Charles William Eliot on the curve ball

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sat Sep 8 13:27:09 UTC 2012

The report was 1894 but Soos says the 1870s?

And has anyone asked the Harvard Archives?


At 9/8/2012 07:01 AM, Stephen Goranson wrote:
>  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
>[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.
>On Sat, Sep 8, 2012 at 1:45 AM, Geoffrey Nunberg
><nunberg at> wrote:
> > ---------------------- Information from the
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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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