Baseball at The Shay? The American sport links with rugby league around Halifax
Historian Alf Ridyard takes a look at an American sport's surprising connections with local RL and football teams...
Baseball, as we all know, is a massive sport in America. What many people, including myself, did not know is that England were the world champions of the amateur game in 1938, beating the Americans 4-1.
The games were played mainly on football and rugby league grounds at Liverpool; Craven Park, Hull KR; Headingly, Leeds; Spotland, Rochdale; and The Shay, Halifax.
The American team was made up of mainly college students and not the major league players and the England team had a smattering of Canadians who were resident in the north of England.
It was, however, England’s one moment of glory.
The competition continued on a yearly basis until 2011 and strangely enough the Americans only ever won it four times.
Cuba with 25 wins, were the most successful over the years, and 15 countries took part.
Having now established the UK’s contribution to the game we dig a little deeper and discover that in the 1890s the fledgling football league clubs had baseball teams.
In 1890, we see the baseball champions being Aston Villa who defeated Preston North End in the final.
Other teams were Stoke, Manchester and Derby, the latter having its ground named the baseball ground at which the football club was based for a further 100 years until 1997 when Pride Park became their new home.
The game was introduced during the summer months predominantly as the source of income for the clubs, plus it kept the players together.
Entry to the games was 3d, half the cost of what was taken at football games, the league continued spasmodically until 1911 when no further evidence can be found.
Our next attempt to take up the game was in 1924 when the Chicago White Sox and the New York Giants toured the UK and Sir John Moores, of Littlewoods fame, who later became the major benefactor of the fledgling British Baseball league, brought the teams to Goodison Park where 2,500 watched what was described as a spectacle of big hits and a throwing exhibition.
Very little other information is available other than one of the players hit a home run over the Goodison Road stand and out of the ground. The 1930s saw the game gain some popularity and Moores persuaded Dixie Dean, the Everton centre forward, to take part in many of the summer games. This, of course, enhanced the standing of the game.
Currently there are 75 teams in the UK taking part on a seasonal basis. In 2017, London Mets defeated Southampton Mustangs to win the grand final.
Just stepping back into the 1930s and we see rugby league players during the summer break taking up the game.
Halifax Blue Sox ( a name adopted by the rugby club 1996-2002) Oldham Greyhounds, Salford Red Devils, Preston North End, Bolton Reds, Liverpool Giants and Rochdale being notable teams in the Manchester pro league.
The Oldham greyhound track alongside the old Watershedding’s ground were regularly used for the baseball matches.
Oldham player Bernard Ganley, the record-breaking full-back, was known to have played in the games during the 1950s, no doubt Bernard’s known quality as a cricketer stood him in good stead.
Locally, during World War Two, the Americans based locally played many inter regimental unit games at Bickershaw Cricket Club.
Just looking at some of the team names and the stadia used it’s easy to see the connections between rugby league and football to this American major sport.
Strangely, little connection is made to rugby union whose identity is without doubt connected to the more English game of cricket.