SI Vault
Baseball Is a Mad Game
George Bernard Shaw
September 03, 1962
In the fall of 1924 the New York Giants and the Chicago White Sox played a series of exhibitions in London. Among the curious spectators was George Bernard Shaw, who was watching his first baseball game. Following are the great playwright's impressions as he recorded them for the London Evening Standard.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 03, 1962

Baseball Is A Mad Game

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

In the fall of 1924 the New York Giants and the Chicago White Sox played a series of exhibitions in London. Among the curious spectators was George Bernard Shaw, who was watching his first baseball game. Following are the great playwright's impressions as he recorded them for the London Evening Standard.

It is a noteworthy fact that kicking and beating have played so considerable a part in the habits which necessity has imposed on mankind in past ages that the only way of preventing civilised men from kicking and beating their wives is to organise games in which they can kick and beat balls. Hence cricket and football in England and baseball in America. Women beat their husbands and children for want of an energetic alternative.

Musical nations like the Irish resort to instruments of percussion to satisfy the irresistible impulse to hit something. The Ulster drum has saved many a Catholic from a broken head.

It was as a sociologist, not as a sportsman—I cannot endure the boredom of sport—that I seized the opportunity of the London visit of the famous Chicago Sioux and the New York Apaches (I am not quite sure of the names) to witness for the first time a game of baseball.

I found that it has the great advantage over cricket of being sooner ended. As far as I can grasp it, it combines the best features of that primitive form of cricket (the only tolerable one) known as Tip and Run with those of lawn tennis, Puss-in-the-Corner, and Handel's Messiah. And it surpasses them all (except Handel) in giving scope for the higher human faculities of rhetoric, irony and eloquent emotional appeal. Even those players who had no gift of eloquence expressed their souls in dithyrambic cries like the Greek Evoe! Which sounded to me like Attaboy! I confess that I am not enough of a Greek scholar to translate Attaboy, but it is a very stimulating ejaculation.

What is both surprising and delightful is that the spectators are allowed, and even expected, to join in the vocal part of the game. I do not see why this feature should not be introduced into cricket. There is no reason why the wicket-keeper should not incite the bowler to heroic exertions by combined taunting and coaxing, or why the field should not try to put the batsman off his stroke at the critical moment by neatly timed disparagements of his wife's fidelity and his mother's respectability.

When I arrived on the ground Royalty, in the person of the Duke of York (I had rushed to the first game of the series), was doing its share of the daily task, the common round, by shaking hands with the carefully aligned and, so far, spotlessly clean Sioux and Apaches, who confronted Royal condescension with Republican fortitude. They were not proud, these heroes, and I shall never forget that Mr. McGraw, in whom I at last discovered the real and authentic Most Remarkable Man in America, shook hands with me. He even shook hands with the Duke. But though he was very nice to us, there is no denying that he played us both right off the stage.

The Duke, by the way, failed to catch the part of the game that reminded me of Handel. I do not know how it is in America, but in England the audience always stands up for the "Halleluja Chorus." In America, during a game of baseball, it stands up for the seventh inning. And we all did stand up except the Royal party, which, not having been properly coached in the ritual, remained seated, a scandal that evidently made a most painful impression on the Americans present. Lest this should result in a war, may I assure the United States that it was an error of pure ignorance? The King will be present at the next match, and I have no doubt that if the President will write and explain what is expected of him he will rise reverently at the proper moment, and instruct the Lord Chamberlain to see that the Court does the same.

The British spectators were bewildered by the proceedings at first. The players began by playing without a ball, and with an Indian club instead of a proper bat. They varied this by imitating a slow-motion cinematographic picture. All this we in our ignorance took to be part of the celebrated but to us unknown game; and when the real play began we made no distinction, and innocently supposed that for some mysterious reason baseball was played partly without a ball and partly with one. The Indian club was a terrible stumbling block. We could not conceive any serious player using such a thing. As to the bowling, an English bowler would have been ordered off the field for it. The bowler began like a Highlander throwing the hammer, and then shied the ball with all his might straight to the wicket-keeper for a hard catch. The batsman incidentally swiped at it as it passed with his absurd club; and if, as sometimes happened, he caught it with a masterly drive to square-leg, everybody said foul (without the least foundation), and nothing else happened. But if he drove it back, then it was a case of Tip and Run and Puss-in-the-Corner, unless he was caught out, in which case we of England applauded heartily, as it was the only transaction in the game which was in the least intelligible to us.

I regret to have to say that the Sioux and Apaches played equally badly, for after extraordinary exertions their scores were 1 and 2 respectively. An English cricket team would have hit up hundreds with half the trouble. Either the Apaches or the Sioux—I forget which—managed at least either to hit up 3 or to fail to hit up anything, at which point they suddenly left in disgust for Dublin; and the cricket-trained Duke, who had been looking forward to the usual five or six hours' innings, slowly realised that the match was over, and, after some incredulous hesitation, rose and made for his carriage.

Continue Story
1 2