teams form such an integral part of their local communities and offer a wonderful sense of romanticism to the sport.
(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson from Glasgow – March 2022)