Every picture tells a story
Image from 1888-89 tour from Museum collection contains remarkable history
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Capping it off
To the left of Spalding sits the captain of the White Stockings and arguably the greatest baseball player of the 19th century, Adrian “Cap” Anson. How dominant was Anson? Well, at the time the photo was taken, no big leaguer had collected more hits or played more games than the veteran first baseman. And when he retired following the 1897 season, Anson was at the top of the career lists in games played, hits, doubles, and runs scored.
The Wright stuff
At Anson’s feet is George Wright, the celebrated shortstop of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. Wright had last played professional baseball in the early 1880s and was hired to umpire baseball games during the tour. But since Spalding arranged to play a number of cricket matches during the excursion, Wright also served as a cricket coach, teaching the players the finer points of baseball’s sporting cousin. In fact, Wright is the only person to have played both first-class cricket and Major League Baseball, a remarkable feat that is likely to never be matched. Note that Wright has a cricket bat in his lap and his pants are secured with a cricket-themed belt buckle, a prized possession commemorating the 1859 team that staged England’s first overseas cricket tour. Though George was just 12 at the time, Wright’s brother Harry and father Sam both played against that much-celebrated team during its visit to the States.
In the October 10, 1888, issue of The Sporting Life, baseball writer Bob Larner explained the idea behind his new-fangled invention:
After giving much thought to the subject I believe that an octagonal bat of 23/4 inches in diameter and otherwise comparing in length, etc., to the requirements of the rules, will enable a batsman to hit the ball with greater certainty and drive It in a desired direction more frequently than when the regulation round, tapering bat is used. ... Mr. Spalding, to whom I explained my idea and furnished him a rudely-constructed model, proposes to experiment with the octagonal bat during the Australian trip. He will have a number of these bats constructed in his own manufactory, and the members of the Chicago and All American teams will give them a practical test.
Beyond this brief mention and the previously unnoticed appearance of the bat in the team photograph, nothing is known about the trial of the eight-sided bat.
Tom Shieber is the Senior Curator at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
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