Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Nine Innings for the King: The Day Wartime London Stopped for Baseball, July 4, 1918
reviewed by Pete Belmonte

Nine Innings for the King: 
The Day Wartime London Stopped for Baseball, July 4, 1918
by Jim Leeke
McFarland & Company, Inc., 2015

Author Jim Leeke has been a journalist, sportswriter, and baseball historian—the perfect combination to write this book. He writes in a folksy style that is evocative of the argot of the Doughboys. Although his book will not appeal to everyone, it makes for fun, easy reading.

In the midst of horrifying news from the battlefields, two teams of U.S. soldiers and sailors took a break to provide a well-needed diversion to the nobility and citizenry of England. This incongruous event took the form of a baseball game played on 4 July 1918 in front of a large crowd that included the King and Queen, other nobles and British citizens, and rowdy American servicemen. It is this game that Jim Leeke chronicles in his book. But the book is much more than a record of a single, if noteworthy, game. In fact, the actual account of the game doesn't start until page 147.

Spectators for the Game Arriving, Pickwickian Style

Before this, Leeke gives a general history of American influence on prewar baseball in England. In the process, he reports on, and gives a much deserved nod to the Canadian soldiers who, like their American friends, were avid baseball players. The Canadians, of course, reached England well before baseball bat-wielding Doughboys did, and they formed some good teams in a league with at least one team composed of American civilians living in London.

The confluence of events that resulted in the game played before the king included not only the Canadian servicemen and Americans living in London, but also the Anglo-American Baseball League (AABL). The AABL was the brainchild of some American ex-patriots in London, and the league eventually consisted of four U.S. military and four Canadian military teams. It was under the auspices of the AABL that the game was played. Leeke also includes interesting reviews of key actors in the event, including some professional players who were in the U.S. Army or Navy, and some who were civilians but impacted the sport in England.

Leeke's description of the actual game is based on contemporary reports and includes, as much as possible, a batter-by-batter account. Baseball statistics fans will like the abbreviated box score included as an appendix. I won't reveal which team won the game, but, suffice to say, it was a pitchers' duel. A chapter on postwar British baseball (the sport never really caught on there) and a wrap-up of the lives of some of the key players concludes the account.

Action from the Game

The book is peppered with pleasing little anecdotes. For example, we read with pleasure that the British were mystified by our seventh inning stretch tradition; on one occasion, British bobbies reported to a field, fearing some sort of disturbance, during a seventh inning stretch. Likewise, we smile at a description of a YMCA worker tossing oranges to Allied soldiers: Doughboys seemed to be able to catch the fruit easily enough, even with hands full or when on horseback; French soldiers, however, had a more difficult time fielding the orange, a legacy of different national sports. Leeke, who used contemporary U.S. and British newspaper accounts heavily, treats us to some of the 1918-style fan razzing:

"Ah, you pikers, where was you raised?""Say, buddy, you can play ball-maybe."
"Hey, pitcher, quit the plate and send yer li'l brudder."
"More ivory! More ivory!" (p. 57)

That Brits were mystified as to the finer points of the sport should come as no surprise. Consider the reaction of a British newspaper reporter when a man from Pittsburgh tried to explain the action on the field: "[I]f you think I understood his explanation of the game or the brilliant strategy of the players, who wore jockey caps and long stockings and boxing gloves and fencing helmets [referring to catchers' masks], and swung Indian clubs, gentle reader, you are in error (p. 155)."

Order Now
This book pairs well with Jim Leeke's previous book on professional ballplayers who served in the U.S. military during the war (Ballplayers in the Great War: Newspaper Accounts of Major Leaguers in World War I Military Service, McFarland, 2013). If you are a baseball fan and Great War historian, you should read this book.

Author Jim Leeke's organization, the Anglo-American Baseball Project (AABP), plans to recreate the historic military baseball game cheered by King George V at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea, during World War One. They intend to present the new game in England exactly 100 years later, on the Fourth of July, 2018. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, they are supporting veterans groups in the U.S. and UK and are endorsed by the United States World War One Centennial Commission. will be supporting this project as it unfolds. Please visit the project's website to learn more:

by Pete Belmonte


  1. This is wonderful stuff! As someone who grew up playing cricket, I can't help wondering if the equivalent event took place somewhere as Brits played cricket for an American audience. Probably be even more confusing!
    Thanks for a fascinating review, Pete. David Beer

  2. Enjoyed the review. Thanks' using a cricket term...."Well played."

  3. An American serving in the Canadian Army with the 42nd Battalion, Harold Van Allen Bealer, of Easton PA may have been a participant in this. One article from the Easton Press on Jan. 1/18 related: "While in England he played in a baseball game between Canadians and Americans which was attended by the King [illegible] and many titled personages. However [illegible] enjoy the [illegible] and made [fun?] of the American pastime."

    Perhaps there is a connection?

  4. Thanks for the kind comments. Eric, you should try to contact Jim Leeke about that, he'd be interested, and I'm sure he'd have more information.