Charles William Eliot on the curve ball

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat Sep 8 11:11:03 UTC 2012

Excellent Steve. I was about to send this.

A two volume biography of Charles W. Eliot was published in 1930,
and it claimed Eliot had a negative view of the curve ball pitch.

Cite: 1973 (Originally published in 1930 by Houghton Mifflin, Boston),
Charles W. Eliot: President of Harvard University, 1869-1909: Volume 2
by Henry James, GB Page 69,
AMS Press, New York. (Google Books snippet; Not verified on paper)

[Begin excerpt]
To pitch a curved ball seemed to him to be a resort to a low form of cunning.
[End excerpt]

On Sat, Sep 8, 2012 at 7:01 AM, Stephen Goranson <goranson at> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Stephen Goranson <goranson at DUKE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: Charles William Eliot on the curve ball
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>  Soos, Troy, 1957-
>  Before the curse : the glory days of New England baseball, 1858-1918 / Troy Soos.
> Rev. ed.
> Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., c2006. page 44 gives:
> One of the challenges that the Harvard ball club had to face came not from another team but from the head of their own school. In the early 1870s, university president Charles W. Eliot threatened to close down the baseball program because he did not approve of the curve ball, calling it a "low form of cunning."
> No footnote, though the book has lengthy acknowledgements, including to archives, and a fairly long bibliography.
> Stephen Goranson
> ________________________________________
> From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of Garson O'Toole [adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM]
> Sent: Saturday, September 08, 2012 6:05 AM
> Subject: Re: [ADS-L] Charles William Eliot on the curve ball
> Below is a book excerpt that refers to Eliot's supposed statement
> about the deceptive nature of the curve ball. The passage has a
> footnote that points to a precise report authored by Eliot that is
> available in Google Books and HathiTrust. Unfortunately, the report
> does not appear to mention "curve" or "curveball". (The GB search
> seems to be malfunctioning, but the HathiTrust search seems to be
> functioning properly.) Eliot's report is very critical of some sports
> at the college level.
> Cite: 2000, College Football: History, Spectacle, Controversy by John
> Sayle Watterson, Quote Page 28, Johns Hopkins University Press,
> Baltimore, Maryland. (Google Books Preview)
> [Begin excerpt]
> In his 1894 report for the previous school year Eliot let loose his
> first cannonade against college sports, namely baseball, crew, and
> especially football. Like his Puritan forebears, Eliot preached a
> gospel of simple and unadorned truth. He rejected the competitive and
> deceptive spirit in college athletics, criticizing, for instance, the
> curve ball in baseball because it was designed to deceive the batter.
> He also showed extreme distaste for the win-at-any-cost commercial
> spirit of college athletics—what he called "an unwholesome desire of
> victory by whatever means." He deplored the way in which
> intercollegiate athletics put colleges in the business of entertaining
> the non-collegiate public. Eliot also criticized the amount of time
> that competitive athletics took from a student's daily life and the
> false image of university life which college sports projected, a point
> to which he frequently returned. [Footnote 6]
> [Footnote 6 is Ibid and footnote 5 is the following]:
> "President Eliot's Annual Report, 1892-93," Harvard Graduates'
> Magazine 2 (Mar. 1894): 376-83. The report was released in February
> 1894.
> [End excerpt]
> HathiTrust contains Eliot's report of 1892-1893 and it also contains
> the issue of Harvard Graduates' Magazine that reprinted the report. GB
> also contains the issue of Harvard Graduates' Magazine. The report
> does discuss sports and tricks and surprises. But I could not find the
> saying about the curveballs. Below is an excerpt mentioning tricks.
> Cite: 1894 March, Harvard Graduates' Magazine, President Eliot's
> Report: 1892-1893, Start Page 374, Subsection: Athletic Sports, Start
> Page 376, Quote Page 377, Harvard Graduates' Magazine Association,
> Boston, Massachusetts. (HathiTrust)
> [Begin excerpt]
> Again an unwholesome desire for victory by whatever means in
> intercollegiate football has perverted the judgment of the players and
> the college public concerning the propriety of 'tricks,' surprises,
> and habitual violations of the rules of the game as means of winning a
> victory. In war, stratagems and surprises are consistent parts of that
> supreme savagery; but in manly sports new 'tricks' practiced in secret
> sudden novelties, and undetected violations of the rules should cloud
> the joy of victory, and aggravate the mortification of defeat.
> [End excerpt]
> It is possible that the statement about the curve ball appeared in
> another report form Eliot in this timeframe. I have not looked at the
> other reports yet. Alternatively, Eliot's remarks may have led to the
> creation of a parody that was later accepted as an accurate quotation.
> This is, of course, speculation.
> Garson
> On Sat, Sep 8, 2012 at 1:45 AM, Geoffrey Nunberg
> <nunberg at> wrote:
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>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       Geoffrey Nunberg <nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU>
>> Subject:      Charles William Eliot on the curve ball
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> There's a widely repeated story that Harvard's president Charles Eliot objected to the idea of Harvard baseball players using the curve ball because it was deceptive. It has always sounded bogus to me-- the sort of story someone would make up about a character like Eliot.  I asked John Thorn, the official MLB historian and the author of Baseball in the Garden of Eden, about this and he responded:
>>> Geoff, once upon a time I tried to find in Eliot's published writings the famous quote, used in the Burns Baseball film and uttered by George Plimpton but could not. (""Well, this year I'm told the team did well because one pitcher had a fi
>>> ne curve ball. I understand that a curve ball is thrown with a deliberate attempt to deceive. Surely this is not an ability we should want to foster at Harvard.") It is in several quotation books, but always (as far as I can detect) unsourced. Boston Globe printed the quotation June 27, 1963, and I am aware of no earlier citation.
>> I bet the story goes back earlier than that. Fred? Ben? Barry? Anyone?
>> Geoff
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