Walt Whitman on baseball

The game of Base-Ball, now very generally practiced, is one of the very best of out-door exercises; the same may be said of cricket—and, in short, of all games which involve the using of the arms and legs.


— Walt Whitman, Manly  Health and Training (1858)






The ladders and hanging ropes of the gymnasium, manly exercises, the game of base-ball, running, leaping, pitching quoits.


— Walt Whitman, “Chants Democratic,” Leaves of Grass, 1860-1861





… There was a big match played here yesterday between two base ball clubs, one from Philadelphia & the other a Washington club—& to-day another is to come off between a New York & the Philadelphia club I believe—thousands go to see them play—

— Walt Whitman to Alfred Pratt, 26 and 29 August 1, 1865 [written when Whitman was employed in the Attorney; General’s office Washington]

: The Philadelphia Athletics defeated the Washington Nationals 87 to 12 on August 28, 1865. Baseball scores were typically much higher then. On the following day the Nationals played the New York Atlantics.





I am feeling hearty and in good spirits—go around more than usual—go to such doings as base-ball matches and the music Performances in the Public grounds—Marine Band, etc.


— Walt Whitman to John Burroughs, 2 July 1866





We have had an awful rain storm of five days, raining with hardly any intermission. The water is way up on the base-ball grounds & on 11th st from the Canal most up to the avenue.


— Walt Whitman to James Speed, 13 October 1866





Upon the race-course, or enjoying picnics or jigs, or a good game of base-ball,


— Walt Whitman,  Leaves of Grass (1867)





There was a very exciting game of Base Ball Played here to day, between the Nationals, & the Olympics, both of this city, i went out to see them & enjoyed it very much when the game ended the score stood Nationals 21, Olympics 15 old Base Ball Players say it was one of the best games they ever saw.


— Peter Doyle to Walt Whitman, 21 September 1868






Dear Walt.

I thought I would write a line or so to you and let you know that we are all well. …

On the back of the envelope accompanying Harry Stafford’ letter, Whitman wrote a list, as follows: “envelopes at [Altemuss?] | take the white hat to 8th st | shoes (base ball) | see about a pair for Mrs Stafford | stuff for trousers | some stockings & [hokfs?] at Johnny’s | coffee”


— Harry Stafford to Walt Whitman, July 9, 1877





Tuesday, June 5, 1888.

Talking of Sunday agitation generally and Gloucester baseball in particular W. said: “I believe in all that—in baseball, in picnics, in freedom: I believe in the jolly all-round time—with the parsons and the police eliminated.”


— Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Volume 1





Sunday, September 2, 1888.

Evening at 8. … Sunday—Sunday: we make it the dullest day in the week when it might be made the cheeriest. Will the people ever come to base ball, plays, concerts, yacht races, on Sundays? That would seem like clear weather after a rain. Why do you suppose people are so narrow-minded in their interpretation of the Sunday? If we read about Luther we find that he was not gloomy, not sad-devout, not sickly-religious: but a man full of blood who didn’t hesitate to outrage ascetic customs or play games if he felt like it on Sunday. The Catholic regards Sunday with a more nearly sane eye. It does seem as though the Puritan was responsible for our Sunday: the Puritan had his virtues but I for one owe him a grudge or two which I don’t hesitate to talk about loud enough to be heard.”


— Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Volume 2






Sunday, September 16, 1888

W. said to me: “I like your interest in sports—ball, chiefest of all—base-ball particularly: base-ball is our game: the American game: I connect it with our national character. Sports take people out of doors, get them filled with oxygen—generate some of the brutal customs (so-called brutal customs) which, after all, tend to habituate people to a necessary physical stoicism. We are some ways a dyspeptic, nervous set: anything which will repair such losses may be regarded as a blessing to the race. We want to go out and howl, swear, run, jump, wrestle, even fight, if only by so doing we may improve the guts of the people: the guts, vile as guts are, divine as guts are!”


— Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Volume 2






Monday, May 6, 1889

10.35 A.M. … Had been interested in paper account this morning of … Camden [New Jersey]  ministers inducing horse railway company not to run cars on Sunday. “I see,” said W., “they have done it—and think they have done a big thing. I, for my part, should say that Sunday of all days they should run the cars. I do not publish myself on the point, but I should argue for absolute freedom—cars, ferry-boats, base-ball, picnics—nothing hindered, prohibited.”


— Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Volume 5





Tuesday, May 7, 1889

[Thomas] Harned [Horace Traubel’s brother-in-law] came in and was heartily greeted. W. inquired after Tom, after the family. … Afterwards Harned said he had witnessed a base-ball match this afternoon. W. then asked: “Tell me, Tom—I want to ask you a question: in base-ball, is it the rule that the fellow who pitches the ball aims to pitch it in such a way the batter cannot hit it? Gives it a twist—what not—so it slides off, or won’t be struck fairly?” And on Tom’s affirmative— “Eh? that’s the modern rule then, is it? I thought something of the kind—I read the papers about it—it seemed to indicate that there.” Then he denounced the custom roundly. “The wolf, the snake, the cur, the sneak, all seem entered into the modern sportsman—though I ought not to say that, for the snake is snake because he is born so, and the man the snake for other reasons, it may be said.” And again he went over the catalogue— “I should call it everything that is damnable.” Harned greatly amused at W.’s feeling in the matter. W. again: “I have made it a point to put that same question to several fellows lately. There certainly seems no doubt but that your version is right, for that is the version everyone gives me.”



— Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Volume 5





Sunday, April 7, 1889

1.30 P.M. … He [Whitman] he gave me a[n] … interesting piece of news. “Did you see the baseball boys are home from their tour around the world? How I’d like to meet them—talk with them: maybe ask them some questions.” I said: “Baseball is the hurrah game of the republic!” He was hilarious: “That’s beautiful: the hurrah game! well—it’s our game: that’s the chief fact in connection with it: America’s game: has the snap, go, fling, of the American atmosphere—belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly, as our constitutions, laws: is just as important in the sum total of our historic life.”

Note: in 1888–1889, baseball executive Albert Spalding took a group of major league players on a world tour to promote baseball and Spalding sporting goods.


— Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Volume 5





Tuesday, June 11, 1889

8 P.M. W. sitting in parlor, hat on, and Mrs. Davis there talking with him. Had but just returned from his “jaunt” with Ed. “It was baseball today.” He takes a great interest in the boys out on the common. Sits watching them for long stretches.


— Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Volume 5





Monday, November 11, 1889

I was out in my chair yesterday—Warrie took me and we went up towards the city hall. Generally, on weekdays, there are boys playing base ball—a fine air of activity, life, but yesterday everything was glum—neither boy nor ball to be seen. I thought then—told Warrie, too—how much better it would be for the boys to be in the place—how much better the play, the open air, the beautiful sky, the active movement, than restriction, Sabbathism.”


— Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Volume 6





He [Whitman] is taken out regularly in his chair, perhaps to the outskirts of the town, where he may scan the free sky, the shifting clouds, watch the boys at base-ball, or breathe in drowsily—” for reasons,” he would say—the refreshing air; or he is guided to the river, with its boats and tides and revelation of sunset.


— In re Walt Whitman: edited by his literary executors, Horace L. Traubel, Richard Maurice Bucke, Thomas B. Harned (1893)






— compiled by Roger W. Smith

   updated March 2018

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