In May 2011 I spent a couple of days at the Library of Congress, collecting articles on the 1867 Washington Nationals and their historic road trip out west with hall-of-fame sportswriter Henry Chadwick.
My original intention was to focus on the roadtrip itself, travel with the Nationals to Ohio and Illinois and Missouri, and make the story about how important those games were in the evolution of baseball from a club-level, local exercise to America’s first real national sport. But what was interesting to me as I read the articles was what was actually happening in Washington DC while the Nationals were touring. There were, by my count, at least 20 other baseball clubs in DC. As the Nationals toured and won big, the amount of text dedicated to the Nationals in the local papers grew…by a lot, and the space dedicated to local games shrunk…by a lot. The clubs that were left behind began preparing a homecoming party to capitalize on the popularity of the Nationals and DC baseball as a whole but, at the same time, papers in New York and Chicago started to accuse the Nationals of throwing a game in order to cash-in on the odds that were heavily slanted in the Nationals’ favor. The DC papers began to defend the Nationals, publishing letters from players about why they really lost that one game (so-and-so had the flu and the weather was terrible) and printing character pieces on the team to prove that they were “upstanding gentlemen.” The articles painted this picture of a sport that was gaining national exposure and, at the same time, a too-familiar, reconstruction era form of notoriety. Real corruption countered by aggressive PR. A perfect Washington DC story.
Every page in my story has several references to back up. It’s sometimes difficult, crafting a narrative around newspaper reports and incomplete quotes, but I tried my best. So let me take you through one page, the first page. From an 1867 Washington Star I found the following article:
The above article reads:
Departure Of The National Base Ball Club. - The first nine of the National Base Ball Club of this city left yesterday afternoon, in the 4:30 train, for their Western trip, having accepted challenges to play the crack clubs in several of the Western cities. The will reach Columbus this evening, and to-morrow they will have a game with the Capital club of that city. The players are: Wright, Williams, Fletcher, Parker, Fox, Smith, Stindley, Herthrong, McLean, Norion, Hodges, Robinson, Jones, Patterson and Hames, with Mr. Munson as scorer. They are accompanied by Mr. Henry Chadwick, reporter for Wilkes’ Spirit and the Sunday Mercury.
There really wasn’t any talk about crowds or going away parties. However, the articles got longer as the trip went on and the return party seemed to fall just short of a Roman Triumph, leading me to believe that the Nationals left a bunch of Average Joes and came back heroes. You can see that I was trying to capture that feeling in my script:
PAGE 1 & 2
A small crowd of ball players and family members stand at the train station, seeing the Washington Nationals off for their road trip out west. We open on a big shot of the train and the players boarding. Outdoor, classic train station. As mentioned, not a lot of people there, making it look like a pretty poor going away party.
We see a husband hugging a little boy, his wife standing by and watching; smiling. (Please note, the woman of this era and of this class never went out without full dress. Bustles and parasols, this is summertime.) These ballplayers weren’t “drunks and ruffians” like the other clubs – they were government clerks and future senators. They had a bit of class and a bit of money. No one got paid to play. This trip was financed by the Treasury department, but the individuals had to pay to be ON the Nationals.
PAGE ONE COPY
CAPTION: On July 11th, 1867, the Washington Nationals baseball club, along with future Hall of Fame sportswriter Henry Chadwick, embarked on an historic trip out west to play an eleven game roadtrip, the first of its kind.
PAGE TWO COPY - The boy’s more excited about the train than the baseball team.
Boy: You’re takin’ that all the way to Missouri?
Man: Yes indeed. And Ohio and Illinois, too.
CAPTION: The 20 other Washington DC baseball clubs were left behind.
CAPTION: They read about the Nationals’ exploits in the Washington Star…
Our original idea was to open with a double-page spread, as you can see by the script. Here’s artist Charles Fetherolf’s original layout:
After Charles laid down the thumbs, however, we realized that we had to start on an odd page, so we couldn’t open with a double. Charles went back and re-did the layout:
So now we have the big shot with the train and the crowd action on two. The layouts were approved and Charles picked up his tools and killed it, as usual:
I’ll share some more of my references as the week goes on but for the rest of the story…you’ll have to buy the book. And, if you’re in the DC area, don’t forget! We’re having a signing on August 19th at 3pm at One More Page Books!