You Can’t Walk Off The Island? Why Not?

One thing that I am curious is how styles of play in sports fit into different cultures. I’ve been that way for years ever since I read an essay by Jeff Greenfield about titled “The Black and White Truth About Basketball.” Here it is, in Google book form. It originally appeared in Esquire back in 1975. They had an issue dedicated to sports. It must have been anthologized elsewhere, because I remember reading it and I wasn’t reading Esquire when I was seven. Unfortunately, only part of the excerpt is available, but I was able to read the whole thing a couple of years ago at the Bridgeport Public Library. They keep periodicals there forever.

Ken Dryden, the Cornell educated goaltender, muses about the difference between Canadian and Russian hockey in his book, The Game. Canadian hockey was more violent and it owes a debt to rugby and shinty. Russian hockey, OTOH, evolved from soccer and bandy.)

This applies to baseball as well.  Here’s an early example and I’ll write later about a more recent one. Jerrold Casway wrote the Ed Delahanty book Baseball and The Emerald Age. He thinks that the Irish had an advantage when it came to hitting because they also played hurling and handball. Both of these sports require superior hand-eye coordination; just like batting does. I was looking into this further and read Montgomery Ward’s instructional book Baseball: How To Become A Player. He said that most hitters didn’t use their arms and instead pushed at the ball. But the exceptions he named (Connor, Brouthers, Tiernan, Wise, Fogarty, Whitney, Ryan, Denny, and Fred Carroll) were all Irish. Not all Irish players swung hard. He listed King Kelly as one of the pushers along with Dunlap and Anson.  Interestingly, several of these players attended the small college of Saint Mary’s in San Francisco.

Actually, it turns out that I was wrong. The Irish didn’t invent slugging. According to Peter Morris, batsmen would “whale away and try to hit the ball out of sight” in the early days when baseball was predominantly a New York game. But Henry Chadwick, who was the Peter Gammons of his day, frowned on that type of approach, as did Cap Anson. So, the Celtic role was to be the keeper, not the igniter, of the slugging flame.

Does anyone remember Alfredo Griffin?  In 1984 he played in 140 games and only walked four times.  I’ve been reading The Eastern Stars about San Pedro de Marcoris.  Jeff Sackmann noticed some boners in the book.  I found a few myself, but I’m not here to bury Mark Kurlansky.  I’m here to praise him.  He provided a clue towards something I was wondering about for years.. I think I figured out why some Dominicans swing at the first ptich.  It might not be because you have to swing the bat to impress the scouts and buscones, as is sometimes thought.  There was a lot of immigration to the island from English speaking islands; especially to San Pedro.  The immigrants, known as cocolos brought cricket.  Kids would also play a local variant that used two license plates as a wicket.  That game is la plaquita.  .A cricket batsman needs to protect a bigger strike zone; so to speak.  Weak contact isn’t penalized like it is in baseball, You aren’t required to advance if you don’t think you can score a run.  Letting a ball by to have it knock over a wicket can cost your team an opportunity for a boatload of runs.  I think we still see the vestiges of that.  West Indian immigrants do play cricket here in the Hartford area.  I’ll watch a game once a summer or so, but I don’t really know the game.  So I could be talking out of my butt,an Aussie friend suggested that there are times for a batsman to be patient at the plate, but I think it is an interesting theory.

I do regret to say that I can’t trace the turf-hop throw to cricket bowling.  That was perfected by David Concepcion.  He’s a Venezuelan.


EDITED TO ADD: I forgot to mention that on page 99 of The Eastern Stars Kurlansky writes that Griffin had an uncle named Clemente Hart who was a cricketeer turned baseball player.


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5 responses to “You Can’t Walk Off The Island? Why Not?

  1. Are you from Bridgeport, CT? The library there is one of the best small city ones around. I was doing a science project in seventh grade and needed a reference on how parakeet’s spoke. The librarian found a book from the 1860s with detailed drawings and an explanation of how the bird spoke.

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  3. Jon

    No, David. I’m from the eastern part of CT. BTW, Mike Bielawa, who works there, is a SABR member.

  4. An English perspective here!

    An interesting idea, but I’m not yet entirely convinced. While a batsman in cricket needs to protect the wicket from getting hit (or he will be out), beyond that patience is generally key. If a batsman goes for every ball he risks getting out, particularly if multiple fielders are placed behind him, readying themselves for him to ‘edge’ it behind.

    A good batsman will defend balls aimed at the wicket, hit bad balls he is confident will get runs, and leave everything else.

    Theoretically a batsman can leave every ball, providing it doesn’t hit the wicket, or doesn’t hit his legs if they are in the way of the wicket. So, I would expect a cricketer to generally be more patient playing baseball, than a ball player playing cricket, as there is no concept of ‘striking out’.

    However…just to confuse matters further, shorter forms of cricket (such as Twenty20) are becoming more and more popular, and these forms rely on the scoring of runs within a shorter time period. In this case, the batsman does need to try and hit virtually everything bowled at him, as there is a very limited time period for accumulating runs. So, future cricketers brought up in this style might swing more when playing baseball.

    Ed Smith’s book Playing Hard Ball is a great introduction to the similarities and differences between the two sports, if you can find it. Smith was an English cricketer, who happened to be a Mets fan, and be describes his experiences playing cricket, and joining in Spring Training with the Mets.

    Just my thoughts. Apologies if this comment is stating the obvious, or missing the point, and thank you for an interesting post!

  5. Pingback: Dominican Cricket Part II | Designated Sitter

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