By John Darrin Tenney
$29.95; 190 pages;
Review by Rodney Johnson
Imagine what Arizona was like in the 19th Century prior to statehood. Now imagine how the young game of baseball may have looked on dusty desert fields in the middle of nowhere. How did it get started there, who played it and where was it played? Arizona SABR Flame Delhi chapter member John Darrin Tenney looked for answers to these previously little-researched questions and the result is Baseball in Territorial Arizona.
Through contemporary newspaper accounts culled from 27 territorial Arizona newspapers, Tenney has identified 36 organized baseball clubs that played for sport, recreation and entertainment during Arizona’s formative years. Baseball in Territorial Arizona instantly becomes an important reference for historians of baseball and Arizona. The book is richly illustrated with photos of many of the teams discussed as well as historic views of game action.
Baseball in Territorial Arizona is best digested in small bites. Tenney’s descriptions of forgotten games, played by obscure teams, between unknown players at remote locations, although thorough, can become tedious. For patient readers however, there are nuggets to be mined among the minutiae. Fortunately the book is arranged in such a way to lend itself to selective discovery for the reader.
The opening chapter appropriately describes how U.S. Calvary troops, assigned to bases in Arizona to protect settlers from Indians, introduced baseball to the territory. Perhaps the most interesting and valuable section is Chapter 3: Town Rivalries Take Shape. The chapter traces the development of town teams in the territory’s larger cities. Fascinating are the stories of the likes of Manny Drachman and his participation on early Tucson teams. The Drachman family would become integral to the development of baseball in Tucson including the introduction of major league spring training decades later. Town rivalries often took shape in challenge matches played on holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Fourth of July. Important matches were also held at the Territorial Fair, which was organized in 1884 and would evolve into the Arizona State Fair.
Chapter 4, Women and Minorities on the Diamond, can be a bit meandering but the discussion of the Tempe Crimson Rims, the territory’s first integrated team, is enthralling. Delightful are stories of the Rims being formed at a bicycle shop at Fifth and Mill in Tempe. Also of interest are the formation of Mormon teams in Mesa, Lehi and Stringtown.
The fifth chapter focuses on company teams highlighting the colorful history of Arizona’s mining camps. The book closes with a brief section identifying major league spring stops in Arizona by the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox. Fall barnstorming trips by touring teams made up of major league players occurred as early as 1902 but aren’t mentioned. This is not the primary focus of the book as Tenney acknowledges, “The ‘barnstorming’ era was far richer than what can be retold in these pages.”
One major omission in telling the story of baseball in Arizona’s territorial days is the lack of discussing the role of school teams. These teams were important to the development of the game and the rise in popularity of the sport. Tempe Normal School (now ASU) and the University of Arizona are mentioned within the text but in such an insignificant way that they don’t even draw inclusion to the index. Both had prominent roles in the growth of baseball in Arizona.
To illustrate their importance, Tempe, Phoenix, Mesa, Glendale, Prescott and Tucson schools all received prominent coverage in local newspapers. Tempe Normal’s first known athletic event was a baseball game in 1891 against a team from the Mormon settlement of Stringtown just east of Tempe. The Arizona Republican (now the Arizona Republic) awarded the Republican Cup each year to the Territorial Champion, usually the winner of the Normal School vs. University of Arizona series.
Schools that were most often on Normal’s schedule included Glendale High; Mesa High; Phoenix Union High; Phoenix Indian School; Prescott High; and Tempe High. They played for the Salt River Valley Championship. In 1910 Normal and Mesa High drew 1,100 spectators to a game in Mesa. It stood as a Normal School (Arizona State College) record until 1956. It is unclear why Tenney did not include school teams, which were so important to the development of baseball in the Arizona Territory.
Notwithstanding the significant omission of organized school teams, Tenney succeeds in his goal of broadening our understanding of baseball in Arizona during the territorial period of 1863-1912. Although not a complete history, Baseball in Territorial Arizona provides a strong background and reference for future research that will continue to expand on our knowledge of this long neglected topic. It is recommended for those interested in both the history of Arizona and baseball of the period.
McFarland Publishers continues a tradition of giving voice to eclectic but important baseball stories that might not otherwise be shared.
Baseball in Territorial Arizona is available from McFarland Publishers at www.mcfarlandpub.com and by phone at 800-523-2187.
Rodney Johnson is the president of the Arizona Flame Delhi Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research and a former board member of the organization. He served on the Sporting News/SABR Research Awards committee for three years and is an expert on Arizona Baseball History.