The English eventually won the three-week race though Doyle, since he never mentions the matter, was probably not among the leading finishers. In any case, he was skeptical about the benefits of the competition. As an effort to better international relations, Doyle said, "The race was a great failure."
American baseball, on the other hand, had his unreserved admiration. There is often a dutiful quality to an Englishman's expression of interest in American sports, just as there is apt to be with an American's inquiries about cricket. Something rings false. But Sir Arthur was genuinely fascinated by baseball. As a young amateur bowler he had felt that the Marylebone team, with its heavy admixture of professionals, had an advantage: the superior fielding of the professionals, their all-round excellence at bowling, batting and catching, was more than amateurs could overcome by bowling or bat alone. On his second American visit in 1914 the skill of Connie Mack's pennant-winning Athletics in the field—at catching, as he called it—amazed him. But Sir Arthur was no baseball snob; on off days during his lecture tour he went to minor-league games with the same interest. He had become an American baseball fan.
World War I, in which his oldest son Kingsley died, virtually ended Sir Arthur's sporting life. He had always been interested in psychic phenomena, and he now became a convert to spiritualism, devoting his time, his writings and his fortune to proving the existence of the spirit world. He covered 25,000 miles in lecture trips across the U.S. and Canada in the early 1920s, displaying to large crowds his collection of psychic photographs in which the ghostly features of the dead were plainly visible in the air above living figures.
What a strange experience it was, and how careful he was to record every aspect of it. In the days when H.L. Mencken and the rest of the iconoclasts were ridiculing spiritual hypocrisy and fakery, Doyle went patiently from town to town and hall to hall, talking with mediums, mystics, visionaries, table rappers, people who believed in ghosts, people who had seen spirits, people who sensed a spirit world hovering over and around them all the time. He must have known more American crackpots than anyone in history. He liked them. He liked them for their simplicity and earnestness and for their unworldliness. A portly, benign, much-ridiculed celebrity, worn out by lecturing on spiritualism to 250,000 people, he still had the patience to listen to anyone who came to him with news from the other world.
How could he keep his hold on reality? The American outdoors helped him maintain his touch with the physical world. He tramped in the redwood forests of California. He made a pack trip to the headwaters of the Athabasca River in Canada. He attended an "international match" between Minneapolis and Winnipeg. It was minor-league ball, he recognized, but "both sides seemed to me to be surprisingly good, and the fielding, catching and throwing-in were far superior to that of good English cricket teams."
And always the spirits hovered over him. In Chicago he was visited by a 20-year-old medium named Bruce Kemp. While Doyle and Kemp were quietly discussing baseball with the younger Doyle boys, Kemp's communicant from the other world suddenly took over. The spirit was an Iroquois Indian chief who wanted to talk about the Five Nations. Kemp's voice changed to an explosive roar. "No sane person could imagine that the tremendous sound we heard came from the gentle American lad," Doyle wrote later. Sir Arthur yelled back: "I am not in my own wigwam. We must not talk too loud!"
At full volume the spirit answered that he was a good Indian who never frightened anyone. The talk that followed was "so deafening and pitched in so strange a key that it was inaudible [sic], but when I could catch the words they were innocent enough, for they were to the effect that my boys were baseball fans."
In the end, sports served Sir Arthur in his spirit inquiries just as they served Sherlock Holmes in his stories—as a tangible background that brought mysteries back to everyday life. It was thoroughly consistent with Conan Doyle's life and writing that shortly before he died in 1930 at the age of 71, he achieved one more ambition. He drove a racing car around the Brooklands track at more than 100 mph.
There is a footnote for horse lovers to Doyle's literary life. Four years ago John Hislop, an English racing writer and horse owner, found himself with a promising colt which he named Brigadier Gerard. "I had no difficulty at all in deciding on a name," Hislop said. "As a small boy in school The Adventures of Gerard and The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard were two of my favorite books."
Brigadier Gerard—the horse—was unbeaten in four starts as a 2-year-old. He began as a 3-year-old by defeating Mill Reef—previously unbeaten—in the 2,000 Guineas, and by fall had made it 10 straight by taking the Champion Stakes by a short head in a rainstorm. "The Brigadier has some guts!" said Mrs. Hislop, which is the sort of remark readers made when they finished one of Doyle's stories about Brigadier Gerard's narrow escapes. As a 4-year-old this past season Brigadier Gerard—the horse—won the Lockinge Stakes, the Prince of Wales and the Eclipse. Until last August he was unbeaten in 15 starts. One more and he would have a place in history along with Citation and Ribot, the only other moderns to win 16 in a row. A loss to Roberto, the Derby winner, ended that hope of immortality, but the Brigadier came back in September to take the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot. A month later Brigadier Gerard won the Champion Stakes for the second time and was retired, another addition to the list of wonder horses, and in a way a final vindication of Brigadier Gerard—the soldier—who lived so long in the shadow of Sherlock Holmes.