Fifty years ago the late lamented journalist Alistair Cooke used one of his Letter from America broadcasts to argue for the English origins of baseball, a thesis that relied in part on a passing reference to the sport in one of the novels of Jane Austen.1 We have no interest in advancing that thesis here, or doing anything other than noting the fact, mournful for baseball aficionados, of its withdrawal from the Olympic programme as of this year. Yet perhaps the recent runaway success of Chad Harbach’s novel The Art of Fielding will prompt a rethink on the part of the International Olympic Committee in time for Rio 2016?
Baseball was never played at Bethlem; but the indistinct photograph accompanying this post is contained within the Archives & Museum’s collections. It is of the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital team in Baltimore, Maryland. A published history of that psychiatric hospital records that “many baseball games were played between…patients and attendants, and with outside teams such as the Towson YMCA, policemen and firemen” in the late nineteenth century, and that “at one period the Sheppard Pratt team was even strengthened by the employment of semi-professionals”.2
The team photograph shows that players had ‘SP’ emblazoned on their uniforms at around the time of the First World War. Another (possibly earlier) photograph, reproduced in the abovementioned history, shows two teams assembled side by side, one with ‘Sheppard’ on their strip, the other with ‘Pratt’.
Photographs of this Baltimore hospital reached Bethlem via Dr Edward Brush, Sheppard Pratt’s Superintendent from 1891 to 1919, who enjoyed good collegiate relations across the Atlantic and sent effusive greetings to Bethlem on the occasion of its 670th anniversary in 1917, together with photographs later used by Geoffrey O’Donoghue, Bethlem’s chaplain in his lantern slide show which was absorbed in due course into the Archives & Museum’s collections.
1 Alistair Cooke, Letter from America 1946-2004 (Penguin 2005), p. 107.
2 Forbush and Forbush, Gatehouse: The Evolution of the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, 1853-1986 (1986), p. 42.