The Major League Baseball season gets under way today (Thursday) and to mark the occasion, we’ve looked back at the some of the fascinating links between the sport of baseball and Everton Football Club.
An Everton baseball team, (with no official affiliation to the Club) existed in the early 1900s. Former Everton player and sportswear shop founder, Frank Sugg, was a participant. However, the side fell into decline and ceased playing towards the end of the First World War.
Aided by Liverpool’s maritime links to the USA, Everton hosted exhibition matches at Goodison in the 1920s, and the most notable of which saw the Chicago White Sox take on the New York Giants on 23rd October 1924.
Grand Old Lady Hosts White Sox v Giants
The teams opened their European Tour with an exhibition game at Goodison Park. More than 2,500 people watched the White Sox beat the Giants 16-11.
Describing the game, a newspaper report wrote: “Many who had not previously witnessed a ball game were astounded by the prodigious hitting of the American batsmen, the ball frequently falling into the stands.
“The play was exceedingly fast, but the smart fielding of the White Sox was the downfall of the Giants.”
Baseball Thrives On Merseyside
Sir John Moores, who would later become Everton chairman, invested a lot of time and money into baseball in the 1930s.
Moores was a keen baseball fan and set out to convince 18 local teams from the Liverpool area to create a league in 1933. Leagues were also set up in London and Yorkshire, amongst other locations. Over one million pounds in today’s money was invested by Moores into the development of the game.
An ever-increasing number of footballers were taking part in baseball leagues across the country, and Moores established the National Baseball Association.
An Everton Baseball Club was formed, and they went on to become national champions.
The growth of baseball in Liverpool led to Everton players taking part in the sport. One of the players was legend, Dixie Dean.
Dixie Dean’s Babe Ruth Encounter
Dixie Dean's arrival into the world of baseball came when playing for Blundellsands at Bridge Road.
He reportedly made his Liverpool Caledonians debut on 8 June 1936. Dean proved to have quite a talent for the sport, and it was reported that he represented England at White City Stadium against an All-American team in 1936.
He is reputed to have once met New York Yankees’ legendary figure Babe Ruth whilst in London. Ruth was amazed that Dixie, as a sporting superstar, was not receiving a percentage of turnstile takings.
Dean recalled to journalist John Roberts about his encounter with Babe. The American introduced himself in typical style by booming: “You’re that Dixie Dean guy! Jeez, you’ll get some cash today.” When Dean explained that his wages – capped at £8 per week – were not linked to the number of spectators through the turnstiles, Ruth reportedly exclaimed: “Jesus Christ! I’d demand two-thirds of this gate!”
Goodison Hosts Regular Matches
Theo Kelly, Everton’s Secretary in the 1930s and 1940s, was another advocate of the game and was instrumental in the Club fielding a baseball team.
In 1945, he helped establish a team called Halton Trojans (named after a nearby pub and the team's favourite drink, Higson's Trojan) who would play some of their matches at Goodison Park.
Kelly helped to raise £1,000 for the British Red Cross and St John’s Fund in a charity game. He also helped to develop the sport on Merseyside by setting up youth team matches between Everton Cubs and the likes of Caledonian Cubs, Formby Cubs, Tranmere Cubs, and Fazackerley Cubs.
On 18 May 1944, the Everton FC Baseball Club – coached by Kelly – played its inaugural game against Rootes in Speke. Gordon Watson and Jackie Grant, both members of the football team, made their baseball debuts. Throughout the season, the Everton players were topping the league’s statistics charts. George Jones led the batting averages, whilst Gordon Watson topped the fielding with zero errors for 1,000.
Bill Giddins, who was the Everton Chairman during the Second World War, was also a follower of the sport. He sanctioned Goodison to host a baseball league during the war, as local players took on American soldiers who were stationed in Liverpool. The home plate was in the corner between the Gwladys Street and Bullens Road.
The war years intervened but the club was playing fixtures by 1944 and featuring footballers such as Everton’s Gordon Watson and Jackie Grant, plus Liverpool’s Alf Hanson. Everton trainer and Winslow publican, Bill Borthwick was another team member.
In 1948, the Halton Trojans changed their home venue to Bellefield after a sub-committee decided that they did not want Goodison to host any more baseball games.
The last game of baseball at Goodison Park was the 1948 Lancashire Cup Final, when Halton Trojans took on Formby Cardinals.
The reformed club, now known as Liverpool Trojans, plays today at Bootle Stadium as the Liverpool Trojans.
>>> Click here to learn more about Everton's history with baseball on the Everton Heritage Society's website