Soccer – by which we mean, of course, football – is growing enormously in popularity in the United States.
Last year’s Women’s World Cup finals outranked both the National Basketball Association finals and the Stanley Cup ice hockey finals by quite some way in terms of TV viewing figures. And it’s now estimated that around 30 per cent of US households include someone who plays our version of football, making it second only to baseball.
But while our national sport looks set to conquer America, theirs has never really made serious inroads into the British sporting consciousness – it seems that most of us just don’t get baseball.
And yet 80 years ago, there was a thriving Yorkshire Baseball League, in which Scarborough had its own team – the Seagulls.
Our exhibit today is a relic of that league – a baseball signed by the team in the mid-1930s, including right field Ronald (R.S) Wainwright, whose son donated the ball and remembers going to watch his father play at the old Scarborough FC ground on Seamer Road.
Other teams in the league were the Bradford City Sox, the Dewsbury Royals, the Greenfield Giants (also based in Bradford), Hull Baseball Club, the Leeds Oaks, the Sheffield Dons and the Wakefield Cubs. Not a huge league then, with just eight teams, and the Seagulls were sadly not the top team – a Hull Baseball Club programme from 1936 shows them languishing at the bottom of the table with just two points, having played 11, won 1, and lost 10. The Greenfield Giants, at the top, had also played 11, and won all of them, garnering 22 points.
A 1937 match programme details the Seagulls visit to York’s Bootham Crescent on 5 May – the baseball league used football grounds during the off season.
At that match, the Seagulls played in patriotic red, white and blue, while the York City Maroons were, appropriately enough, clad in grey and maroon.
The Seagulls were Leo Holden (pitcher), A Hogg (catcher), W Thompson (first base), E Bradley (second base), J Spencer (third base), J Duxbury (short stop), our man Ronald Wainwright at right field, F Moment (centre field), R Whittleton (left field) and H Matson, R Warren and A Brackenbug (benchers, or substitutes).
Surrounding the batting order are ads from companies across the county, including ‘amplifying specialist’ Ken Tholander of Anlaby Road, Hull (“If it is good Radio Reception or Amplification you require… Hull Baseball Club is fitted with our equipment”) and HHB Sugg Ltd of Angel Street Sheffield (“World famous for Sports goods – every requisite for baseball in stock”).
It would seem that, compared to its counterpart Stateside, where the practice of ‘bench jockeying’ or ‘ragging’ – verbally taunting the opposing players and match officials in an attempt to put them off their stride – Yorkshire baseball was fairly sedate.
The Scarborough Evening Post on 16 May 1936 commented: “The big difference over [in the States] is in the shouting. The Yanks make such a hubbub, both on and off the field, that it’s like listening to a wagonload of escaped baboons.”
This may have changed post-war – take a look at this lovely clip on the British Pathé website (http://www.britishpathe.com/video/baseball-3), where a voice-over with the (to modern ears) comically clipped tones of a Harry Enfield caricature tells how players in Beverley, East Yorkshire, were ‘rebuilding local baseball leagues to the 1939 level of 80 teams, involving over a thousand players’.
“The crowd, too, doesn’t pull its punches,” he continues. “And instead of ‘oh, hard luck, sir’ usually chants ‘he’s too fat, he can’t bat’.”
The Scarborough Seagulls baseball is part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects and artwork acquired by the borough over the years, and now in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust. For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org or 01723 384510.