Frederick Ivor-Campbell 19th Century Base Ball Conference
Dirty play, the role of African Americans, media coverage, and the price of admission. The mention of these subjects would be familiar to any 21st century baseball fan.
On April 17-18, 2015, modern fans learned those issues were quite common as far back as the 1850s. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum hosted SABR’s seventh annual Frederick Ivor-Campbell 19th Century Base Ball Conference. More than 60 members attended the two-day symposium, featuring more than a dozen presentations covering various topics relating to the early days of baseball — or, as it was spelled, base ball.
The 2015 conference was highlighted by a keynote address from baseball historian Jerrold Casway, along with a panel discussion, “Sporting News: Baseball in the 19th Century Press” with Jim Overmyer, Bob Tholkes, George Thompson, and John Thorn; a special presentation by James Brunson III on black baseball; a Member Spotlight interview of Bob Bailey by Tom Simon; plus book signings and research presentations.
“It seemed to have really been a lively conference this year,” committee chair Peter Mancuso said. “There were some presentations, I think, that really surprised a lot of people, and it really got some juices flowing in the room. It’s always gratifying to see that.
“There were certain topics that were presented that were just incredibly rich, and you say, ‘Wow, I wish we had a couple more hours to hear more about this topic.’”
One of those was James Brunson III, formerly of Northern Illinois University, whose presentation entitled “Black Aesthetic Style or Baseball Minstrelsy Reconsidered: Literary and Visual Representations, 1865-1889” drew close attention from everyone gathered in the Bullpen Theater.
Brunson has published one book on early black baseball, and another book — this one covering research on teams and individual players – is due later in 2015. John Thorn, Major League Baseball’s official historian, worked extensively with Brunson and considers this subject essential knowledge.
“I think that we know so little about black baseball prior to 1900, compared to how much we have learned about the Negro leagues and barnstorming in the 20th century. It’s reflected in how many Hall of Famers we have prior to the advent of Jackie Robinson,” Thorn said. “But we do have this dark side of the moon. Who were the blacks who were playing baseball, especially professionally, in the (1860s, 1870s, 1880s)? These men, in many cases, we have nothing more than a last name in a box score.”
- To read Matt Rothenberg's full recap of the 2015 conference, click here.
View more photos from the conference below (courtesy of Melissa Booker, Jim Gates, and James Brunson III):