baseball cursing, 1898

Wed Dec 5 17:22:39 UTC 2007

        I spoke today with Robert Lifson at the auctioneer.  He had what
I will summarize as the following points:

        1.      The dating to 1898 is based primarily on internal
evidence and knowledge of events of the time.  The language and style is
generally consistent with baseball documents from this time.  He pointed
particularly to the Brush resolution against bad language, a major issue
in 1898, see below and also see and (my
links, not his).  He suggested that it would have been unlikely for a
later writer, say from 1918, to duplicate this style, nor would there
have been the same reason to do so, since language would not have been
as big an issue.  A date from, say, 1899, would still be consistent with
the style of the time, but seems less likely because the language issue
by then was less prominent.

        2.      The document was found in a collection with other
documents from the 1890s, all relating to the Baltimore Orioles, a team
then noted for its bad behavior.

        3.      Mr. Lifson is of the opinion that the document is real
and not a joke or hoax, but did not have the same level of confidence as
he did on the dating issue.

        He also forwarded a long email from 19cBB, which I reproduce
below my signature.

        When these considerations are taken together with the expert
opinions of Jesse and Jon, it seems to me that the dating to c. 1898 is
reasonably well-established.  It does seem to me more likely that this
was a joke rather than an official League document.

John Baker

Sent: Monday, December 03, 2007 9:06 PM
Subject: RE: [19cBB] purported Instructions to Players, 1898

> What a fascinating document!  I especially like the part near the end
> where they refer to expressions "unfit for print," which are not
> limited to but do include the nine elaborate obscenities they
> themselves have just committed to print.
> I don't know exactly what the player really said to the gentleman who
> asked about the visiting team's pitcher, or what language any of the
> other players employed, but the rest of it is accurate.  At their
> meeting in November, 1897 the NL passed the Brush Resolution, designed

> to suppress rowdy language and behavior, which had become a major
> issue in recent seasons.  John Brush, James Hart and Arthur Soden were

> chosen as a committee to "formulate and report at hte Spring meeting a

> plan" to deter such conduct.  At the meeting the following March, a
> board of three distinguished business men and attorneys formerly
> active in baseball but currently not connected with any club (Lewis
> Kramer, L.C. Krauthoff, Frederick Stearns), were named a Board of
> Discipline, to judge cases referred to them.  Virtually nothing came
> of this; only one case ever seems to have been referred to them, and
> in that instance they let the player off with a slap on the wrist.
> The Sporting News, 1/8/1898, quotes Joe Vila of the New York Sun as
> follows:  "President Brush is determined to push the fight against
> indecency on the diamond and is gathering evidence of the many
> outrageously coarse and vile expressions used by players in the
> hearing of spectators."  I guess so.
> None of that proves anything, however, except that if this documet is
> a fake, in this particular respect, at least, it is not an
> exceptionally clumsy one.  Of course, it is in the nature of things
> that you can prove a document like this is not genuine, but you can
> never prove it is legitimate.  The best you can hope for is that it
> survives so many tests without failing that it begins to seem likelier

> and likelier it is genuine.  On the grounds of fidelity to the
> historical facts, the document passes the test, but in itself that is
> not particularly meaningful.  It would have to pass many more hurdles
> before its claim to legitimacy could be considered strong.
> I find it awfully hard to swallow, and I think it is probably a joke.
> I do think it's likely to be a contemporary document, however, and
> therefore of considerable interest even if it's not what it claims to
> be.
> I used to study ancient history, a field in which one often must
> consider the spurious or genuine character of a document, and I alwasy

> founnd this kind of investigation interesting and enjoyable, so I hope

> I'll be forgiven for going into some detail about my reasoning.  My
> grounds for believing that, whatever its specific origin, it probably
> goes back to around 1898 are the following:
> (1) The auctioneers say they submitted the document to scientific
> testing and determined that it dates to the time it purports to be
> from (I presume that's what "examined the paper" means).
> (2) The topic is too obscure to have been concocted as a joke at any
> great length of time after the fact.
> (3) Whenever it was written, it's even less likely to have been a
> forgery intended for mercenary gain or any other sort of fraudulent or

> deceptive purpose.  No one would go out of his or her way to red flag
> the document as a possible fraud by inserting strong, and very
> strange, language of the sort this one contains.
> (4) If it were a late fake, it would require a considerable degree of
> skill and elaborate preparation.  I am not an expert by any means but
> I do have some modest experience with documents of this period, and
> the type font and paper look pretty genuine to me -- certainly nothing

> that would have been easy to come by in recent years.  My experience
> reading the prose of the period is considerably greater, and if this
> is a fake it certainly is quite artful. Look, for instance, at the
> very first sentence, with its absolute participial phrase ("the stands

> being crowded...") and the hardy 19th century expression "patrons of
> the game."  People don't write that way now, but they did in the late
> 19th century.
> Such a document would have been relatively easy to fake in or around
> 1898, much more difficult once many years had passed.  I don't deny
> there are individuals living even today with the skill to concoct such

> a fake -- I would guess there probably are -- but I do believe it
> would take a considerable investment of time, expertise and money to
> do it.  Given that argument (3) seems to argue very strongly against
> the author expecting a monetary payoff -- and note that even the
> auctioneers describe it as interesting but"not particularly valuable"
> -- it seems unlikely anyone would take the trouble required to create
> it.
> Of course, it could be this really did come from the League's official

> committee, in which case John Brush must have had a much better sense
> of humor than I generally imagine him having, or else no sense of
> humor whatsoever.
> David Ball
> -----Original Message-----

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list