Baseball Books for Children From the Betsy Beinecke Shirley Collection
This exhibition of some thirty baseball books and drawings designed for children, including the first printed description of the game, was selected from the Betsy Beinecke Shirley Collection of American Children’s Literature, donated to the library by Mr. and Mrs. Carl Shirley.
“One of the party who is out . tosses the ball toward one of the in-party, who strikes the ball, if possible, with his bat,” is the way base or goal ball is described in Boy’s and Girl’s Book of Sports , published in Providence in 1838. Thought to be the first printed account of the game of baseball, this diminutive pamphlet is illustrated with woodcuts and bound together with a number of children’s stories in the same format.
Baseball novels for young readers are a prominent feature of the exhibition, beginning with William Everett’s Changing Base, or What Edward Rice Learnt at School (1869). A. G. Spalding, founder of the sporting goods company, wrote the introduction to the first novel devoted entirely to baseball, Noah Brooks’s Our Base Ball Club and How It Won the Championship (1884).
In the early decades of the twentieth century, many of the baseball stories written for children were the work of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, the fiction mill that gave us such classics as the Rover Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, and the ever popular Nancy Drew mystery stories. The Stratemeyer baseball books, published under the pseudonyms Lester Chadwick and Elmer A. Dawson, included such winners as Baseball Joe at Yale (1913), Baseball Joe on the Giants (1916), Baseball Joe , Home Run King (1922), The Pick-up Nine (1930), and Buck’s Winning Hit (1930), all to be seen at the Beinecke.
The Mudville Nine figure prominently in the display, beginning with the first book edition of Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s Casey at the Bat , published in 1901. The poem had originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner in 1888, and this first book edition contains spurious lines that Thayer never wrote. Editions of Casey illustrated by A. B. Chapin, Dan Sayer Groesbeck, Edgar Keller, Wallace Tripp, and Barry Moser will be on display, as well as Martin Gardner’s Annotated Casey and an edition containing DeWolf Hopper’s recorded rendition of the poem.
Sometimes players wrote books for kids, too. Johnny Evers, renowned second baseman and manager of the Cubs, was the author of Baseball in the Big Leagues. A Book for Boys . The edition on display, published in Chicago in 1913, contains photographs of Ty Cobb, Napoleon Lajoie, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, and Frank Chance, among others. Babe Ruth wrote the introduction to Daniel M. Daniel’s Babe Ruth: The Idol of the American Boy (1930). The copy on view, though inscribed by the “Babe,” was in all likelihood signed by Mrs. Ruth.
“Books should be fun,” says Betsy Shirley, who over the last 25 years has brought together one of the world’s finest collections of American children’s literature. “Otherwise kids won’t read them.” We couldn’t agree more in presenting this exhibition, where the world of rare books intersects with the National Pastime.