Countdown to SABR Day 2011: 1950s Cobbette – “Brutus Plays Baseball–What Would Shakespeare Think?”

Cobbette-(128x128)This is post five in a ten-post countdown to SABR Day 2011. The series is going through the decades of the 20th Century, backwards from the 1990s. On SABR Day itself, there will be a special feature on the 1890s, which will celebrate the significant link between keeping score and baseball history. This article will be published at 05:00 British time in order to coincide with the start of the day in the time-zone of the Cleveland-based SABR office. To view all the Cobbettes published to date, click here.

1950s

While glancing through the Stretford Saints archive on the Project Cobb website, I came across a newspaper cutting with a headline reading “Brutus Plays Baseball–What Would Shakespeare Think?” This must surely be one of the most intriguing headlines from British baseball journalism, and so I was – of course – curious to find out its meaning.

Baseball had enjoyed a boom period in Britain during the 1930s, but World War II had quashed the momentum that had been gained. In the years immediately following the war, baseball was back at its pre-1930s status as an insignificant minority sport. The article with the interesting headline referred to in this Cobbette was from 1952 and described “a big effort […] to revive baseball in Great Britain.” To this end, a new governing body – the British Baseball Association – had been formed “for the purpose of fostering and developing the game locally, nationally and internationally.” There was definitely a spike in international play in 1952 (see GB team history) and it may be the case that the game thrived in local pockets too, but nationally the game suffered from regional fractures, as it would do in several other chapters of British baseball history.

One of the thriving pockets was in and around Manchester, a city in north-west England. There, the local circuit had grown to six teams, including the Stretford Saints (a team that got their name because of a deficiency in spelling talent at the ground of their first-ever opponents). And this takes us to Brutus. A youngster on the Saints’ roster in the Manchester League was 15-year-old Harold Jackson. The journalist had learned in researching the piece that Jackson had recently played Brutus in the Stretford Children’s Theatre production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

Thus, “Brutus Plays Baseball” was in part a hook to get readers into the article. However, it also teed up a reference in the remaining part of the headline – “What Would Shakespeare Think?” – to an important theme in the article, which was whether Britons could learn to love the American National Pastime.

If you have an interesting history snippet to share that has a link to Britain then please send a message to Joe Gray through the Get in contact page. To see all of the work of Project Cobb, which is a Chartered Community of SABR (the Society for American Baseball Research), click here.

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