Monday, January 4, 2010

Walla Walla's "Two-Bit Baseball" of 1891

Here's a good trivia question for Walla Walla baseball fans.

Question: In what year did organized baseball begin in this community?

Answer: 1891

In a new scholarly paper by Walla Walla University history professor Terry Gottschall, our community emerges as the center of an active, competitive new baseball league called the Bunch Grass League. Walla Walla competed with three nearby Oregon teams -- Pendleton, La Grande and Baker City.

Click here either to read an abstract or pay to dowload the piece, entitled "Two-bit Baseball: Walla Walla and the Pacific Interstate League, 1891."

Although we often think of organized baseball in connection with its minor league days in the 1970s and 1980s, in fact organized baseball in Walla Walla follows the very storyline of our country and our community.

Baseball as a sport came into fashion in the late 1830s and 1840s.  The Whitmans arrived in what would become Walla Walla in 1836 and Walla Walla was eventually incorporated in 1862.

As a fan of the Cape Cod Baseball League, which boasts of its origins in the 1800s, I was surprised to learn how early organized baseball got its start in the Pacific Northwest.

Gottschall carefully chronicles the single season of the Bunch Grass League by researching old newspapers, including The Walla Walla Statesman, Walla Walla Union, East Oregonian, Baker City Weekly Bedrock Democrat and a publication I had never heard of before, the Reach Guide.

A highlight of the article is the raucous relationship between Walla Walla and La Grande (does that still exist?). Anger between the two sides erupted into what one paper of the time called "The Base Ball War."  When neither side could agree on a fair umpire, each claimed victory and the league broke up.

In the end, the author concludes, "Management and fans alike quickly learned that capital revenues derived from community ownership and fund-raising subscriptions, when combined with the standard admission of "two bits" — twenty-five cents — simply proved inadequate to fund the league through the entire season."

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