British baseball, no, not the sport British Baseball, but the sport of baseball by the British National Team is once again, a world power.
Call up King Charles III and tell him the Empire is back!
In a way, this truly is not a hyperbole, but at the same time, this is misinforming at best.
Great Britain used to be one of the best baseballing nations in the world. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, baseball was one of Great Britain’s most popular sports.
Remnants of this are not wide known, but once in a while, you may notice this.
For example, Derby County FC used to be the brightest example of this history because their former stadium until 1997 was the Baseball Ground, as Derby Baseball Club was so popular that the local soccer team played there and then kept the name of the stadium the same.
There were other cities and football clubs that had teams as well, notably Aston Villa FC, Preston North End FC, and Stoke City FC, all soccer clubs. These three teams and Derby Baseball Club were the four teams that competed in the only season the league was professional. Aston Villa won and many Aston Villa historians are proud of this achievement: the only professional baseball league champions of England. However this was only due to Derby Baseball Club refusing to follow ex post facto rules the other clubs tried to place on them, leaving Derby to leave the league on top of the standings by a county mile midseason.
The English man who is credited with this growth was Sir Francis Ley, while American Albert Spalding of the sports company Spaulding was the entrepeneur behind the professional league itself. When the professional league only lasted one year, Sir Francis Ley continued promoting British baseball and wanted more football clubs to form baseball clubs, and while this worked for a while, baseball soon started to whither away in the British culture around 1900.
Despite this, the National Championship would continue to be played by big name football clubs until the 1910s. This allowed for clubs like Tottenham Hotspur FC, Leyton Orient FC, Nottingham Forrest FC, and Brentford FC to win national championships in baseball.
Derby Baseball Club was unique though in that it was a baseball club, while Derby County FC did create a baseball club after Derby Baseball Club was created. There were plenty more baseball only clubs during this time. Derby Baseball Club went onto win 3 national championships during the 1890s decade.
To this day, British baseball continues to be played at an amateur level, and now mainly only by baseball clubs. No big soccer teams sponsor a baseball club anymore.
Yet, despite British baseball slowly becoming a former popular trend by the 1920s, the British still had one more accomplishment left to earn.
During the 1930s, another wealthy English man came to America and grew to love the sport. Like Sir Francis Ley, he had a plan to make baseball popular in Great Britain. He decided that he would pay Merseyside baseballers who were playing their local bat and ball sport, British Baseball or Welsh Baseball that was very similar to baseball, to convert to playing baseball. His name was John Moores.
Welsh Baseball had been very popular in the area since the Middle Ages. So John Moores took advantage of this. He not only paid Merseysiders, but he also donated to schools in Cardiff and other places. He would go onto create a semi-professional league.
This last dashed growth of baseball in Great Britain led to its greatest achievement.
The 1938 Amateur World Series was created as an amateur world championship and a preparation for the Olympic Baseball Tournament set to be played in Tokyo in 1940. This Amateur World Series was the first edition and would later be morphed into the Baseball World Cup, a competition that did not feature MLB players, but was still at a high level.
In this first rendition of the Baseball World Cup, Great Britian hosted the USA in a series. Great Britian won this series 4 games to 1. As such, Great Britain are regarded as the first amateur world champions in baseball. After this, World War Two broke out and baseball would lose its momentum once again.
The Baseball World Cup, however, would go on to be dominated by Cuba as their best players could play and most other big name nations did not have this luxury.
The final rendition happened in 2011 in Panama where the Netherlands won their first amateur world championship.
Since 2006 however, the true world championship has been the World Baseball Classic. The Olympics and other competitions have not been considered full world championships for a while now, as the World Baseball Classic is the first world championship where all the best players from every nation are able to play.
In this format, Japan has won twice (2006 and 2009), while both the Dominican Republic (2013) and the USA (2017) have won once.
For Great Britain, they had never qualified for the World Baseball Classic until last week when they beat Spain 10-9.
And while this is a huge accomplishment, it is also marred in realistic criticisms.
The reason I write the empire is both back and not back is because this British team only features nine players born in the United Kingdom, while everyone else are dual nationals.
For baseball, Great Britain represents all of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, one of the few national teams that does. But, on their team, you will find lots of Canada (1), The Bahamas (5), and USA (13) born players. And, a lot of the British born players are from the British Virgin Islands (2), while one of the 13 US born players is born in the US Virgin Islands.
These players are often able to qualify for British nationality through their parents or grandparents, or another relative. Sometimes, it is via other ways like residency.
So, while Great Britain did qualify, they really only qualified using their former empire, which in some ways means the British Empire is back, but in other ways also means the British are not quite as strong in baseball as they once were.
This brings up probably the greatest controversy.
When it comes to dual nationals picking the nation they are not from, usually the convention holds that unless you moved there at a young age or in a formative part of your playing career, it is customary that you play for the country of your birth. The exceptions are when you are from a nation so good that you will not make it on their national team anyway.
So, for the American and Canadian born players, this is not a huge deal.
But, for The Bahamas born players, this presents a major obstacle for the growth of baseball. The Bahamas used to be a part of Great Britain so it seems right that some of the older generation who was born there when it was Great Britain would consider themselves British first, but for the younger generation playing, the hope is for these players to grow the game in The Bahamas. With five key players, and another key player in the MLB right now sure to join for the WBC in March 2023, many people are worried that baseball in The Bahamas will be negatively affected because these players instead should be helping The Bahamas qualify. It is true that The Bahamas are part of the Commonwealth Realm, but so too is the United Kingdom (Great Britain), as well as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and others. All this means is that both The Bahamas and the United Kingdom are independent in personal union, or in other words, the same person, King Charles III, is both King of The Bahamas as its Head of State and the King of the United Kingdom as its Head of State. These nations are not part of the same country.
There is also a lesser controversy over players from dependencies playing for their larger national team. Should those from the British Virgin Islands be helping a British Virgin Islands National Team qualify, and like wise, should the US Virgin Islands born player be helping the US Virgin Islands qualify?
These questions are very legitimate too given how Puerto Rico, a dependency of the USA, is one of the best baseball national teams having made it to the WBC Final the past two editions (2013 and 2017). But, since dependencies are part of larger nations, such that the British Virgin Islands are part of the United Kingdom making Great Britain also their national team, and given that the US Virgin Islands are part of the USA making the USA also their national team, this brings a lot less controversy. And for international baseball at the WBC level, most nations have decided to create a unified team across all parts of their country, such that the Kingdom of the Netherlands National Baseball Team represents the whole kingdom: the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten, Saba, Saint Eustatius, and Bonaire. These parts of the Netherlands in other sports often all play as separate national teams even though they do not have to, but not in baseball.
Nonetheless, players should be able to choose the national team they most identify with that they qualify for. For many of these players, that is Great Britain. It may be difficult to see Bahamian baseball legends in blue and red instead of light blue and yellow, but in the end, it is these players choice to choose via a complicated history of moving empires. As such, with a mixture of American, Canadian, Bahamian, and British born players, this Great Britain team looks to grow the sport in their home land or adopted home land, and hopes to battle for WBC supremacy in a tournament that features the best baseballing nations and players from around the world.
It may not be the glory days of British baseball’s past or the glory days of the British Empire, but in a way, it feels like it as Great Britain prepares for their opening pitch of their World Baseball Classic debut.
Photo from the Team GB Facebook