"And the public has been left to guess the secret"; questioning the authorship of the Great Match, and other Matches (1877).
Critical assessments of The Great Match have differed widely because of readers' expectations based on genre. The primary reason for these variations is that the book was published anonymously, and the author's gender and identity have remained a mystery. Readers expecting either traditional nineteenth-century boys' fiction or sentimental romance find The Great Match disappointing. The central character is the young fanette Molly Milton, and most of the baseball discussions filter through her perspective. While the novel includes plenty of action--baseball, fistfights, body building, and scandal--this is not the primary focus. Instead, such details contribute to the heroine's observations as Molly considers which, if any, of the male characters qualifies as a suitable romantic match for her. Meanwhile, the central male character, Dick Softy, considers which woman, if any, would make a suitable match for him. This brings new meaning to the title, since the championship ballgame might be the "Great Match," with other romantic matches integral to the plot; or, the romance between the heroine and her unexpected hero could be the "Great Match," with baseball and other events in the background.
While romance is a central theme, the novel is not purely sentimental. Most sentimental fiction is interior, contemplative, and focuses on the workings of the heart. Its heroines are sedentary and spend most of their time in parlors, bay windows, or bedchambers--thinking, reading, talking, and writing about life rather than actively living it. By contrast, the heroine in The Great Match is "a coming woman": Molly moves outdoors, involves herself in the baseball team's business, cheers aggressively at games, and participates as an active member of the community. She knows which players have broad chests, solid shoulders, and strong legs but places greater value on moral strength. The novel's hybrid genre and nontraditional heroine have helped keep its author's identity a mystery.
The Great Match was the fifth volume of Roberts Brothers' No Name Series, which the publisher advertised as a series of Original American Novels and Tales, to be published Anonymously. These novels are to be written by eminent authors, and in each case the authorship of the work is to remain an inviolable secret. "No Name" describes the Series perfectly. No name will help the novel, or the story, to success. Its success will depend solely on the writer's ability to catch and retain the reader's interest. Several of the most distinguished writers of American fiction have agreed to contribute to the Series.
This announcement originally appeared in the Boston Daily Advertiser during midsummer 1876, and the publisher also included it in the front matter of each new volume. Formed in 1863, Roberts Brothers had originally specialized in juvenile fiction, but then expanded to publish books for adults. Thomas Niles led the firm, and one of his early successes was signing Louisa May Alcott, who published Little Women with Roberts Brothers in 1868. (1) However, when the national economy faltered, the popularity of Alcott's work was not enough to sustain the entire business. During the "Long Depression" following the Panic of 1873, all publishers struggled, and as a smaller firm trying to win market share from more established rivals, Roberts Brothers needed a gimmick to sell books. Thus, Niles developed the brilliant strategy of the No Name Series. The mystery of writers' identities created a buzz in the literary world, and people bought the books to uncover clues to their authorship. Readers also bought other Roberts Brothers titles, hoping to detect similarities between identified authors and the anonymous works. In August 1877, a Roberts Brothers advertisement claimed "40,000 buyers" and "200,000 readers" had enjoyed the first seven books in the series. (2) Readers and critics quickly determined a few No Name authors--most notably Louisa May Alcott's A Modern Mephistopheles (published right after The Great Match in March 1877)--but others remained a mystery.
The Great Match has been one of the most difficult No Name novels to attribute because Roberts Brothers kept even its author's gender ambiguous. In their August 1877 review of the novel, Scribner's Monthly noted, "We have adopted the masculine pronoun for the ... author, mainly for variety's sake. One of the most interesting discoveries about the 'No Name' novels is that it is impossible to decide positively whether or not any given one is from the hand of a male or a female writer." (3)
Some contemporary readers and reviewers believed they had identified The Great Match as written by "P. Thorne," and in 1879, Roberts Bothers' own advertisement for the book quoted the following review from the Boston Daily Advertiser.
It is a satire on the small interests, great excitements, and petty jealousies of small towns, typified by Dornfield and Milltown, easily recognized by the reader as two of the pretty towns on the Connecticut River. The event of the book, the only event, is a base-ball match, but out of it grow several love affairs. Summer visitors, the affected youth spoiled by European travel, and the thin, learned Boston girl, come in for a share of the author's overflowing and good-natured satire. There are touches of real wit, of artistic taste, of a genuine love for nature and all true and sweet things scattered through the story, which has strong internal evidence of being written by "P. Thorne."
By 1877, "P. Thorne" was widely known to be Mary P. Wells Smith, who published her first story under the pseudonym in The Springfield Republican in 1862. (4) However, in the same advertisement as the "P. Thorne" reference, the publisher fueled ambiguity about the author's gender by quoting a review from the Philadelphia Press, which emphasizes the novel's more masculine baseball content:
The author has shown no small ingenuity in making a great match of base ball the foundation of this pleasant and effective narrative. Base ball (facetiously called "Our National Game," albeit only an adaptation of the English "rounders") is elevated in this story into an active element of amusement, connected with which are the incidents which, adroitly worked up, complete the plot. If any one wishes to witness a well-foughten game of base ball, without the crushing, the dust, even the danger (for the ball sometimes hits the spectators and damages their features), let him read "The Great Match," and he will learn all about it.
Interestingly, this review reveals debates over the origins and status of baseball, topics the novel itself also addresses, pitting local followers of the National Game against twenty-six-year-old Grandhurst, who had spent the past decade living in Europe and saw baseball as "unscientific" and far inferior to cricket. By including two distinctly gendered views of the novel, this advertisement deliberately appeals to both male and female readers. Roberts Brothers printed this advertisement in the back pages of their other books.
Despite the novel's strong reception, its author resisted the temptation to take credit for it and honored the No Name contract, keeping the "inviolable secret." As a result, other readers proposed a different author than Smith. On July 28, 1881, The Independent reprinted a list of speculated No Name Series authors from the Boston Courier, which suggested "Professor John Trowbridge" as author of The Great Match. (5) Since The Independent was one of the leading literary magazines, this Trowbridge reference took root.
On January 26,1884, The Literary World answered a reader's inquiry about authors of the No Name novels: "These novels were all published anonymously, and the public has been left to guess the secret." The magazine published a key listing all the series titles and identifying some authors. The editor asserts the key "is as nearly complete as we can make it, and may be accepted as probably accurate so far as it goes." Guesses for many novels are still blank, and The Great Match is the only novel for which they list two potential candidates: "Mrs. Mary P. Wells" and "Prof. John Trowbridge." (6)
The next Trowbridge reference came in a January 1935 American Literature article, "'No Names' and 'Round Robins.'" Identifying known authors of novels in the No Name Series, Aubrey Starke explains, "These lists, with dates of publication and the names of the authors, were furnished me by Mr. H. G. Halladay of Little, Brown & Company (successors to Roberts Brothers, and owners of the Roberts Brothers record books)." The article names John Townsend Trowbridge as author of The Great Match, but an asterisk next to this title indicates Starke still had some doubts. Although the article offers no further discussion of The Great Match, it seems to be one of two titles which Starke believed had been previously misattributed in Samuel Halkett and John Laing's Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous English Literature (1926). This reference actually lists Mary P. Wells Smith as the novel's author. (7) Starke's relying on Halladay's reports in 1935 questions whether records were still complete and accurate by then. Roberts Brothers published the novel in early spring 1877 and reissued it only once in 1880, as part of a collection of the fourteen-volume first series of No Name books. (8) When the publisher could no longer compete with larger rivals, Little, Brown purchased Roberts Brothers in 1898 or 1899. (9) This change in ownership and a span of fifty-eight years since the novel's initial publication cast doubts upon the accuracy of Starke's attribution.
Although no evidence beyond these scant references supports that Trowbridge wrote The Great Match, today the Library of Congress lists him as the book's author. Yet, the question of authorship is further complicated because some existing copies of the novel have "Smith" or "Mary P. Wells Smith" penciled on the title page. (10) Published library catalogs from the late 1800s show a strong consensus that Smith wrote The Great Match. Most telling is the Boston Public Library's April 1877 catalog, which lists The Great Match with the following note: "Attributed to Miss Wells, of Greenfield, who has also written under the pseudonym of P. Thorne." This appeared just two months after the novel's original publication." Since contemporary reviews and bibliographic information provide no definitive answer to the question of authorship, we must turn to biographical information about the proposed authors and textual evidence in the novel.
Details in The Great Match penetrate to every level of local culture, so the novel's author must have had intimate experience with rural western Massachusetts life and language. John Townsend Trowbridge had no such background. He was born September 18, 1827, in Ogden, New York, just west of Rochester. After his father died, he enrolled at nearby Lockport Academy then taught school in Du Page County, Illinois (just west of Chicago), and Lockport, before heading to New York City in 1847 to pursue a writing career. Trowbridge moved to Boston the following year and remained there most of his life. A prolific novelist and poet, he was best known for writing local color and moral fiction, particularly for adolescent boys. His works include two antislavery novels--Neighbor Jackwood (1857) and Cudjo's Cave (1864)--and a non-fiction book about the ravages of the Civil War: A Picture of the Desolated States; and the Work of Restoration, 1865-1868 (1868). Today, his best-known work is the 1869 poem "Darius Green and His Fly Machine," about a boy who tried to fly. Trowbridge died February 12, 1916, in Arlington, Massachusetts, northwest of Boston. While his biography supports that he could have written The Great Match if it were purely boys' fiction, its sentimental themes, western Massachusetts setting, and linguistic style are beyond the scope of his known work. Plus, his 1903 autobiography My Own Story with Recollections of Noted Persons does not mention a baseball novel. (12)
Unlike Trowbridge, Mary P. Wells Smith had the background to write The Great Match. Her father Noah S. Wells was from Deerfield, Massachusetts, and studied medicine at Yale. He began his career as a physician in Attica, New York, and married Ester Nims Coleman. Mary, their first of two children, was born on January 23, 1840, and their son Thaddeus Coleman Wells was born three years later. The family moved back to Greenfield, Massachusetts, in 1848, and except for a short time away at school, Mary lived there until she was thirty-five, leaving just two years before Roberts Brothers published The Great Match. She graduated from Hartford Female Seminary in 1859 and taught school in Greenfield from 1859 to 1861. (13) During the 1850s, Dr. Wells quit his medical practice and began serving in various public positions, including town clerk, treasurer, and clerk of courts. (14) These combined professions in medicine and politics help explain how his daughter might have acquired the knowledge that informs characters and plot in The Great Match.
From 1870 to 1872, Mary P. Wells Smith spent two years studying art at the Philadelphia School of Design and then taught drawing at Greenfield High School from 1872 until she married in 1875. Smith's own artistic training informs the novel's descriptions of women's arts, sketching, samplers, and other needlework. The narrator has a keen view of art and also uses aesthetic judgment to distinguish between towns: "While chromos were welcomed in Milltown, and were fast replacing masterpieces in hair, weeping-willows over tombstones, and oil paintings, the work of that man who founded the horse-car school of painting, Dornfield had passed chromos, and had made rapid strides toward higher art" (15). "The horse-car school" refers to itinerant artists who traveled by wagon across the countryside, painting whatever their newly rich patrons desired, filling their homes with family portraits and pictures of their farms and prized livestock. Mary P. Wells Smith despised such "art." (15)
Settings in the novel resemble Smith's own painting, particularly rural landscapes focusing on brooks and small, secret ponds tucked away in the woods. In the novel, these become settings for romantic walks and occasional mishaps. When Grandhurst spent time with Molly Milton or Miss Gould, another Dornfield girl, they often discussed American versus European landscape painting. A frail and boring young woman, Miss Gould carried a sketchbook everywhere, including the final ball game. Impressed by the players' physical forms, she sighed, "I think that a sculptor could get some ideas, ... if they should study the attitudes of the ball-players. See that young man standing, resting his arm upon the shoulder of a friend. The pose is admirable" (278). This echoes anatomical observations Molly makes throughout the novel, though hers more sensuously note well-developed muscles and the fit of players' uniforms. Whether in dialogue or expressed by the narrator, these perspectives on the male form are decidedly feminine, surpassing mere aesthetic appreciation as the girls size up potential suitors. The novel's attention to descriptions of men's wardrobes and women's dresses also far exceeds what a male author would write--in specific detail, use of terms, and overall attitudes towards style, including the impracticality of overly ornate gowns. Smith also pays close attention to detail in other fashion accessories, including hats, shoes, and jewelry. "Base-ball bats, crossed with a gilt ball at the juncture, were favorite breastpins" (79).
Aside from writing and art, the area of Smith's life that drew the greatest public attention was her devotion to the fight for women's rights. Even as a young woman, she demonstrated strength and independence. Employment outside the home was unusual for women in the 1860s, but Mary P. Wells Smith became the first female bank employee in Massachusetts and worked as a clerk at Franklin Savings Bank in Greenfield for eight years, from 1861 to 1869. She resigned after discovering a male co-worker was earning much more for doing the same work. The bank offered her a raise, but not enough to put her on par with him. (16) This portion of Smith's biography certainly fits Molly's character. Though not employed, Molly still rejected the "proper" role for women of her age and social stature, wishing she could play ball too. While Smith presents this as a strong feminist message, many contemporary reviewers judged it as a vulgar flaw in the book, since few authors dared present such outspoken female characters.
While working for the bank, Smith began publishing short literary pieces in newspapers and magazines. After resigning, she published an essay promoting the progressive woman in the May 1870 issue of Lippincott's Magazine:
The Coming Woman will have the great advantage of being brought up by the Coming Father and Mother. ... Those estimable people ... will judiciously encourage her to tan her face, scratch her hands, spread her feet out going barefoot, climb trees and fences, slide down hill, wade in brooks, run races, make mud-pies, ride on hay-carts. They won't faint away if they happen to detect her whistling. On the contrary, they will be delighted, knowing that whistling is a sure indication of strong vitality. (17)
These activities not only describe Smith's view of her own girlhood, but also anticipate her heroine in The Great Match. Grandhurst repeatedly called Molly "hoydenish," but even in 1870 Smith looked forward to the days when "'Hoyden' and 'Tomboy' ... [would] be obsolete terms." She also believed a girl should be educated for whatever "occupation or art she shows a decided taste" and should be expected to do something--"to have a living interest in the world and all its doings. ... [S]he will be recognized as an independent, individual soul, free to work out her own life in her own way." This includes not only choosing her own mate, but deciding whether to marry at all. (18) Molly's character illustrates these ideals, but members of Dornfield's traditional society questioned whether activities such as baseball were suitable for proper women. This becomes a major theme in The Great Match, as Dornfield matrons scrutinize why Mr. Milton allows his niece to attend games, use "crude" baseball slang, and host celebrations for the players. She is "a perfect furnace of impulses and unregulated enthusiasms" (131). (19)
Smith's biography makes her the more likely author of The Great Match, and this is further supported by linguistic and content similarities between the novel and her other known works. She published at least twenty-one novels, with themes ranging from children's lives in rural Massachusetts and Cincinnati, to historical fiction about events before, during, and after the Revolutionary War. Most appeal to teen audiences, and all offer a moral message. She published two novels before The Great Match: Jolly Good Times (serialized in the Christian Union in 1870 and published by Roberts Brothers in 1875) and Jolly Good Times at School (Roberts Brothers, 1877). The Great Match shares similar style and voice with these works and features the same rural Massachusetts setting. The central characters in the Jolly Good Times books--Millie and her brother Teddy--draw from Mary P. Wells Smith's close relationship with her brother Thaddeus, but also anticipate the close friendship between Molly Milton and Bobbie Snevel in The Great Match. And finally, most authors who published regularly with Roberts Brothers wrote at least one novel for the No Name Series, yet no other volume has been attributed to Smith. (20)
The novel Smith published after The Great Match--The Browns (Roberts Brothers, 1884)--is similar in style to the previous three but is set in Cincinnati, where the author had been living since 1875, when she married Fayette Smith, a judge with four young children: Fayette (born about 1861), Royal (born about 1863), Constance (born about 1866), and Arthur (born about 1870). The couple had another daughter, Agnes, in 1880. (21) Helping raise three boys in Cincinnati during the 1870s surely would have expanded the author's knowledge of baseball.
A hotbed of early professional baseball, Cincinnati had formed the first fully professional, all-salaried team in 1869. Although the city had no National Association team when Smith arrived in the spring of 1875, "In August 1875, ... local businessmen organized a team that played some games during the last month of the season and then became a charter member of the National League in 1876." The first incarnation of this team--called the Reds--lasted through June 1877.(22) During the 1876 season, the Reds began promoting Ladies' Day to attract female fans. (23) The same year, Fayette Smith "was elected judge of the Common Pleas Court of Ohio." (24) In his legal, judicial, and social position, he likely would have known Oliver Perry Caylor, the Cincinnati attorney who became a sportswriter for the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1874 and began " [serving] as the Reds' official scorer" in 1876. (25) The novel discusses both men and women scoring the game and reveals at least a competent understanding of how this process works. During the championship game, "Young ladies chatted merrily with young gentlemen seated on the more eligible benches, and were taught how to record the events of the game" (286).
Living in Cincinnati would have also exposed Smith to other aspects of baseball culture. One hotly contested issue was whether beer and other liquor should be served at games. During the 1876 season, Jimmy Hallinan, the Reds' "second baseman-outfielder ... [had to be) bailed out of jail after a barroom fight." (26) Hallinan's notorious drinking could be reflected in the Dornfield nine's pitcher Pat O'Callahan. Gambling themes that fuel the novel also have precedent in Cincinnati and surrounding baseball communities. The most notorious of these scandals surfaced in 1877, the year the novel was published, when four members of the Louisville Grays were at the center of an infamous gambling scandal. Immortalized as "The Louisville Four," James A. Devlin, William H. Craver, George Hall, and Al Nichols threw games for money.
Smith's authorship of The Great Match is further supported by multiple references to baseball in The Browns. Early mentions emphasize differences between rural and urban cultures: "Boys in a city live a border-warfare life. Sports innocent enough in country-fields, become dangerous and destructive on crowded streets." During recess at school, one character tells another, "Mike and Jim and I are going out to the Base Ball Park tomorrow afternoon, to see the great match between the Cincinnatis and Louisvilles. It's going to be the biggest thing of the season,--a regular drawn game. We want you to go along with us." The recipient of this invitation was a fan much like young Bobbie Snevel in The Great Match: "Don would not have been a human boy if he had not also been a base-ball enthusiast. He was always down early, the morning after a game, to look at the score before his father read the paper; and his spirits rose or fell with the Cincinnatis' triumphs or defeats." (27) And like young Snevel, Don's passion for the game often clouds his judgment: he lets the older boys dupe him into paying their carfare, buying their game tickets, and even treating for refreshments. The boys' language and details about the game closely resemble those in The Great Match.
Knowing the author of The Great Match does more than solve a bibliographic mystery; it also influences how we might read and assess the novel, plus how we might use it as an artifact in augmenting our understanding of baseball history. When we read the novel as written by Mary P. Wells Smith, we can appreciate the baseball scenes but also understand why they lack some of the more extensive play-by-play details found in later male-authored novels such as Noah Brooks's The Fairport Nine (1880) or Our Base Ball Club and How It Won the Championship (1884).
In literary terms, The Great Match fits the style of local color fiction, a sub-genre of realism which depicts small towns through local customs, language, and characters. Authors who most notably employed local color include Louisa May Alcott, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Sarah Orne Jewett. These stories are often nostalgic, longing for simpler days before industrialization and urbanization. In The Great Match, we see this tension between progress and tradition as the author describes Milltown thriving in the present versus Dornfield "cling[ing] to the past" (235). As noted in the Boston Daily Advertiser review, these two fictional communities are "easily recognized ... as two of the pretty towns on the Connecticut River." In the novel, the two towns create tension for the baseball plot. Milltown was a growing urban center, "situated on a river," which businesses dammed for power, making the town a "seat of manufactories" and "a bustling money-making place" (7). It "sprang up" during the Civil War to produce cotton goods and other military supplies shipped via railroad (7). All this commercial vitality brought a new generation of young men "flood[ing] to Milltown" to work the new jobs but also to enjoy the modern town's stores, entertainment, and fashion (8). Many of these young men came from rural communities like Dornfield, which was five miles away from Milltown, "in the centre of a fine agricultural country" (7). A stop on the stage route between Albany and "the metropolis" (i.e., Boston), Dornfield had just one general store to provide basic needs. These major geographical references suggest the Massachusetts towns of Greenfield and Deerfield as the most logical inspirations for the fictional setting.
Since Milltown only "sprang up" (7) during the past generation, "no one [there] seemed to have superfluous ancestors," and the local library contained "no genealogies of local ancestry" (11). Socioeconomic movement between poverty and wealth was quick and widespread, so residents treated each other more democratically, with little distinction between classes. By contrast, Dornfield had a rigid aristocratic social structure, with some families tracing their ancestry back to the Mayflower (11-13). Simply put, "Milltown had the money, and Dornfield the aristocracy" (11). In Dornfield, the best families had "old substantial mansions built a hundred years ago ... [in which] the owners preserved with jealous care the samplers worked by their female ancestors, the spinning-wheels, the antique clocks, and the straight-backed chairs" (13). Since Milltown residents had no inherited possessions, the railroad brought infusions of material goods, such as "Mrs. Page's new set of china-ware" (9). Using such feminine objects to describe the towns again suggests a female author. Yet, baseball also permeates social customs in these fictional communities. Due to intense rivalries, baseball was not just a hobby in Dornfield: "For a time, greater interests were forgotten, and the entire community played ball. There was a rush for the daily paper, and the base-ball news was read from the post-office steps by the young men, and eagerly listened to by the old" (76-77). Perceptions of the feud varied between generations: older residents saw it as a matter of pride, and young people were eager to settle offenses. "The democracy had an overruling desire to whip the aristocracy," and such disputes "could only be allayed by a complete victory at the bat" (76).
Local color fiction often reveals differences between communities by viewing them through the lens of an outsider. In The Great Match, Grandhurst serves this function, and baseball enters the story when he steps off the train: Grandhurst immediately perceived that there was some great excitement: the platform was covered with young men and boys, many of whom were dressed in base-ball costumes. Shout upon shout rent the air. Presently a young man was mounted upon the shoulders of the crowd, and, preceded by boys beating drums and gongs, he was carried at a run up the village street.
"What is the excitement?" asked Grandhurst, as he stepped upon the platform.
"A goose-egg!" shouted the man. (17)
The man born aloft was Ned Black, captain of the Dornfield nine, and the crowd was cheering because the team had held their Milltown rivals scoreless. Grandhurst was unimpressed by the celebration: "Some base-ball nonsense, I suppose. ... The whole town seems to be in a furore [sic]" (17). Grandhurst was more concerned with locating transportation to Dornfield. When he finally found the stagecoach, "The top ... was already covered with a crowd of base-ball players; and the inside was apparently full," but those inside made room for him (18). Offended by the rowdy bunch, Grandhurst preferred to hire someone with a wagon to carry him to his destination. Later, finding a crowd of villagers congregated on his host Tom Milton's veranda, Grandhurst tried to join in the conversation. Milton attempted to explain the cause for celebration: "[I]t was an extraordinary match, all agree. Our boys covered themselves with glory. ... There is something about base ball that stirs the blood even in my old veins. It's our national game, sir. That is the reason for it" (23). The outsider still did not understand. When Milton invited everyone into his home for ice cream and champagne, Grandhurst muttered, "what an absurd fuss this is over some cracked base-ball players! If it were only cricket, you know,--but base ball, rounders, and that sort of thing!" (30). Bobbie Snevel, a young baseball enthusiast, had a clear view of Grandhurst: "Don't know a thing about base ball; calls it rounders, and says it aint half as scientific as cricket. Oh, he's a muff" (84).
The Great Match explores baseball's effect on nearly every facet of small-town society, including religion. The rough behavior, crude language, drinking, and gambling associated with baseball drew attention from local clergy, and "ministers in both towns found it necessary to preach sermons on brotherly love, and the sin of excitement in all things" (79). But even these views varied between the towns. Dornfield held to Protestant tradition, preaching against vice, greed, wealth, and other evils surrounding the game (11). Mr. Denham, the Dornfield minister, "felt that a crisis had come in his pastorship in the village: during the progress of this ball excitement he had noticed an increase of idleness; a falling off in the attendance on the Friday evening meetings ... an indulgence in slang phrases, and, possibly also, in those of a more-to-be-condemned nature. He feared that beer-drinking was also on the increase." To curb such behavior, "He wrote a sermon ... on the evils of ball-playing" (266). "Some ... deacons of the church began to denounce base ball, and pointed to [Dornfield's hired pitcher] Pat O'Callahan as a proof that it encouraged drinking" (110). Deacon Brown interpreted the "increase of drinking and idleness" (186) as signs that "this ball excitement" was leading the town to evil. For his own part, he said, "I keep my son carefully away from base ball" (196). However, all of this righteous talk could not stand up to the power of sport. During the championship game, Minister Denham heard shouts and cussing, then went to check "the progress of the game, and grew insensibly interested" (287). Meanwhile, Milltown favored the Universal Church, whose progressive minister saw a benefit to baseball: "This base-ball enthusiasm is a good thing. It keeps the young men in good physical condition, and substitutes out-of-door exercise for in-door dissipation. I should like to play in a game myself" (235).
With its emphasis on moral choices and romantic relationships, the novel's plot falls in the didactic tradition of early American women's novels, like Hannah Webster Foster's The Coquette; or, The History of Eliza Wharton (1797). In that book, the title character is a no-longer-young single woman, weighing her options for marriage. Her suitors are types: military men, a minister, a rake. Such novels gave young female readers an opportunity to live vicariously through the characters' failed romances, thus enabling readers to avoid poor decisions in their own lives. (28) Read in this light, The Great Match provides an important moral to female readers: do not fall for the flashy baseball star just because he plays well and looks good in the uniform--he might be a dishonest cad. While male authors also occasionally wrote such novels, much evidence in The Great Match suggests a feminine voice. Interestingly, however, the novel serves a similar didactic purpose for young men, who can learn from male characters' mistakes and try to live their own lives more honorably. Choosing the right mate is just as important for men, and the narrator states, "The young man who marries early, and settles down to his married life before he has got into the thirties, may have many responsibilities and quick-coming cares" (210).
Even illustrations from the beginning of chapter one combine romance with a feminine view of baseball. An amusing drawing on the page facing the beginning of chapter one shows three chubby cherubs marching in a row. The first carries a baseball, and the others hoist a thick bat on their shoulders. This suggests cupids planning to unite lovers using different weapons than their traditional bows and arrows.
The illustration on the first page of text shows two fanettes contemplating the players while a pair of lovebirds flits beneath them. The women represent Molly Milton--the dark-haired heroine--and Rose Snevel--the fair, naive daughter of a drunken widower. Illustrations in typical sentimental fiction often show heroines holding novels or books of poetry, but here Molly holds a newspaper, likely with stories about the team, showing her active interest in their efforts.
In The Great Match, Smith uses traditional stereotypes of dark women as dangerously sensual and fair women as more submissive and socially desirable. Molly has dark hair, rosy sun-kissed cheeks, and a strong constitution. She certainly still contemplates love, but moral and physical fitness are her ideals. Bobbie Snevel tells his sister Rose, "[Molly] is always ready for any thing. She knows all about base ball, and can do every thing" (153). Grandhurst and Mr. Silvers, representing Dornfield's old aristocracy, did not share the boy's view of the game. Silvers noted, "Dreadful tiresome, this base-ball enthusiasm. ... I wonder how old Tom Milton, who is an eminently respectable old gentleman, can be so interested, and allow that niece of his to be so wild over base-ball players" (37). Grandhurst replied, "She is a sort of Di Vernon, isn't she?" (37). He evoked this name of Sir Walter Scott's royalist heroine in Rob Roy (1817) to show Molly as a champion for her team and her town. Mr. Silver elaborated: "She ... understands all the affairs of this base-ball nine as well as one of the players; works them flags; ties up their broken fingers; and bets on them, for aught I know" (38). Despite others' concerns, Tom Milton was proud of his smart, beautiful niece and completely trusted her judgment: "Molly is a pure specimen of a downright Yankee girl, and ... hasn't any nonsense and parlez vous about her" (38). At "a base-ball feast" to celebrate the victory, Molly "wore a blue sash: for blue was the color of the Dornfield nine" (40-41). Flirting with the team, "She held a base ball in her hand, and continually threw it at some valiant player, who caught it and threw it back," but she would jump behind Ned, the handsome team captain, and let him catch it for her (41). Molly boasted to Mrs. Silver, "I've got to look out for the boys, and see that they have a good time" (46). Questioning her behavior, Mr. Silver commented to Grandhurst, "You ought to see her riding about town in a pony-wagon, generally with a base-ball player in the basket-seat of the footman. She knows all the dogs in town, and whistles them after her" (46).
By contrast, Rose is quiet and submissive, with blonde hair and pale skin--the Victorian ideal of "true womanhood." The novel's narrator describes Rose as "a pretty picture to look at, like a design upon French china,--but a very insipid sort of thing" (64). Her delicate constitution is easily disturbed. The antithesis of "The Coming Woman," Rose represses her own feelings to act her public role as daughter and young woman. "Rose didn't know any thing about base ball" (106) and felt somewhat guilty for falling in love with the baseball hero Ned, but hoped his new position as a bank clerk would help him rise in respectability. She devoted much time and effort to fashion and sat in her window seat, pining away after her lover. When Ned jilted Rose, she had no self-worth and even tried to drown herself in a stream. Afterwards, she was sick for months, not because of the water, but because of her broken heart. Meanwhile, Ned's true reason for jilting Rose was to pursue her friend Molly.
Just as Smith presents Molly and Rose as foils, the male characters Ned Black and Dick Softy represent different views of manhood: Ned is physically strong but morally weak; Dick is morally strong but initially appears physically weak.
Ned Black was simple; "The only amusement he seemed to have was base ball" (85). A star catcher and able batsman, he served as captain of the Dorn-field nine.
No one could catch as he could. The balls resigned themselves to their fate, and "curbed their bright career" wherever he was. Even the bat seemed instinct with life in his hands. He hit no safe flies to the fielders. The ball rebounded from his bat, through the legs of the most active short-stop, took quick and unexpected turns, like a gray rabbit, past the bases, and ricochetted [sic] over the heads of the panting fielders. (85)
Adding a boy's perspective on this diamond hero, young Bobbie Snevel declared, "I've seen him jump three feet, and catch a red-hot one" (107). "There's no beating a nine that has got Ned Black for catcher. Then, he is an awful good batter! Did you see him make that drive through centre-field in our last game?" (137). Bobbie modeled his own play after Ned: "I tried to catch like you, ... and I hit the balls down into grounders, just as you do, so as the fellers wouldn't catch me out" (245). This hero worship extends beyond the field, and Bobbie tells his sister Rose, "I'm proud to see you with him, for all the fellers look at him and you, and say, 'That's Black, the captain of the Dorn-field nine. 'I'm proud that we know him so well" (70-71). But Bobbie also has high expectations for how Ned should treat Rose:"[W]hen a feller takes a girl to a party, he ought not to leave her to wander round alone, as he did you." Rose replies,"[H]e is captain of the nine, and much attention was given him, and required of him" (70). She naively sacrificed some of his attention for the sake of sentimental romance.
Ned's actions repeatedly challenge the boy's loyalty. After Ned sent Rose a note ending their engagement, she succumbed to despair, and Mr. Snevel told his son, "No ball-playing to-day, Bobbie. You must stay at home and see to your sister" (257). The boy was disappointed because he was to have played with the Dornfield team that day. "He had dreamed of the event all night, and had been up very early fixing the lacings of his shoes. ... His love for his sister and pride for his base-ball leader struggled together" (257). Bobbie also some-times questioned Ned's ethics on the field, such as "running against that little Smithers on the Milltown nine. Fellers say that he did it on purpose to make the Milltown nine put another man on first base" (34). But the final blow came when Ned disappointed Bobbie and the rest of Dornfield by using his role on the team for personal gain. Hoping to get rich quickly, Ned entered a stock agreement with some New Yorkers he met in Milltown. Needing investment capital, he illegitimately "borrowed" from the bank where he was clerking, but when business went bad, he could not replace the money and agreed to fix the championship baseball game. As catcher, Ned was well positioned to throw the game, but his decision to do so was more difficult than stealing from the bank--partly because he worried how his fans (and fanettes) would react if they knew. "The sentiment of honor is not sapped all at once: it yields to slow but persistent attacks" (97-98). Ned justified his actions to himself:
His heart sank a moment when he reflected that he had given bonds ... to lose this game in which Mr. Milton was so much interested. But, after all, it wouldn't make much difference to the rich man if they won or not. They could [make] a good fight. If they lost, they only forfeited a small share of reputation; and, with the money which he should gain, he should be immediately lifted out of his money difficulties, and the way to Miss Milton's heart would be straight and clear. (252-53)
While everyone else only turned against Ned after his plot was revealed, Dick Softy had recognized his rival's moral and intellectual weaknesses from the beginning. Dick's response conveys the novel's lesson.
Most of Smith's fictional writing is for young readers and incorporates strong morals. In "Betsey and Jacob: A True Hen Story," a sketch she published in the April 28, 1875, Christian Union, she describes a fictional doctor (modeled after her father) and two hens he had raised: Jacob, "a feeble and puny chicken," and Betsey, "a large, strong chicken." in a humorous plot of gender reversal, Jacob turns out to be a quality hen and Betsey a virile rooster. This in many ways fits the moral of The Great Match. Everyone assumed "Dick Softy" was an effeminate fop with no interest in women, and Molly teased that his role in life was "To read novels in a hammock, and go to [baseball] matches in slippers" (48). Early in the novel, Molly mocked Dick's bravery for daring to stray from his hammock to attend a ball game on such a warm day. She told Grandhurst, "[Dick] doesn't like to have the quiet of this pastoral neighbor-hood invaded by the fierce and dangerous excitement of a base-ball conflict. He sees floating before his eyes the maimed fingers and the blackened visages" (26). When alone with Dick, Molly further mocked him: "I never knew a man so proud of not being muscular as you are." He replied, "I'm cultivating my mind and a pair of lovely whiskers" (33). Later, Dick told Molly, "I can live very comfortably without base ball. Deused awkward, you know, to go through life with only one eye, and fingers like potato-balls" (47). She defended the game: "If I were a man, ... I'd play my part; and, if base ball were the part, I would play until all my fingers were as crooked as an eagle's claw" (48). Maimed hands were common before gloves caught on in the 1880s.
Unbeknownst to Ned, Dick also had feelings for Molly. She suspected this but still teased him terribly: "you are growing effeminate in your ways; and I long to see you true to those manly instincts which I know you have, and which you conceal under your indolent habits. I would have you like Ned Black,--active, energetic, with his whole body trained to be at the beck of a healthy mind" (118). Realizing Molly's interest in ballplayers, Dick began to remake himself, using calisthenics, weights, and running to strengthen his body. He was studying to be a doctor and "consulted his anatomical charts daily, to observe the development of certain muscles; and he devised special exercises to bring them out" (148). Dick also started riding Farmer Snell's wild stallion once a week because "it is necessary for the moral health to engage occasionally in some dangerous pleasure, or, rather, in some pursuit that requires fair exertion, to prevent danger" (150). Read between the lines, this could be a release of physical or sexual tension.
Aware that excelling on the baseball field was a sure path to Molly's heart, "[Dick] betook himself ... to practising [sic] with the bat" (87). He hired Pat O'Callahan to teach him to play, and they "practised daily ... until Dick could hold the hottest ball which Pat could throw." The pitcher advised, "When you see the ball coming, put the palms of yer two hands togither, ... and be ready to resave it. Draw 'em away jist a bit, when the ball touches 'em" (88). When Pat hit him a few to practice fielding, "[Dick's] successful capture of a hot ball from Pat's bat was not entirely pleasure unalloyed; for his little finger got in the way, and made its importance felt in the economy of the hand" (89). Dick "practised catching in unusual positions, and was rewarded by great skill, and with dislocated finger-tips" (149). He also learned to bat. Pat directed, "Now take the bat, and let me see you knock up a ball or two. Stand firm on your pins, throw the ball well up with the right hand, and thin seizing the bat, which ye have held meanwhile in your left, with two hands hit me a good one" (88). Dick "daily gained a little in the knack of catching hot balls and in batting" (88), and gradually his mentor became impressed with his playing. Aside from developing the plot, these scenes also illustrate the language of learning the game.
Dick did all this training in secret, so Molly was unaware of his efforts. She confided to her uncle, "[Dick] is so dreadful namby-pamby; ... I wish I knew of something that could rouse the fellow,--dynamite, nitro-glycerine [sic], or any thing" (121). The young man's avoidance of baseball bothered her even more: "He don't manifest the least interest in our approaching game. He ... has hired Bobbie Snevel to wake him out of his hammock at the seventh innings; for he says that two innings in a ball game is all he can stand" (122). With a fuller view of the situation, Mr. Milton suggested rousing Dick because "He is a fair subject for any girl to flirt with" (124). As Ned Black's moral lapses darkened his suitability as a match for Molly, Dick gained in stature. In the end, when Ned exposed his treason, Dick stepped forward and became the hero of The Great Match--both on the ballfield and in Molly's heart.
Beyond characters and general themes, some specific scenes in the novel strongly resemble details in Smith's other works. Perhaps the best example is the "Martha Washington tea-party" Molly hosts to help raise funds to support the Dornfield baseball team. In a March 24,1875, Christian Union article, "P. Thorne" described a similar event in "Our Dickens Party." To distract their minds from a particularly harsh winter, residents of Greenfield dressed up as characters from various Dickens works.
The ... church parlor was crowded with the queerest, must grotesque specimens of humanity ever seen outside a dream. The bonnets and caps alone were a spectacle to make dry bones laugh. For startling, antique, and unexpected bonnets and garments generally, there is no place like a quiet New England town, where every one has had a great-grandmother, and still carefully preserves her clothes laid away in big chests, or hanging in attic closets.
This event closely resembles the Martha Washington tea party in The Great Match. Molly hoped her female guests would dress in old gowns and wear caps and aprons like our founding mothers and that men would wear knickers, a popular style from the previous century. Such costumes required sources for old clothing, and Smith used the opportunity to emphasize Dornfield's rich ancestry compared to Milltown's new wealth and young family lines:
The Martha Washington tea-party was destined to make a great sensation. It was universally acknowledged that it was a much more refined affair to have than the fair, which was about to be held in Milltown for the benefit of their nine. After all, there was a very good reason for the Milltownites not having a Martha Washington tea-party: no one had any ancestors over there. There were no old gowns, no rich, brocaded silks, no colored stockings, which had been handed down. (173-74)
Molly convinced Rose Snevel to dress for the occasion: "In the attic, among her dear mother's old things, [Rose] remembered that there was a very rich silk, with large figures of flowers, of a quaint fashion. It had been the dress in which she had gone to the ball given in honor of Lafayette" (167). Smith also used this party to comment on class politics in Dornfield: "[M]any families which had hitherto held less prominent positions in society than others now came to the front, by reason of their accumulated heirlooms. And so the village society promised for once to meet on a level of good feeling" (176-77). Molly noted one couple's costume: Now, there comes Farmer Snell and his wife, dressed as they should be,--in the real old style. I'm going to thank them from the bottom of my heart. I declare they do look funny, though. ... Now, it is too bad: you can see the folks are looking at them in an amused way. They will be the only ones here dressed in the real old style. I must run and make my uncle put on his knee-breeches, to make Mr. Snell feel less awkward. (180)
Tom Milton commented on the event's unifying power: "This base-ball business is destined to unite all the diverse interests in the village. ... Dornfield has been a cliquey place; but this ball business, and the Martha Washington, bid fair to bring the folks together" (174).
As depicted in "Our Dickens Party," Smith had certainly participated in such nostalgic festivities and had great resources for her own attire. In America, the Wells family traces back to 1635, and "Mary's great-grandfather David Wells ... had been a colonel in the Revolutionary War regiment that captured ... John Burgoyne [at Saratoga] in 1777." (29) Smith also used the Martha Washington tea party scene to attack her own generation's slavish focus on French fashions as opposed to taking pride in American style.
Extending the contrast between towns, Smith described the fair Milltown residents held to support their team. Girls in stylish modern dress offered peanuts and popcorn and sold small goods to earn money for the team. "There were bushel-baskets full of pin-cushions made in the shape of hearts and forget-me-nots; there were base-balls painted with the letter M in different colors; there were prize ring-cakes made in the shape of a ball, and ornamented with bats and base-ball insignia in frost work; there were pans and pans of doughnuts, cut in the shape of champion players in every attitude." For ten cents per chance, they raffled off "the great tidy, worked in colors, illustrating a ball match" (229). Reading Smith's account of this fictional fair helps us better understand the origins of similar artifacts still treasured today.
The fair was democratic, but the newly rich certainly used the event to flaunt their wealth. Guests speculated one man might be worth a million and another half that. Mr. Bolder, a fabric manufacturer, applied his business principles to baseball: "Oh, I tell ye! science is the thing, and it's going to win this next game. You see, the reason we lost that last game was, there warn't a man in our nine fit to play: they had jist been down to the city to play the Harvards" (235). Bolder told friends, "I like to look on at a ball-game; but I have too much regard for my fingers to play" (235). Instead of participating on the field, he and other successful businessmen supported the team financially, and one had "just given a complete new uniform to the club, and two signal flags of crimson silk" (238-39). Others bestowed their support more directly.
The Great Match provides a unique view into the early professionalization of baseball. Although the rival nines were technically town teams, some players received financial incentives from local businessmen. Most of the Milltown players were at least semiprofessional. "Basics, the president of the Milltown Excelsior Mills, ... [paid] the players in the Milltown nine great salaries" (43). Except for the hired pitcher, most players on the Dornfield nine were just local men, playing for fun and honor. Explaining his support of the Dornfield team, Tom Milton said, "Perhaps I make it a little easier for the chaps to play" (44). This included providing uniforms, equipment, and transportation, but he also paid a salary to the star pitcher they recruited from another town.
Pat [O'Callahan] was a young Irishman, who had wonderful knack in pitching a ball. Some said, that, after traversing the distance between the pitcher and the batter, it began to describe a spiral around the would-be hitter's bat; and, even if it were hit, it became a foul ball, which Ned Black, who made a specialty of foul balls, was sure to secure. (71)
This early description of the curve ball is just one example of how Smith's narration informs us about how the game was played during the 1870s (30) Hiring O'Callahan was no small investment because the pitcher
understood his own value thoroughly; and the members of the nine, together with their patron, Mr. Tom Milton, had to pay a high price for his services. Fat was the most impecunious fellow in Dornfield. No one ever had so many poor brothers and cousins who were down sick all at the same time, and who required just ten dollars to make them comfortable. If the ten dollars were not forthcoming, Pat's heart was so tender that he could not practice with the nine. (71)
O'Callahan was extremely temperamental and would walk off the field if he felt offended by a teammate's words or actions. The pitcher also "had an unfortunate liking for the bottle" (30). The team would certainly have "[given] him his walking-card," except that they needed his pitching talent. Mr. Milton said of him: "He is a regular tyrant, and knows how dependent we are on him" (31). Milltown tried to lure him away with promises of more money, but Pat was loyal, largely because his benefactor was always bailing him out of jail. On one occasion when the Milltown judge wanted to keep the pitcher in jail, Milton argued his necessity to the local economy, and this led to a debate about the ballplayer's value to society. The Milltown judge asked, "Does playing ball contribute to the wealth of the country?" (73). In the week before the championship game, Tom Milton declared, "I'm out of pocket on [Pat's] account several hundred dollars" (270). Milton took great pride in his team, stating that Milltown might be "uppish" with its railroad and growing city, "But we can beat 'em at base ball" (43).
Rivalries fueled excitement in both towns. As the day of the great match approached, boys blocked the streets playing catch or batting balls, and "Every young man, as he went along the street, took a ball from his pocket, and amused himself throwing it from behind his back over his head, and catching it in apparently impossible ways; and nobby fingers became a glory to their possessors" (78). Village "matrons ... looked upon a base ball as an engine of death ... and cut out of the daily papers all the dreadful base-ball accidents, for the eyes of their sons" (77). Seizing the potential for business, "The doctor put up an advertisement, that special attention was paid to base-ball accidents" (78). The Milltown newspaper printed a cartoon of the annihilation their team would inflict upon Dornfield, and many men in both towns had bets riding on the championship game. Augustus Davis, treasurer of Duck Mills, put one hundred dollars on Milltown, and Mr. Milton countered with two hundred dollars, saying, "I don't care for the money, but my pride is up" (75).
Women also participated in the baseball frenzy, particularly young single women, who bought players' pictures from a local photographer. These fanettes "wore the colors, worked the colors, sang for the colors, and [acted] charades ... for the benefit of the nine. They listened with the most charming patience to long accounts of base-ball matters, and prided themselves upon their knowledge of the fine points of the game" (78). The women's involvement was not merely passive: "young ladies in both villages worked badges for their favorites, and even formed base-ball nines among themselves. They made bean-bags, and amused themselves in the cool, rainy days, pitching them about, to practise [sic] themselves in catching balls" (79). Among all of the fanettes, Molly Milton was most enthusiastic, and she even enlisted Bobby Snevel to spy on the Milltown practices. In an early report, he critiqued a Milltown infielder: "Their short-stop plays too wide too; and they let fellers steal bases right and left" (107). On another afternoon, Bobby watched Mill-town hold a practice game "with a club from a neighboring town" (135). While Molly and some of her peers were caught up in the baseball frenzy, older women did not always share their enthusiasm, and some wives feared "that the whole world would take to base-ball playing, to the exclusion of every useful pursuit" (79).
Everyone brought out their best clothes, rested their horses, and cleaned up their carriages for the big event.
Excursion trains were to be run to Milltown from the neighboring towns: for here was a good opportunity to make some money. A multitude of coaches were chartered to convey the crowd from Milltown to the green in Dornfield, where the last game was to be played. The stores and places of business in both villages were to be closed during the afternoon. The selectmen of Dornfield had many applications, from enterprising Milltownites, for permission to erect booths for the sale of lemon-ade and ginger-beer on the grounds; but they haughtily rejected them. (268)
The great match was a whole-day affair. "Long before the hour appointed for the game, the crowd began to come in from the neighboring villages. Troops of boys and young men walked through the quiet lanes of Dornfield, ... throwing base-balls across the street at each other, and shouting out their opinions of prominent players" (275). Mr. Milton told Grandhurst, "you will be glad you stayed over. We shall show you a real American game." The Europhile sarcastically replied, "I expect to be much edified by this game of rounders." Of course, Molly took exception to this: "But it isn't rounders, as you term the game ... You Englishmen never can be made to drop that idea" (247-48). The debate over baseball's genesis clearly has deep roots.
The teams had decided that Dornfield should elect an umpire for the first half of the game and Milltown for the second. This was a position of honor, but ironically, Tom Milton chose Grandhurst and "[posted] him up in the rules of the game" (278). Prior to this, his only field experience was playing cricket in England. Earlier in the novel, Mr. Silvers had asked Grandhurst, "do you understand this new language of base ball?" The young man replied, "I don't pretend to" (138). Grandhurst's perception of the event was more in line with the Silvers, who only attended the game to be seen, since it was the social event of the summer. Mr. Silver moaned that fans were "in for it for two mortal hours in the hot sun" (277) and told his wife:
When you've seen one inning, you've seen all there is to be seen. A fellar hits at a piece of stuffed leather. Doesn't hit it; whirls around after his coat-tails,--if he had any, he would. Does hit it; runs to the first base; is caught out, with immense applause. Another tries; gets round amid tumultuous cheering. You cheer, my dear; we all cheer. We don't know exactly why; but we do. It is just as if a lot of people had been condemned to sit on hard pine boards all the afternoon in a scorching sun, not expecting much, and perfectly delighted at seeing some kind fellow stand on his head once an hour. When you've seen one inning, you've seen all. (277-78)
At two o'clock, "The ball-men walked about in their new uniforms,--the Milltown nine in crimson leggings, and the Dornfield in blue; kicking aside bats, or tossing the ball to each other, and running about with that superfluous energy and strength which was a wonder to valetudinarians like Mr. Silver" (277). As pocket watches ticked past the appointed game time, "The crowd grew impatient. ... Every seat was filled, and the neighboring tree-tops were loaded with men and boys" (279). But Pat O'Callahan was late; the Mill town players had taken their strategy beyond the ballfield, getting the pitcher drunk and kidnapping him before the game. Anticipating this, the Dornfield team and its supporters had counted on Ned Black to guard O'Callahan, but letting down his vigilance was the captain's first step in fixing the game.
As everyone debated making substitutions or even forfeiting the game, Molly consulted Bobbie, knowing that he understood both teams better than anyone. The boy suggested substituting Dick Softy as pitcher because "He throws a real twister" (280). Ned and others scoffed, but then Ned's supervisor at the bank shared a revelation: "perhaps you do not know that Mr. Black intends to sell this game" (280). He also explained Ned's theft from the bank and declared, "I know Black to be a man thoroughly destitute of honor" (281). Mr. Milton offered a solution: let Dick pitch and keep Ned in the game until his own actions reveal his dishonesty. "[Dick's] heart throbbed with pleasure as Miss Milton took his hand in both of hers, and said, 'We depend upon you'" (283).
Finally the game could begin. "When the ball-players took their respective positions, there was great rejoicing" (283). "Dressed in an English plaid suit, in broad-soled walking shoes, [Umpire Grandhurst] ... stood in the neighborhood of the home base" (284-285). The crowd hissed at his poor calls. Among other things, Grandhurst did not understand "Why do they throw these balls so deusedly hard?" (285).
Dick Softy's appearance as pitcher for the Dornfield nine was greeted with astonishment; and his first throws were watched with the utmost interest. In a moment it was evident that he pitched fully as well as O'Callahan. Standing with his left side toward the man at the bat, he looked warily round the field at the different players, turning the ball in his fingers; and then, with lightning-like rapidity throwing his right foot forward, sent in the ball. It seemed to describe a curve, and when the Milltown players hit at it, eluded their blow, or flew off the bat in a foul ball. (283)
At first, Ned Black played well. "He seemed to know by instinct which way the rapidly twisting ball would rebound when it struck the earth at different angles; and, while apparently running away from the ball, it rebounded into his hands" (283-284). Only one batsman reached second, and Dick threw him out trying to steal third. Through four innings, "Dick's pitching seemed to demoralize the Milltown players," and Ned had not yet revealed his plot lo throw the game (287). Bui then hallway through, Ned began missing balls and making wild throws, so Milton removed him from the game. Fortunately, Pat O'Callahan showed up, telling everyone he had been kidnapped. When Pat went in to pitch, Dick shifted to catcher, a role he performed well since they had practiced together so often. As readers might expect from a romantic novel, the Dornfield team won the game, and Dick won Molly's heart.
The Great Match reveals a refreshing view of nineteenth-century women's attitudes towards baseball. Matriarchs see the game as an entirely male sphere, but Molly is different. This generational shift in values led to some disagreement among reviewers. Harper's New Monthly Magazine said of The Great Match, "A New England town wholly given up to base-ball is a monstrosity; so are the young ladies who talk a slang not known in the polite circles of New England, if any where." (31) A few months later, Scribner's Monthly declared, "We have seen criticisms taking this writer to task for letting his people talk slang; but this seems to us an evidence of how far away our newspaper critics have strayed from the healthy instinct which prefers real life to artificial bookish-ness, in current novels." The review continues, "The people who figure in The Great Match are not by any means perfectly drawn, but they affect us with a pleasant and vital presence, which calls out our sympathies in the right sort of way." (32)
Regardless of questions of authorship, The Great Match, and Other Matches holds a special place in baseball literature as the first novel centered around baseball--at least until we find another. While not a great novel, it is certainly important. One reviewer for Atlantic Monthly recognized The Great Match's significance in baseball bibliography:
This book is full of spring and summer coloring, apt to the approaching season on the eve of which it appears, and it drops from the press with an inspiring click as of the first base-ball that flies from the bat, announcing the end of winter. It is, in fine, a bright, attractive story of base-ball matches and matches of a more gentle sort, agreeably peppered with villainy in small quantities, so as to sustain the relish. But there is so much clever observation of character, such charming description of nature, such excellent humor heightened by refinement, that the book--dealing with a popular American theme hitherto untouched--is a notable triumph of current story-writing. (33)
As we work this artifact into the canon of nineteenth-century writing about baseball, it will reveal much about social attitudes towards the game, players' training, professionalization, and gambling. While box scores and newspaper accounts contain the facts of games, The Great Match offers longer, richer descriptions of how baseball was played. The extended narrative also provides much richer context for linguistic details than newspapers and other sources. Smith's skillful dialogue allows us to hear the language of the game--not just separate terms, but the cadence with which they were spoken. The narrative also displays issues of social class and ethnicity. And finally, if we consider the novel as women's fiction, not just using criteria for boys' fiction of the time, we can better appreciate how it depicts female fans, including how they discussed baseball and behaved at games, their role in support and fundraising for teams, and their view of ballplayers as suitable romantic matches. When the novel first appeared, the Boston Courier declared, "All Base-ball Players should purchase and make a home-run with it." (34) The same could be said today for historians of nineteenth-century baseball and vintage baseball teams recreating the game. (35)
(1.) Evelyn A. Walker, "The Cover Design," Library Quarterly 76, no. 3 (July 2006): 362-64.
(2.) The advertisement appeared in multiple periodicals, including the front page of The Literary World; a Monthly Review of Current Literature, August 1, 1877, 35.
(3.) "Culture and Progress," Scribner's Monthly, August 1877, 568.
(4.) Mary P. Wells Smith was born Mary Prudence Wells; she added Smith upon her marriage to Fayette Smith in 1875. Hereafter she will be referred to using her married name. Smith even defended her original claim to the pen name P. Thorne in a letter she sent to The Independent from Cincinnati on November 6,1875. "Notes," The Independent, November 18, 1875, 8.
(5.) "Literary News," The Independent, July 28, 1881, 12.
(6.) "Notes and Queries," The Literary World, January 26, 1884, 30.
(7.) Aubrey Starke, "'No Names' and 'Round Robins,'" American Literature 6, no. 4 (January 1935): 401; Samuel Halkett and John Laing, Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous English Literature, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1926), 408.
(8.) Roberts Brothers advertisements described the 1877 edition: "One volume, bound in cardinal red and black. Price $1.00." Later advertisements described the 1880 version as "bound in black and gold." The fourteen-volume set sold for fourteen dollars.
(9.) Walker, "The Cover Design," 362-64.
(10.) Copies at University of California and Case Western Reserve University are two examples.
(11.) Lower Hall: Class List for English Prose Fiction, Including Translations and Juvenile Books, (Boston: Boston Public Library, 1877), 167. Unfortunately, the Boston Public Library's 1879 catalog lists the book under the No Name Series, but with no author. The Jamaica Plains branch catalog also listed no author in 1878. Other library catalogs which attribute the book to Smith include the Worcester, Massachusetts, Free Public Library (1884), the Public Library of the City of Milwaukee (1885-1886), the Detroit Public Library (1886 and 1894), the AD Club of Harvard University (1889), the Minneapolis Public Library (1890), the San Francisco Free Public Library (1891), the Harlem Library (1893), and the Chicago Public Library (1898). The Cambridge, Massachusetts, Public Library (1887) hesitates just a bit and lists the author as "M. P. W. Smith?" (247). Only a few early library catalogs shift away from Smith. The Northwestern Library Association of Chicago (1899) lists the novel under Professor John Trowbridge--a different person than John Townsend Trowbridge. The catalog of the Memorial Hall Library (1898), Andover, Massachusetts, attributes the novel to John Townsend Trowbridge. Notably, these Trowbridge attributions are both much later than those crediting Smith as author. These library catalogs are all available through Google Books.
(12.) David E. E. Sloane, "John Townsend Trowbridge," Nineteenth-Century Fiction Writers, Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 202, ed. Kent P. Ljundquist (Detroit: Gale, 1999); and John Townsend Trowbridge, My Own Story with Recollections of Noted Persons (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1903).
(13.) Kimberly J. Wright, "Redeeming a Life: A Study of the Life and Works of Mary P. Wells Smith (1840-1930)" (PhD diss., University of Maryland, 1998), v. This dissertation is the only substantial study of Smith and her works, but it does not mention The Great Match.
(14.) Wright, "Redeeming a Life," 31-33.
(15.) William R. Gowen, "Jolly Good Times: Mary P. Wells Smith and Her Books for Young People," Newsboy, November-December 2001,12.
(16.) Gowen, "Jolly Good Times," 12-13; Wright, "Redeeming a Life," 42-43.
(17.) P. Thorne, "The Coming Woman," Lippincott's Magazine of Literature, Science and Education, May 1870, 529-32.
(18.) Thorne, "The Coming Woman," 529.
(19.) Quotations from the novel are from the first edition and will hereafter be cited in the text. The Great Match, and Other Matches (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1877).
(20.) Starke, "'No Names' and 'Round Robbins,'" 402-10.
(21.) U.S. Census Records for 1880 on Ancestry.com. Once Agnes was born, Smith clearly wrote stories for her, most notably fictionalizing her as infant heroine of The Browns (1884). Wright stresses this function of Smith's early juvenile fiction.
(22.) David Ball, "O. P. Caylor," American Sportswriters and Writers on Sport, Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 241, ed. Richard Orondenker (Detroit: Gale, 2001).
(23.) Jean Hastings Ardell discusses early fanettes in chapter one of Breaking into Baseball: Women and the National Pastime (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2005).
(24.) Wright, "Redeeming a Life," 45.
(25.) Ball, "O. P. Caylor."
(26.) Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella, Total Ballclubs: The Ultimate Book of Baseball Teams (Toronto: Sport Classic Books, 2005), 186.
(27.) Mary P. Wells Smith, The Browns (1884; repr., Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1896), 25, 179, 179-80.
(28.) Cathy N. Davidson's introduction to the 1986 Oxford University Press paperback edition of The Coquette provides a good discussion of these themes. Davidson also addresses women's reading in Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America (Oxford University Press, 1986) and Reading in America: Literature & Social History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989). Three other notable sources are Nina Baym, Woman's Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and about Women in America, 1820-70 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978; Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993); Jane P. Tompkins, Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985); and Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture (New York: Knopf, 1977). Though none of these works discuss Mary P. Wells Smith, they do illuminate the times and inform a broader understanding of nineteenth-century American women's writing.
(29.) Wright, "Redeeming a Life," 32.
(30.) The term "curve ball" became popular in the mid-1870s, and on August 26,1877, the Chicago Tribune declared, "the curve is in common use." Paul Dickson, The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, 3rd edition (New York: Norton, 2009), 233. Dickson also notes that Peter Morris found a related use of the term curve in Porter's Spirit of the Times in 1856.
(31.) "Editor's Literary Record," Harper's New Monthly Magazine, May 1877, 924.
(32.) "Culture and Progress," Scribner's Monthly, August 1877, 568.
(33.) "Recent Literature," Atlantic Monthly, April 1877, 501.
(34.) Roberts Brothers reprinted this comment in an advertisement which appeared in several magazines in March 1877.
(35.) In 2010, McFarland and Company will be publishing a new edition of The Great Match, and Other Matches, combined with Noah Brooks's Our Base Ball Club and How It Won the Championship (1884), with an introduction by Geri Strecker and Trey Strecker.
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|Date:||Mar 22, 2010|
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