Book Review: Andrew Schiff's "The Father of Baseball" Hits a Home Run

Ernie AccorsiContributor IFebruary 28, 2008

In this era of American sports biographies, it is to the delight of the true sports historian that Andrew Schiff has chosen so fascinating a subject as Henry Chadwick.

We've all read about Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle—and even Judge Landis and Branch Rickey—but even the most ardent baseball student is rarely offered look at Chadwick, the true father of the game at the turn of the 20th century.
I must confess: As a baseball addict for nearly 60 years, having listened to my first game on the radio in 1949, I had heard of but knew little of Chadwick.  After reading this riveting account of his life and influence on the game in its infancy, I'm convinced that had it not been for so courageous and passionate a devotee, baseball would not have evolved as it did throughout the 20th century—to become not only our national pastime, but essentially a way of life for many of us.
The first thing that was significant to me in Schiff's book was that, as a fan of cricket, Chadwick was captivated by baseball the moment he laid eyes on the game at a field in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1856—smitten, in his words, by "its speed" compared to cricket.

Baseball transfixed me in much the same way, when as a boy of eight years old, on July 2, 1950, I walked into Shibe Park in Philadelphia and cast my eyes on the Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies battling for the pennant.

Once I saw the game, I was never the same.  Once Chadwick saw the game, he was also never the same.
Most students of sports will admit that the historical records of baseball far surpass those of any other game.  In fact, according to a recent biography of the great Baltimore Colts' quarterback Johnny Unitas (written by Tom Callahan), it's still a subject of dispute as to when Unitas threw his first pass, because the records of the National Football League as recently as 1956 are still not completely dependable.

Because of Chadwick, records existed in baseball before the turn of the 20th century.
Chadwick's efforts were indispensable to the rapid growth of baseball in this country, from his demand for integrity in the game to his constant prodding of his newspapers to publicize it (when they preferred to promote the sport of cricket in order to cater to their English subscribers) and his chronicling of the western tours to broaden the popularity of the game through the Midwest—which, ironically, eventually led to the demise of his own influence.

When Chadwick's papers had little interest in the new American game, he pushed and wrote and promoted it and its record keeping—his excitement grew until he almost forced baseball on the American public.
Andrew Schiff does a marvelous job of integrating the development of baseball with the history of the United States, thus giving a perspective on the game's growing influence over our young country.
Then, sadly, the story tells of the almost tragic end to a wonderful career and a life.

Under attack by two rivals who formed the National League—Albert Spalding and Harry Wright—Chadwick was essentially frozen out of the game he'd virtually given birth to in 1876.  Chadwick never wanted to be an executive or employee of a club, but he enjoyed his role as a journalist and record keeper.

Unfortunately, Spalding and Wright never gave him the gratitude he deserved, and diminished his influence even in his desired roles.

Even though I consider myself a devoted student of baseball history and lore, I didn't know very much about Harry Chadwick and everything he meant to the game I love.

But thanks to Andrew Schiff and his wonderful biography, I do now.  For that I am very grateful.

Andrew Schiff's book can be purchased at McFarland Publishing's website.


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