Sherlock Holmes’ Author Arthur Conan Doyle Was Baseball’s Biggest Fan | by Andrew Martin | SportsRaid | Jul, 2021medium.com
Sherlock Holmes’ Author Arthur Conan Doyle Was Baseball’s Biggest Fan
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is still widely known as a prolific author and creator of the popular fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. Despite his status as an English gentleman and creator of memorable literature, he was actually a big supporter of baseball and spoke about its merits frequently to whoever would listen.
Born in Scotland in 1859 (His family ultimately moved to England), Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle became a distinguished man of medicine and writing. Although he is best known for his Sherlock Holmes work, which encompasses four novels and 56 short stories, he also wrote a number of other books and stories that covered a broad range of themes such as history, science fiction, humor and fantasy.
Although Doyle’s immediate family was poor, the support of wealthier extended family permitted him to have a strong education that fueled his later pursuits. As a doctor, he was a strong supporter of vaccines and ultimately did much work in the area of ophthalmology.
Knighted in 1902, Doyle was into sports throughout his life, both watching and playing. He loved cricket, golfing, bodybuilding and cricket among others. He even participated in the English Amateur billiards championship in 1913.
Of course, his creation of Sherlock Holmes and the entire universe he built around the keen detective was his opus. In addition to his literary work featuring that character, in subsequent years, a bevy of movies, television shows and spin-off/knock-off books have emerged around the world.
With the explosion in popularity of baseball around the turn of last century, it should be little surprise that it might draw the interest of a sportsman like Doyle. According to an article that appeared in the July 30, 1922 issue of the Courier-Journal (Louisville), the author thought highly of the National Pastime from across the pond, exclaiming “Baseball is a noble game.”
Doyle even got to play baseball. It was reported that when he was 52, he played shortstop on a team of fellow Englishman that took on and beat a squad of Americans in Switzerland. Unfortunately, there’s no surviving account for how he fared in the field or at the bat.
According to Doyle, his home country should be envious of the game that was flourishing in the United States:
“[Baseball] Is the game England needs… For years there has been a demand for a young man’s game… and baseball will fill the want.”
SABR’s Frank Ardolino reported how Doyle described in his biography, Arthur Conan Doyle, Memories and Adventures, why he thought sports were so important:
“It [sport] gives health and strength but above all it gives a certain balance of mind without which a man is not complete. To give and to take, to accept success modestly and defeat bravely, to fight against odds, to stick to one’s point, to give credit to your enemy and value your friend? These are some of the lessons which true sport should impart.”
Doyle made a series of trips to America between 1894–1924. He saw his first big-league baseball game in 1914, witnessing the New York Yankees shellacking the Philadelphia Athletics 10–5 at the old Polo Grounds.
In his biography, Doyle recalled some of the memories that stood out to him from that game:
“The ballplayers appeared fitter than cricketers because they train all the time and practice abstinence, which produces mental acuity. The ‘catching’ was “extraordinarily good, especially the judging of the long catches near the ‘bleachers,’ as the outfields which are far from any shade are called. The pitchers throw the ball harder than they do in cricket and earn the highest salary of £1000 to £1500 because they have mastered the hardest part of the game.”
Although Doyle confirmed that he thought baseball was superior to cricket, he also hoped that if it caught on In England, the rougher edges of the game, like dirty plays and tricks, would be smoothed out by English sensibility and manners. He laid out his ideas in a letter he wrote to The Times that was published on October 28, 1924:
“The foul tricks which were once common are now hardly known, and what was once applauded, or at any rate tolerated, would now be execrated. Therefore, this rough badinage may pass away and it is not an essential of the game. What is essential is that here is a splendid game which calls for a fine eye, activity, bodily fitness, and judgment in the highest degree. This game needs no expensive levelling of a field, its outfit is within the reach of any village club, it takes only two or three hours in the playing, it is independent of wet wickets, and the player is on his toes all the time, and not sitting on a pavilion bench while another man makes his century. If it were taken up by our different Association teams as a summer pastime I believe it would sweep this country as it has done America. At the same time it would no more interfere with cricket than lawn tennis has done. It would find its own place. What we need now is a central association which would advise and help the little clubs in the first year of their existence.”
Unfortunately, baseball never really took off in England like Doyle hoped it might. For a country that enjoys its athletics much like America, the mystery of why it didn’t catch on is one perhaps best solved by the likes of Detective Holmes.