A long time ago, my Dad gave me a scrapbook that was assembled by my late Grandfather, George Friesch. Or, “Pop,” as he was known by our family.
Among other things in it, there were clippings of players stats from 1934 and his own professional baseball contract with the Ludington Mariners Base Ball Club from 1921 for $175/month (pictured below):
But more importantly, there was an essay about the brilliance of the game of baseball. It’s called “Our National Game,” and it was a speech he delivered at his Jefferson High School graduation, which was 102 years ago today – June 5, 1913. (Which is eerily something I only just noticed as I was showing his program to some friends at work – after I had written the original version of this post.)
I’m not sure when he wrote the essay, though there’s also a high school commencement program here from 1913, so I suspect it was probably an essay for high school.
The paper upon which the essay is written has expectedly decayed a bit. Before it goes any further, I thought I’d capture the essay on my blog, for safe digital keeping. It has always been a meaningful momentum from my brief 17 years knowing my only living grandparent. But he’s also right. Baseball is simply the greatest game there is.
Here’s the full essay, with minimal edits:
Our National Game
Every nation has its national game. Some form of pastime or contest involving the use of balls and sticks is indulged by every tribe of the human race. Historical research reveals both in writings and in pictures that ball games have been played from the earliest known times. Egyptian drawings dug out of the Nile storehouses show angular athletes tossing and catching balls. We know that the Greeks before Troy amused themselves with contests at throwing. It, however, remained for the inventive American to develop and systematize the universal game and create the greatest of all pastime, “Baseball.”
Baseball was invented in 1839, by a West Point Cadet named Doubleday from Cooperstown, N.Y. at home on furlough. He became a Brigadier General and was famous as a mathematician. He first played the game with 7 boys and then 9. AS a problem in geometry, baseball in any of its departments may be reduced to exact figures. As a scientific pastime involving the laws of physics and mathematics, the game appeals to the studious. It is the only game played founded upon exact scientific lines. The playing field is laid with such geometrical exactness and with such close study of natural speed of foot and power of arm as to give the defensive team an exactly equal chance with those at bat. First base is exactly 90 feet from the home plate, and if it were 92 feet, baseball would be ruined because in the present high development of the game, 2 feet additional distance would make it almost impossible for a team to score. If the distance were 88 feet, the scores would run into double figures. The distances have been so calculated and the players so distributed that each of the nine men of the defensive team have exactly the amount of ground to cover that the fastest runner possibly can cover with a flying start.
Probably there is not one person in 100 over 14 years of age in the United States who does not understand at least the basic principles of the game, and scarcely one natural born American in 1000 who has not, at some time, played the game. A canvas of the House of Representatives made by the late Joe Campbell revealed the fact that every man in the House understood baseball, and all except 2 had played the game. One of these was a cripple and the other was partially blind. At that time, there were 7 men in the House who had played professional baseball. The extent to which baseball has seized upon the people regardless of class may be judged by the fact that the number of persons who paid admission to see major league baseball games in one season exceeded the adult population of the United States. The number which attend a single game often runs as high as 40,000.
In 1864, the first move towards professionalizing the game was made when Al J. Reach was paid a salary to play with Philadelphia. Baseball has now reached the highest pinnacle as a profession. May of the salaries for the 8 months of service run above $10,000. There is scarcely a sport known in which professionalism does not exert a lowering influence. The great exception to this rule is baseball. The reason for this is because baseball now ranks as an established and honorable trade. In the early days of professionals, baseball was taken up by a class of men who were simply out for a good time; but this has been entirely done away with as owners and managers of teams came to realize that players of the carousing type could not maintain themselves in good playing condition through an entire season. As the game advanced and developed toward perfection, the demand for men above the average in mentality as well as in speed and strength became greater and greater and the value of players rose steadily. The finding and developing of players is now the greatest problem of the National Game. Men of brains, speed, strength, coolness and character are required. During late years the big leagues have drawn heavily upon college and university graduates. Prominent among these men being White, Collins, Coombs, Mathewson and Barry.
Baseball as a national pastime appeals to every true hearted American. It has those elements which promise it a great future. It is a clean sport, and its players are men of great intellect. It will always remain the greatest of all pastimes, the great National Game of America.