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History of Australian Baseball

AUSTRALIA’S FIRST TASTE OF BASEBALL

Australians first saw the game in 1856 when American goldminers at Ballarat, Victoria, played on their rest days. There was little local interest until around 1885, when a few matches were played in Melbourne. Enthusiasm strengthened in 1888 when American sports-equipment manufacturer A.G Spalding Esq. decided to upstage hockey and attempt to establish baseball throughout Australia.

FIRST OVERSEAS TEAMS IN AUSTRALIA

Between the 15 December 1888 and 5 January 1889, A.G, Spalding brought two teams, an All American and his side from Chicago. The Australian public viewed the matches in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and then Ballarat before heading of to India.

The first game was played in Sydney on the ground of the Sydney Cricket Association. The game was in front of 4,000 people and the Australians lead the the 1-0 until the All American side tied the game in the 5th inning. It wasn’t until the 9th inning where the All American side took out the game 2-1.

The Americans were compelled to admit that whatever other respects the colonies might be inferior to the United States, they (Aussies) certainly possessed playing grounds so far superior in point of equipment and condition than they had in the US at the time. And there was no reason what so ever for comparison.

The Chicago and All American teams tried their hand at cricket on the Sydney grounds with the score ending up 67 to 33 in favour of the All American team.

The first game in Melbourne at the MCG, 12,000 people witnessed the Chicago team win 5 to 3. The second game on Christmas Eve only saw 6,000 in attendance. Again the Americans were amazed at the grounds at in Australia.

Then to Adelaide where the All Americans won. Ballarat with 4,500 watching the All Americans won again.

Back to Melbourne where on New Years Eve 2,000 saw the Americans try their luck at Australian Rules. Unfortunately it was a one sided affair to the Aussies.

January 5, 1889 was the last day before heading off to India. A game against the Melbourne cricketers in front of approximately 12,000 people was rain interrupted. But the Americans won the difference being the superior fielding. Then followed a game the Chicago team beat the All Americans 5 to 0.

The tour was seen as a huge success with good publicity and good crowds to see this game called baseball. And by Spalding’s admission after visiting countries like Columbo, Naples, Rome, Florence, Paris, Britain and Ireland with the teams, and ruling out Ceylon, Arabia, Egypt and Italy that Australia would be the only place covered that baseball would take roots and grow.

BASEBALL AFTER SPALDING

After the touring teams left our shores an American by the name of Harry Simpson was left here by Spalding to encourage the game along. And from this the two major centres were Melbourne & Adelaide.

Simpson was responsible for the first inter-colonial games, played on 20th & 22nd April 1889 in Melbourne between Victoria and South Australia. In December 1889 a South Australian team visited Broken Hill (North West New South Wales) to play a local team – perhaps the first country town to play baseball.

Regular winter competitions continue in Melbourne and Adelaide through the 1890’s. The first Victorian country match was in June 1897 between Castlmaine and Kyneton.

In Sydney the emergence of regular competition seems to have been slower, with only two or three teams playing from 1889to 1897. In 1897 the teams were “America”, Redfern and South Sydney. These competitions were in the normal winter period. In 1896-1897 there was also a summer competition. Americans resident in Australia played a continuing role in these early years, the most prominent as player and patron being J.C. Williamson.

A team of 2 South Australians (Sydney Smith and Rue Ewers) and 11 Victorians left the shores of the colonies and headed to the USA. The Australian team known as the “Kangaroos” played 26 games from San Francisco to New York. The team did not play up to the expectations of the crowds and was poorly promoted and the tour was judged to be a disaster from all points of view.

The tour did some damage back home, with no further competitions in Adelaide until 1908. A similar consequence in Melbourne, with fewer number of teams until 1904 when a revival occurred.

Sydney had no players in the US tour and escaped the downturn in the game. May 1898 saw the Metropolitan Baseball Association form and the first club competition held in 1899. On the completion of the season a team visited Newcastle to encourage the game there.

In 1900 there was the first annual series of games between New South Wales and Victoria. The NSW team won the series two games to one. NSW in its first year included two prominent cricketers : M.A. Noble and Victor Trumper. The Victorian team also included some state cricketers and four of the 1897 tourist. Frank Laver was perhaps the best known Victorian cricketer/baseballer of his era. In 1914 he donated a shield for competition between State schools.

By 1908 there had been a general expansion of the game. The Sydney competition had changed to a district basis and there were 10 teams in each of the two grades. In Melbourne the club competition had increased from 8 in 1905 to 16 in 1907 and the Adelaide competition resumed in 1908 with 4 teams.

The visit of the American Pacific Fleet, the “Great White Fleet” in 1908 helped in consolidating the growth of the game in Australia. Of the five games played (four in Sydney & one in Melbourne) Australia won one game.

The game flourished in Sydney prior the “Great War”. 1913 – 8 teams in district competition, 14 teams in an “A” division 10 in “B” and 14 clubs in a western suburbs churches competition. Another 10 teams in high school competitions and 6 primary schools playing baseball. In Melbourne by 1912 there were 33 teams in club competition.

The annual Victoria versus NSW series was expanded soon after South Australia revived its game. And in 1910 & 1911 it became a four way contest including South Australia and Tasmania. In 1912, however, Tasmania declined to join the newly formed Australian Baseball Council and the annual interstate carnival remained three sided for many years.

January 1914 saw the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox play matches in Sydney & Melbourne. During the war the teams weakened and competitions were very thin because of the absence of players. The seemed not to have done any harm to the game and new vigor for the game was showing in 1919. The interstate series resumed and in 1922 Queensland and NSW started interstate series.

Post war visits by the Japanese (1919 & 1924) & American (1923, 1928 & 1929) teams help baseball gain publicity.

The emergence of girls & women’s baseball took off after 1923. In 1934 an interstate carnival was held in Sydney with matches between NSW QLD & VIC. NSW winning the event.

At national level there were troubles. The Australian Baseball Council disbanded in 1933 and reformed in 1936.

During the Second World War with the teams weakened with men absent in services, the game flourished with the presence of many American servicemen in Australia, especially in 1942, 1943 and 1944. A highlight of 1942 in Sydney was a 12 innings game between US Army and NSW watched by 5,000 spectators.

After the war there was a resumption of the game throughout Australia at least to the level it had achieved in the 1930s. Scarcely a year passed without the visit to Sydney or Melbourne of an American navy ship with the ability to field a good side. In 1953 the Australian Baseball council estimated that there were over 700 teams in Australia and almost 10,000 players, with the growth of ten clubs in 1957 starting in Canberra.

The first major innovation in post war Australian baseball was to play the game at night under lights; this was first done in late 1952 Adelaide. It wasn’t until the 1970s when the quality of lights improved and the second innovation was summer baseball.

Summer baseball took of light a rocket to the moon. With summer baseball in the 1970s and 1980s efforts were made to raise the standards and public appeal to baseball in Australia. In 1978 Australia made it first appearance at the World Series in Italy, and in the same year a team of 18-year-olds visited the USA.

An American batting coach toured Australia in 1979 and in 1980 federal government funding helped appoint the first National Coaching Director. July/August 1981 an Australian team toured the US and Canada.

In 1988 an Australian team appeared at the Olympic Games in Korea where baseball was a demonstration sport.

A nation competition started in the summer of 1989/1990 in Perth Western Australia and although the crowd attendance and publicity were disappointing the new league received encouraging sponsorship and has continued to grow year by year. All teams, now numbering 8 have their affiliation with an American Major League team in the US with several American professionals playing here.

The strength of our game is so strong that the MLB scouts are out every year with their cheque books sifting through our abundant talent. With Aussie players like Dave Nilsson, Graeme Lloyd, Craig Shipley (retired March’99) , Shayne Bennett, Mark Hutton just to name a handful playing in the world’s greatest competition MLB in the US, we must be very proud and aware that we have taken to baseball in one big way…

ITALIA XXXIII Baseball World Cup Italy 1998

Australia’s resurgence began at last year’s Intercontinental Cup in Barcelona. The team, featuring many new players, won a brilliant third place, beating the US 7-6 in the bronze medal game. Paul Gonzales was the tournament’s Most Valued Player, with the best batting average (.600 – 12 from 20), and the best RBI – 16. This is Australia’s fifth World Cup, their best result being eighth place in Japan in 1980.

The representatives of Oceania are confident about the World Cup and feel the gold medal could be theirs: “We like to keep the game as simple as possible. Our goal is to attack each and every opponent without fear. we are an experienced team that focuses on the basic fundamentals and our natural ability. Our main attributes are power throughout the batting order and a defence that can be counted on to consistently make the routine play.”

Much is expected of the Australians, who will be fielding a very competitive side, and looking forward to the two international competitions they are hosting in the near future: the XIV Intercontinental Cup in 1999 and the Olympic Games the following year, both in the magnificent stadiums of Sydney.

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