An epic mansplanation

This is long, but a truly epic example of mansplaining baseball from 1881:

One of the most interesting features, to our mind at least, of the game between the Hyde Parks and Beacons, a few weeks ago, was the play of the young lady who came to learn the game. She was dressed in a flimsy sky-blue arrangement that our fashion-editor said was “muslin,” and her jaunty hat was trimmed with something as white and fluffy as the foam on a glass of soda. This the same authority, after a little hesitation, pronounced to be “mull,” and we heard the umpire say he had long known that mulled wine was an intoxicating article, but in his opinion, a mulled hat would be far more dangerous in that respect. Whereupon someone else made a low pun to the effect that there was certainly considerable “head” to the latter.

Meanwhile the young lady, wearing a very much preoccupied expression, had tripped to a seat and produced with a business-like air a pencil, a note-book and De Witt’s Baseball Guide for 1881. Upon examining the pencil, however, she uttered a little cry of dismay when she discovered that the point thereof was clean gone. We were about to offer the use of our penknife when the sporting-editor of a certain rival newspaper saw the golden opportunity, and was not slow in seizing it. Meeting her appealing glance with what was intended to be a winning smile, he asked if he might have the pleasure of “assisting” her in the way of repointing her pencil, and she murmured an assent. Looking back over more years of a somewhat checkered career than we care to tell, we can remember to have seen a great many pencils sharpened, and even to have done something in that line ourselves. We never considered it a very important operation, nor one requiring much time for its successful completion. But at this late day we were taught our error and we saw the sharpening of pencils in its true light as a science, an art, a difficult task, requiring great care, skill, nicety of touch, and, above all, plenty of time. We watched with breathless interest as he carefully pared away the wood in the form of a perfect cone, and gently scraped the lead to a point like a cambric needle, and twice we saw him surreptitiously break it off and commence all over again. We supposed it did not suit him. The young lady of the mull hat was watching him too, and when the point broke she said sweetly:

“Why how awfully too bad. Must be a soft –”

“What?” asked the sporting-editor, finishing the pencil rapidly, while a faint blush suffused his manly brow.

“Why, lead, of course,” she replied, her eyes opening in innocent wonder as to what other construction could be possibly placed on her words.

As she received her pencil she said something about its being quite too awfully kind in him to take so much trouble.

“Not at all,” he gallantly responded, “I am only too happy to assist one of the fair sex, and more especially one who shares with me an enthusiasm for the diamond field, as you seem to do.”

“I? No! I’ve never been there,” she answered in some surprise.

And then he begged her pardon, and explained what was meant by the term, and how it arose from the shape of the baseball ground. And she smiled and said he must not expect her to understand his dreadful slang, for she really knew nothing of the game, but she was so anxious to learn, because her brother Fred and–and–several–that is, several of her friends?were always talking about it and going off to matches; she had been studying the Guide for a long time, but she couldn’t seem to understand it, and now did he think she could learn by watching the game carefully and taking notes?

And that sporting-editor looked as though he wouldn’t like to discourage her, but he was afraid it would be all Greek unless she understood the game. Now, if she only had someone to explain it as it went on. This view of the case proved to be precisely similar to her own, but it was no use to think of it, she said, “for brother Fred and–and the rest were all playing or something,” and she shook her head sadly. And the tender-hearted press-man said it was too bad, and added, as though the idea had just occurred to him, that he was sure, if he could explain anything, he should be most happy, and it was quite in his line. Just then the game was “called,” and we didn’t hear the rest; but when we looked again the deluded young man was carefully holding a large cream-colored parasol over the mull hat while he explained the mysteries of our National Game. He commenced with a general history of the game, and traced its rise and progress from the English game of rounders through its early record in this country as a mere schoolboy pastime down to 1845, when the Knicker4bocker Club of New York helped to give it an important place in American field sports. He explained its early forms, known as “Town Ball” in Philadelphia, and the “New England Game” in the Eastern States, and told how they had all given place to the New York game. He spoke of the N.A.B.B.P., formed in 1857, and of the growth of professionalism from the famous Cincinnati Red Stockings, who created such a furor in 1869, to the formation of the N.A.P.B.B.P. in 1871.

“The plain theory of the game,” said he, “is simply this: A space of ground being marked out on a level field in the form of a diamond, with equal sides, bases are placed on the four corners thereof. The contestants are nine in number on each side, and one side takes the field while the other goes to the bat. The pitcher delivers the ball to the batsman, who endeavors to send it out of the reach of the fielders far enough to enable him to run round the bases, and if he reaches the home-base–his starting-point–without being put out, he scores a run. He is followed in rotation by the others of his side until three of the batting party are put out, when the field side comes in and take their turn at the bat. This goes on until nine innings have been played to a close, and then the side scoring the most runs wins the game.”

Here he paused for breath, and she said: “How perfectly charming!” Thus encouraged, he went on pointing out the several positions in the game, and giving the duties of each. He explained the work of the catcher, he waxed eloquent over the pitcher, he told why a left-handed man could be first-base, he gave due credit to the labors of the second base and expatiated on the importance of the third, he revealed the true inwardness of a short-stop, and he dilated at length upon right, left and centre fielders. He even mentioned the fact that a new position in the game had arisen called the right short-stop, which would probably in time change baseball nines into tens. And he showed how this tenth man could be made available for an extra outfielder in slow pitching, or as a back-stop to the catcher in cases where extra speed is put on by the pitcher, thereby giving the catcher opportunities to take sharp, wild tips, while the line-high fouls and tip bounds are left for the tenth man.

Then he defined with a pleasing exactness the meaning of various terms used in the game, such as “muffed” balls, “over throws,” “dropped fly-balls,” “passed balls,” “clean hits,” “wile throws,” “hot” balls, “fair” hits and “foul” hits, and “fair-foul” hits. Just then a burst of applause and he exclaimed: “A curved ball, by George!” And when she said she had never heard of square ones, he laughed so long that we wondered anxiously if there were any danger of apoplexy. But he recovered and gave her a dissertation on curved delivery, throwing in a lot of stuff about “projectiles” and “resolution of forces,” that would have made a college professor stare. He was in the midst of a chapter on the beauty of “facing of position” when the Beacons’ united howl of triumph roused all the echoes within three miles. Before it died away a certain handsome young baseballist sauntered up to the lady of the mull hat, whom he greeting with the air of a proprietor. The sporting-editor looked as though he thought instant death altogether too mild a punishment for the intruder, but the latter did not seem to mind, and proceeded to display to the aforesaid owner of the above-mentioned hat the wounds he had received that afternoon, comprising a split finger, a sprained wrist, a dislocated thumb and a black eye. She thought it was just too awfully horrid for anything, and wanted to bind her morsel of a handkerchief about his wrist. But he said that was nothing: she should see how the fellows got mashed up sometimes. And then he drew from his pocket a bottle of St. Jacob’s Oil, and proceeded to anoint the afflicted members

“This will fix it all right by morning,” he said. “Never saw its match for this sort of thing. All our fellows carry it with them, and I expect that’s how we beat so often. It just kills the pain and makes stiff joints as limber as new.”

She wondered if it wouldn’t be good for poor grandma’s rheumatism then, and he assured here there was nothing like it. He knew a man in Hyde Park, Mr. Henry G. Balkam, one of the first citizens, too, who had been just cured by it.

Presently the young lady remarked that she had had a perfectly lovely time, and, turning to the editor once more, added that she was awfully indebted to him for explaining everything so nicely. She smiled so sweetly as she spoke that we saw his courage go up fifteen degrees at a bound, but it fell again as the handsome baseballist nodded a “Much obliged, I’m sure. Good match, eh? Ta, ta!” as he offered his arm to the owner of the mull hat, and they started for the home-plate.

We felt sorry for the young man, and we told him so. We said:

“Here you have exerted yourself to be agreeable all the afternoon, in hot weather too–you have poured out information enough to make a magazine article if judiciously spread, and yet your score is 0–you are ‘whitewashed,’ in fact. But, our young friend, what else can you expect when you play a game with a miss?”

He didn’t seem as grateful to us for our interest in him as we thought he should have been, and the last we saw hi, too, was taking a home run. Source: New York Clipper September 17, 1881, quoting the Hyde Park (Norfolk County, Mass.) Gazette.

This is a notable example of a subgenre of early baseball writing, devoted to how adorable it is when women try to understand baseball.  There is a sub-subgenre where the women display a solid understanding of the game, yet the response is equally condescending.  They really pull out all the stops when the darlings try to play.  In reality some women’s colleges were fielding teams since the late 1860s.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed a team.  The serious women’s teams are hard to document, since they avoided publicity, not needing this shit.

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8 thoughts on “An epic mansplanation

  1. This reminds me of the following bit of sexism, from, of all people, Mark Twain:

    Even the clearest and most perfect circumstantial evidence is likely to be at fault, after all, and therefore ought to be received with great caution. Take the case of any pencil, sharpened by any woman; if you have witnesses, you will find she did it with a knife; but if you take simply the aspect of the pencil, you will say she did it with her teeth.


    • The other reporter was the butt of the joke. The sexism in the framing part was more casual than that. Notice how the story begins with the “Hilary Clinton gave a news conference. Here is what she was wearing…” trope. The ‘woman trying to understand baseball’ was a moderately common trope as well. It was treated gently, compared with the “blacks playing baseball” trope, which was not, but that doesn’t make it not sexist.

      The other reporter is the butt of the joke. But is the joke that he was mansplaining, or that he was unsuccessful? Some of both, I think.


  2. Awww. I kept on waiting for the story to be one of the lovely young lady in the fetching muslin dress to turn the tables at the end, to ask the fellow a probative question, like whether the Grays had an unfair advantage because their home park in Providence was so favorable to pitchers, before running off with one of the players, who would have been her beau all along. Although it was amusing to note that the amorously-ambitious mansplainer wound up missing the entire game flirting with her with nothing to show for his efforts at the end.

    I also notice when I look up the 1881 results, that there was a team called the Boston Red Stockings and another team called the Worcester Ruby Legs. Wikipedia lists the strangely-analagously-named team was the Worcester Worcesters, though, which seems like an equally quirky name.


    • You have touched on a topic at which I could go at long and largely uninteresting length. The short version is that the official name of the club was the Worcester Base Ball Club (or perhaps “Association”–I would have to be motivated to look it up). National League clubs didn’t have official nicknames back then. “Ruby Legs” would be a journalist’s turn of phrase. It also wasn’t particularly common. The team would usually be referred to as the “Worcesters”. Modern sources have trouble with this concept, and so at some point some industrious fellow combed through old newspapers to find nicknames to be retroactively designated as quasi-official.

      In other words, they are mostly bullshit.

      Note that the game in this story was an amateur contest. The Beacons were a prominent Boston amateur club composed mostly of Harvard grads. Hyde Park is now a part of Boston, and was an independent town in 1881. Presumably the Hyde Park club was its young men at play.


  3. Does the fact that the author invoked outside authority for explanations of muslin and mull make it a bit meta and perhaps self-aware of the mansplaining?


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