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As a pitcher, Albert Spalding won forty seven games in the 1876 season.
As a tour guide, in 1888 he led two baseball teams across the U.S. and then around the world in a grand and ambitious effort to promote the game, himself, and his sporting goods business. Along the way through Australia, Egypt, and Italy, to name just a few of the tour stops, Spalding and his entourage entertained the curious. When he got home, he was hailed as an American hero.
Mark Lamster's book about Albert Spalding and his tour is intriguing for several reasons. Spalding himself was a remarkably energetic and inventive con-man who, as Lamster puts it, "managed to make his own name virtually synonymous with transparency, square dealing, and rectitude." Certainly such a fellow is worthy of study. But Lamster is also good at providing a sense of the world through which Spalding and his itinerant crew of ballplayers moved, and the attitudes they had toward the lands to which they brought the game that Spalding loudly and fraudulently insisted was 100% American. In Rome, Spalding was surprised that he wasn't allowed to stage a game in the coliseum. In Egypt, his employees staged a contest to see who could hit the Sphinx in the eye with a baseball. And everywhere they went, the baseball lads were billed as the best the U.S. had to offer.
When Albert Spalding died in 1915, the New York Times called him "the father of baseball." Having been a player, a manager, a team owner, the organizer of leagues, and the determined buster of the early players' unions, Spalding probably couldn't have been more pleased.
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