On this day … 16 May 1891

A report in the Preston Chronicle testified to the growing enthusiasm for baseball in Preston, to such an extent that the town’s councillors and manufacturers were beginning to prescribe it as a healthy diversion for the working-class members of the community.

The Chronicle, which had initially been sceptical of the appeal of baseball for Preston sports fans, was reporting on the presentation of the Amateur Baseball Championship cup to the Preston North End baseball team. The report perhaps suggests a patronising attitude on the part of the town’s middle class to the leisure-time occupations of its working class.

North End baseball and football player 1889
Some members of the North End team who played both football and baseball for the club are identified on the picture. William Sudell is the chap with the beard on the back row next to Bob Holmes. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rpsmithbarney/5188189134/

The team was managed by William Sudell, the founder of the North End football team, and he chaired the presentation meeting, which was held at the Shelley Arms. He was also manager of one of the town’s cotton mills and his comments at the meeting give an insight into the paternalistic attitude of the employers to their workforce.

Addressing the ‘influential gathering’, which included the mayor, several councillors and businessmen, he told them it was the perfect summer game for the workers because it could be played in an hour and half, in contrast to the many hours it took to finish a game of cricket:

He did not say that baseball was going to supersede either cricket or association football. Both those games would hold their own, but he did believe it would supply the artisan classes with plenty of amusement, exercise, and variety, such as cricket could not provide in the space of two or three hours. On that account he wished to see baseball prosper in England (hear, hear).

The mayor, who welcomed the introduction of baseball to Preston, added: ‘Mr Sudell did not tell them that baseball could be played by ladies, and the game should thus be recommended more to their attention (laughter).’

William Sudell was clearly delighted to have won the approval of the mayor, because he ‘considered the countenance and presence of the Mayor stamped them as being worthy of patronage’. And he went on to prescribe baseball as a way of keeping the working class away from dominoes and public houses:

It was very necessary that outdoor sport should be promoted, especially amongst people who were boxed up in factories and workshops. He was pleased that the first and foremost gentleman in Preston. should recognise that fact by coming amongst them, and he trusted his endeavours would a not end there.

The working classes should be animated to develop their physical powers and get fresh air. He had a theory that gymnasts were all very well in their way, but to the man who was confined in a spinning, or weaving shed, cardroom, it was not beneficial to go in a close atmosphere and take exercise on the horizontal bar or trapeze.

He did not say it was not altogether a benefit to him, but it would be a far greater benefit and help to him physically if he were to go out in the open air and do the same thing. That was why he was such a supporter of outdoor sport. It was far more essential to watch a football or baseball match than to go to a public-house and play dominoes (hear, hear).

North End set up a professional and an amateur side, but the enthusiasm for the game was short-lived, and the last match was played the following year.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preston_North_End_Baseball_Club

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