Charles William Eliot on the curve ball

Paul Johnston paul.johnston at WMICH.EDU
Sat Sep 8 15:43:31 UTC 2012

The 1870's?  Have we got any Harvard-educated claimants to the first curve ball besides non-Harvard-but-New Englanders Candy Cummings and Fred Goldsmith and Baltimorean Bobby Mathews?

Paul Johnston
On Sep 8, 2012, at 9:27 AM, Joel S. Berson wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      Re: Charles William Eliot on the curve ball
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> The report was 1894 but Soos says the 1870s?
> And has anyone asked the Harvard Archives?
> Joel
> At 9/8/2012 07:01 AM, Stephen Goranson wrote:
>> FWIW,
>> 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╦ťwhat 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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