Background to the tour

In 1897 there was an ambitious plan to send a team to the United States, it was the first foreign Baseball team to play in America. A South Australian, A. M. Roberts, donated £1500 towards the expenses.

Harry Musgrove was appointed manager. Frank Laver of East Melbourne was Captain and Wally Ingleton of Melbourne was vice-captain. Other well-known cricketers apart from Laver and Ingleton to make the tour were Peter McAlister and Harry Stuckey. Then there were the Melbourne players Arthur Wiseman, Harry Irwin and Charlie Over and Melbourne cricketers John L. Wallace and John A. McKay.

There were big hopes for this tour. It was thought that it might result in regular test matches against the Americans, just like the cricket Tests. Sadly the tour was a financial and sporting failure. The Australians were vastly inferior to the Americans. The team lost 18 of its 26 matches and finally became stranded in New York. Only the financial assistance of their friends at home enabled them to return via London. Advertisements for the games in America carried the line, 'Come and see the Kangaroos hop!’.

The team had some success in England, where they defeated a team of English players at Crystal Palace. This was the only time that an Australian Baseball team went overseas before 1968.

Players:   Frank Laver (captain) (1869-1919) VIC East Melbourne Cricket Club, 15 Cricket Tests, Walter George Ingleton (vice-captain) (1867-1923) VIC Richmond, South Melbourne Cricket Club, Melbourne Cricket Club, Peter A. McAlister (1869-1938) VIC East Melbourne Cricket Club, 8 Tests, Rue Ewers SA (1867-1940) Surveys Baseball Club, North Adelaide Baseball Club, Charles E. Kemp (1864-1940) VIC South Melbourne Cricket Club, Charles Over (1862-?) VIC Richmond Cricket Club, Melbourne Cricket Club, Arthur Wiseman (1873 - ?) VIC Melbourne Cricket Club, Harry Irwin VIC, Melbourne Cricket Club (1868-?), Sydney W. Smith SA (1874 -1943) Semaphore Cricket Club, Harry Stuckey (1869-1952) VIC North Melbourne, East Melbourne Cricket Club, Alfred S. Carter (1869-1920) VIC East Melbourne Cricket Club, John L. Wallace WA Melbourne Cricket Club, John A. McKay VIC Melbourne Cricket Club, Harry Musgrove (manager) (1858-1931) VIC 1 Test, Manager Australian Tour of England 1896.

Operating under the pseudonym “Twister” who was most likely Walter Ingleton, the tour was described in excellent detail, both in cultural and sporting terms, stating that they returned from the tour as `sadder and wiser men, knowing much more about baseball as played in America, but thinking less of it.’ By the late 1890’s American baseball had become purely a business, not as a sport as Australians understood it and compared with the professionalism of Melbourne footballers at the time, even these professionals were “innocents, lily white amateurs as compared with the American baseballers.”  Twister said.

Both Keith Dunstan in The MCG: People’s Ground and Joe Clark in his book Time and Game described the tour as a “Financial and sporting disaster”. However from a sporting perspective, the tour results compared no less favourably with the first non-privately organised Australian cricket tours to England in 1886 (Played 41, Won 10), 1888 (Played 40, Won 19), 1890 (Played 41, Won 14), and 1893 (Played 42, Won 22), given the Australian Baseballers were both amateurs in status and experience and were not on the same level playing field as their cricket counterparts on the England tours.

What could be described as a disaster, is the personal hardship the players endured, they were victims of the mismanagement and dishonesty of Harry Musgrove, suffered real financial hardship blowing their own money on the tour, struggling to find the funds to return home, with many having to pay their own way with jobs on board returning steamships or suffering the embarrassment of borrowing from friends or relatives.

The players on the Australian Baseball touring party in 1897 benefited from the experience of playing true professionals and their knowledge of the game improved immensely despite some beatings at the hands of the Americans. We should be grateful to these pioneers who willingly submitted themselves to the humiliation of defeat to improve the game back at home. Many of the touring party went on to become respected members and giants of the game in Australia.

Despite these facts, the tour did not cause the collapse of Baseball, it continued on in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Their enthusiasm for the sport was not diminished as on their return from the US, the Australian team played several exhibition games in 1898. External forces were more to blame for nearly finishing the game in Victoria, events such as the severe financial depression of the 1890’s, the reduction in immigration to Melbourne and the onset of Boer War. It only survived because of the indomitable efforts of people such as Wardill, Ingleton, Laver, McAlister, Milford and Chas Nodrum of East Melbourne.

For years afterwards, the Melbourne Cricket Club was often called upon to make up the League’s financial deficits. The 1897 season reduced the competition from 12 teams back to 6 (Metropolitans, Essendon, Carlton, East Melbourne, Hawksburn and Prahran) and by 1898, South Melbourne, East Melbourne, Essendon and Metropolitans were the only teams left in the competition, it struggled along with these four teams until 1900.

Tour Summary by Twister

There is some doubt as to the identity of "Twister". Some have said it was Rue Ewers from SA, other indications are that it was Walter Ingleton based on Frank Lavers diaries 

Regardless of the identity of the writer, the summary published in the Melbourne Argus of Aug 24 1897 gives a wonderful account of the tour, warts and all.

 

THE AUSTRALIAN BASEBALL TEAM

----------------------<>----------------------

SUMMARY OF THE AMERICAN TOUR

---------------

DISGUSTED TOURISTS

---------------

NOTES BY "TWISTER"

---------------

LONDON, July 21

The American tour of the first Australian Baseball team has come to a close, "for which relief much thanks" - and those who thought badly of the project from the outset will at least have the satisfaction of remarking,  "I told you so". We return sadder and wiser men, knowing more, much more of baseball as played in America, and thinking less of it. During our three months stay in America we played 26 games, winning 8 and losing 18. Those who are familiar with the details of the game will be able from the tables appended to see exactly how each member of the team played. In three of the matches we must do our opponents the justice that they let us down lightly, while in one at least we were equally merciful. Victorians will wonder why so few games were played, but this not our fault. We were anxious to play, but found it difficult to secure anything like satisfactory games.

In America baseball is purely a business, not a sport as we understand it. I have heard much said about money making and professionalism in connection with Melbourne football, but we do our footballers an injustice. They are innocents, lily white amatuers as compared with American baseballers. It was only when managers saw, or thought the saw, money in it that they were prepared to enter into negotiations. Anything like courtesy to a visiting team never enters into the calculations.

The league professional and college nines alone draw large attendances and as were not good enough to play the first, and could not get games with the colleges, the result of the trip has been a big financial loss to Mr. Roberts and to every member of the team. If, however, a greater number of matches had been arranged with the small towns, and the games well advertised, the expenses of the tour might have been cleared. One would have thought that the first visit of a "foreign team", as they called us - and as far as America is concerned we are strictly foreign for the future - would have provided a sufficient attraction, but the fact that we were Australians travelling far to play them at their own game created no interest whatsoever.

On arrival we were met at the steamer by one American and three reporters. The solitary representative of "the greatest country on earth" had a conveyance to take him to the steamer and us to the hotel, but we found that we were charged with the cost of this little bit of international courtesy, When we left America two Australians and a newspaper man were the only ones to bid us farewell. The newspaper man did not come specially for that purpose. He wanted an interview, and did not get it.

Now as to our play. We are unquestionably far behind the first flight professionals in many points of the game, miles behind them in the act of playing it for "all is is worth," without any kind of reservation whatsoever. One cannot but recognise their wonderful ability in picking up the ball and throwing it to the bases, and in this we were sadly deficient. We were fast, if not faster, than they where actual speed was concerned, but their judgement in baserunning and in taking catches of "flies" as the baseball vernacular puts it - gives them a tremendous advantage. They are able to hold almost everything they get their hands on and the onlookers are simply astounded when they see a catch dropped. We, on the other hand, dropped them frequently, and instead of improving on our Australian from, as was reasonably expected, we really degenerated. Taking our batting throughout, especially when opposed to curve pitching - the attack Australians most feared at the outset that has been exceptionally strong, but we found our greatest difficulty in negogiating fast straight balls. Averages above 0.3 are considered first class in America, and as will be seen by reference to the batting column in the tabulated records, more thn half our team have beaten that. The pitchers did fairly good work, but the wretched support they had from the field disheartened them.

Injuries received in play on rough grounds were a great factor in our non-success. Nearly every man in the team suffered, more or less, from jarred hands and ricked arms - and we were a broken-kneed lot with a vengeance. This accounted for most of the in-and-out games, for on one day our men would play brilliantly and on the next like a lot of criplles. A rest would have been of great benefit to some of our best men at times, but as things were going they could not be well spared. That the ball-players of America are proficient is only to be expected, for they are at it from childhood, and practise daily. Their exchanges in the field are perfect as a piece of machinery, and the crowd enjoy this preliminary practice almost as much as the game, for with the responsibility removed the men go in for fancy scientific work.

Nor were our anticpations realised as to the manner of our reception in America by baseballers generally. With our home experience as a guide we naturally expected to be recieved courteously - as sportsmen are received in Australia. Instead, we were regarded, I fear, as intruders, and the play, actions and language of some of the men who opposed us were at times disgraceful. I do not for a moment lose sight of the fact that in criticising the standard of play, from a social or moral point of view, one must be guided by the customs of the country. When the American teams take the field prepared to "do" each other in every sense of that expressive term, each knows what to expect - each is prepared to out Herod Herod. Well, we could not, with any sense of self-respect, come down appeared low and tricky, and, though I'm praised time after time for our play, they, instead of recognising that fact and meeting us half way in generosity, simply took advantage of it. Thins which possibly to American eyes seemed clever, would, to the average Australian sportsman, have appeared low and tricky, and, though I'm sorry to say it, many of our fellos are convinced that at times opposing players tried to spike them during the game. There was no use appealing to the captains, as sportsmen or men of honour, to play fair. They were unused to that sort of thing, and however glaring the fault or outrageous the decision would admit nothing. The honourable exceptions amongst the teams can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and in mentioning Suisun, the Illinois Cycling Club of CHicago, and Newtonville I exhaust the list. Amongst individuals the kindness of Messrs. Spalding, Anson, Hart, Morrill, Wright, Marshall, West and Rosenthall, who spared neither money nor trounle to give us a good time, stood out a few grateful oasies in the desert of unconcern, and we shall ever have a soft sport in our hearts for these gentlemen.

The newspapers were American in the extreme. We did not so much mind their laughing at our blunders and ridiculing our crudities, and there was enough of both to provide the material for exercising either talent, but when we did play really well at times we got no credit for our success. Some of these reports were simply a tissue of fiction from start to finish, and on asking why it was neccessary to lie abominably at our expense, I was generally told that this was a characteristic form of American wit, and, provided there is sufficient colour for an extreme burlesque, fact is in no sense essential, exceptm perhaps in the score. They were certainly unanimous in praising us for gentlemanly behaviour on the field and off it, for which little bit of justice we are duly grateful. The onlookers, on the other hand, were intensly fair - far more kind and generous than we could reasonably have expected. They were always generous in their applause, and the abuse only served as an exception to prove the rule of fair play, kind encouragement, and good feeling.

The umpires - well, when I think of them it always strikes me what a horrible libel the word umpire is when used in connection with a cricket or football match - as Englishmen and Australians play. In California it was an unusual thing to get a fair one, and though in the east we were more fortunate, every now and then we struck a beauty. In baseball, as in the game of football, the umpire has a lot to decide, and at his best is bound to make more enemies than friends. Let those who think we were most of us cricketers, looking at the game with cricketers' eyes and traditions, realising fully that an umpire must necessarily make mistakes in deciding close things, but certainly never expecting that all the close things, and a good many that were not close at all, would be decided against the enemy. Decent umpiring would have reversed the results of several of our games. Enough, however, of this unwholesome topic.

At most of the playing grounds entrance money is collected in a somewhat slipshod fashion. Under the system it is almost impossible to prevent pilfering, and suffered a good deal through not being able to look after our own interests. On more than one occasion we have detected ground managers or ticket-takers trying to rob us before our face; while those who were set to watch our dressingrooms took advantage of the opportunity on three occasions to pick our pockets. That is business, however - not sport.

On arriving in England, where we expect to remain about nine days, McAlister, Stuckey, and Laver went out to Lord's ground, where a match was in progress between the M.C.C. and the Philadelphians. They met ALbert Trott and Roche, whose name has been changed from "Mickey" to "Dick" and both of them, as well as Jim Phillips, who was umpiring the game, are looking remarkably well, and are all well satisfied with their position and prospects. Albert Trott is in very fine form with both bat and ball. He got 66 and 167 not out against the County of Monmouthshire, the three-figure score being hit in 90 minutes, with no fewer than 132 by boundary hits, Roche bowled well against Northamptonshire, getting six wickets for 79 runs. On the following day, at Lord's, O'Halloran was in the club team, and,going in last but one, got 34 not out, and took seven wickets for 47 runs; so that all three are now in really good form, and Middlesex are looking forward expectantly to the day when they will be qualified to play for the county and back up Jack Hearne at the bowling crease. After a few days in England, Laver, accompanied by his brother, Dr. Laver, and Sir John McIntyre, take a run through France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, catching the Australian boat at the latter place.

In submitting the records of our baseball tour in America some little explanation may be necessary. Base hits rather than runs are the indication of good batting. Stolen bases indicate smartness in base-running, and under the head of errors are included catches dropped, wild throws, or any mistake in play that might reasonably have been avoided. Most of the other tables are self-explanatory.

 

List of Games

    Scores  
Date. Team. Aust Opp Result
18/4/'97 Olympics 9 20 Lost
20/4/'97 Stockton 7 12 Lost
22/4/'97 Santa Clara 13 10 Won
24/4/'97 Reliance 19 23 Lost
25/4/'97 San Francisco Athletic Club 25 26 Lost
2/5/'97 Suisun 7 10 Lost
9/5/'97 Santa Cruz 6 11 Lost
10/5/'97 Santa Cruz 12 7 Won
15/5/'97 San Francisco Athletic Club 11 19 Lost
20/5/'97 Ogden 9 8 Won
21/5/'97 Ogden 6 4 Won
23/5/'97 Gulf (Denver) 18 17 Won
25/5/'97 Omaha 11 21 Lost
26/5/'97 Omaha 9 13 Lost
28/5/'97 Councill Bluffs 4 24 Lost
6/6/'97 Illinois Cycling Club (Chicago) 9 13 Lost
10/6/'97 Duquesne (Pittsburg) 7 9 Lost
21/6/'97 American Veterans 27 13 Won
22/6/'97 Brockton 8 17 Lost
25/6/'97 North Attleboro 12 11 Won
26/6/'97 Newtonville 6 14 Lost
27/6/'97 Pawtucket 9 12 Lost
1/7/'97 Orange 5 21 Lost
3/7/'97 Atlantic City 0 18 Lost
5/7/'97 West New York 30 20 Won
7/7/'97 All Philadelphia Amatuers 3 9 Lost

 

Tour Averages

Name AB K R H SB PO A E BAVG FAVG
C. Over 93 10 27 20 2 48 61 16 .215 .872
W.G. Ingleton 116 2 39 48 10 101 76 25 .413 .876
F. Laver 103 2 30 36 8 162 25 12 .349 .939
C. Kemp 89 4 23 31 6 34 48 8 .348 .911
P.A. McAlister 115 15 34 48 5 59 45 30 .417 .776
J.H. Stuckey 81 11 24 31 12 15 8 17 .382 .575
R. Ewers 90 15 15 28 4 25 25 13 .310 .795
J.L. Wallace 58 6 12 17 2 49 17 14 .293 .825
J. McKay 48 6 8 9 .. 49 23 14 .187 .818
S. Smith 37 5 13 13 2 66 1 8 .359 .893
A.S. Carter 53 10 13 15 2 10 6 9 .283 .649
A.E. Wiseman 67 8 12 16 3 22 24 20 .238 .696
H.S. Irwin 18 6 1 2 1 5 11 6 .111 .727