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Grolier Club Exhibitions

The Great American Pastime: Baseball Magazines

“Our National Game” has been an integral part of the American experience since its inception, uniquely important in team sports until the meteoric rise in popularity of professional basketball and football in the second half of the twentieth century.  Its language has permeated our vernacular, its legendary heroes have been role models for our children and its racial separation and subsequent integration have paralleled and often pioneered advances in civil rights.

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The Spirit of the Times; A Chronicle of the Turf, Agriculture, Field Sports, Literature, and the Stage.

Volume 25, number 13, May 1855. New York: William T. Porter.

Spirit of the Times began in 1831 as a weekly devoted to horse literature and southwestern wit, published by an icon of early sports journalism, William Trotter Porter. Reports of a new game called baseball, first played by teams in and around New York City in the mid-1840s, began creeping into its pages in the mid-1850s. This issue contains an unrecorded detailed description of the rules, the first ever in a magazine.  

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Porter’s Spirit of the Times: A Chronicle of the Turf, Field Sports, Literature and the Stage.

Volume 3, numbers 1–26, September 1857–February 1858. New York: W. T. Porter.

Shown here is the issue for September 12, 1857 (number 2), which features an original copperplate engraving of a baseball game at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey - the first image of the sport in an American periodical.  

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The Ball Players’ Chronicle: A Weekly Journal Devoted to the Interests of the American Game of Base Ball and Kindred Sports of the Field.

Volume 1, number 1, June 6, 1867. New York: Thompson and Pearson.

The first magazine devoted entirely to baseball, The Ball Players’ Chronicle was founded by Henry Chadwick, often referred to as the “father of baseball.” In 1869, it merged into National Chronicle, the official organ of the National Association of Base Ball Players.

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The Baseball Magazine.

Volumes 1–2, May–December 1908. Boston: The Baseball Magazine Co.

First-class cover art had never been viewed as a necessary competitive edge for an all-sports publication until the advent of Baseball Magazine. Its writers would be the best the sport had to offer and the eye appeal of the covers would compete on the newsstand with the best general interest publications. Through its first decade Baseball Magazine proved an artistic and commercial success, reaching a six-figure circulation. 

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Capper’s Farmer.

Volume 46, number 5, May 1935. Topeka, Kans.: Arthur Capper.

George Herman “Babe” Ruth re-energized baseball in the 1920s by virtue of his immense talent and ebullient personality. His image appeared on the covers of dozens of magazines; perhaps the most graphically pleasing is this 1935 portrait by J.F. Kernan of the “Sultan of Swat” on Capper’s Farmer.

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The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races.

Volume 45, number 5, May 1938. New York: Crisis Publishing Company, Inc.

Josh Gibson, whose accomplishments equaled or exceeded Ruth’s, was relegated to the relative obscurity of the Negro leagues. His only contemporary magazine cover appearance was on this issue of The Crisis, the official organ of the N.A.A.C.P.  Gibson has been voted to be the greatest catcher of all time. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

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TV Guide.

Volume 3, number 15, April 1950. New York: Television Guide Inc. 

The issue features a cover illustration and story about Jackie Robinson, a highly unusual appearance for an African American on a magazine intended for a predominantly white readership and testimony to the incredible impact and importance of his career, not only on baseball, but on the American moral fabric. 

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Our Sports: A New Monthly Magazine Featuring Negro Athletes.

Volume 1, number 1, May 1953. Canton, Ohio: University Publishing and Distributing Corporation.

The second magazine devoted to Negro sports, edited by Jackie Robinson. It survived for six issues, preceded only by the exceedingly rare Colored Baseball & Sports Monthly, which appeared for two issues in 1934. 

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Volume 33, number 23, March 14, 1968. Chicago: Johnson Publishing Company. 

Cover photo of Leroy “Satchel” Paige, signed and inscribed by him to “Kingfish.” Paige may not have been the most talented pitcher to emerge from the Negro leagues but he surely was the most durable and iconic. Paige’s major league career began in 1948 at age 42 and he became the first former Negro leaguer to pitch in the world series in 1952. Paige was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971.