Review of Baseball in Territorial Arizona

Tenney, John Darrin. Baseball in Territorial Arizona: A History, 1863-1912. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers, 2016. Pp. 196. Bibliography, Notes, and 23 Photos. $29.95 paperback.

Reviewed by Jorge Iber

At the very start of his work, John Darrin Tenney describes for readers the extensive research conducted in order to produce this brief tome, Baseball in Territorial Arizona: A History, 1863-1912. Through a wide-ranging examination of thirty-three separate tabloids extant during the territorial period, Tenney garnered evidence on the activities (both on the diamonds and off) concerning thirty-six different baseball clubs scattered throughout the length and breadth of Arizona. This documentation allows the author to address myriad important questions, such how did the sport arrive in the area; who became involved in this undertaking; what did these players and promoters hope to get out of participation; and most crucially, what was the import of the game to what would become the 48th state in the American union?

arizona-baseball

McFarland, 2016

These queries are addressed effectively by Tenney over the course of six well written, illustrated and instructive chapters. Of these, of course, some are more crucial to social historians than others. Among the most noteworthy in this reviewer’s perspective, are three that deal with the importance of baseball to commercial development (Chapter 3-“Town Rivalries Take Shape”), how the sport intersected with non-whites and females (Chapter 4 – “Women and Minorities on the Diamond”), and finally, the significance of the game as concerned labor relations (Chapter 5 – “The Company Nine”). It is these segments that form the backbone of the work, and which provide extensive perspective of baseball in the territory. While certainly some of the goings-on, results, and personalities on the diamonds are noteworthy, it is the contextualization linking the national pastime to broader historical trends that makes Tenney’s work important not just to sport aficionados, but to readers interested in a broader overview of the early development of what would become the Grand Canyon State.

In the first two chapters, the author presents a synopsis of how baseball got to Arizona (primarily through the influence of soldiers who came to the territory from the Northeast and Midwest), and the difficulties faced by troops and civilians in establishing a permanent presence for the game. By discussing the slow spread of the sport, Tenney sheds light upon complications encountered by early settlers in overcoming/confronting natural disasters, native peoples, and rudimentary travel conditions. Further, as the towns became better established we see some early, and often unsuccessful, attempts to draw attention and attract outsiders to various parts of the territory.

In the third chapter, Tenney begins to clarify the considerable connections between having a successful, local baseball team, and how it could impact the development and perception of particular communities. The contests between locales, such as Yuma, Tucson, and Tombstone, generated much ink in local and territorial papers, which boasted of the quality of not only their teams, but also of the overall population stock that inhabited specific communities. Further, the teams provided local merchants with an opportunity to market their services and wares far and wide. Thus, the development of baseball teams in early Arizona were significant for more than just the results on the diamond, they were a way to attract customers, settlers, and possibly even investors, to individual communities. If “we” were “winners” on the field, perhaps it would encourage outsiders to think about planting roots and financial resources in “our” locale.

The fourth chapter is the most important contribution to the entire study. Herein, Tenney discusses the development of minority (African American, Native American, and Mexican American) squads that would often vie on the baseball battlefield versus “white” squads. Though not all barriers were overcome, it was an avenue for many of these populations considered to be “others” in daily Arizona life to directly challenge notions of white superiority. Newspaper accounts provide specific details, both positive and negative, of such interactions. Further, Tenney notes that women were getting in on the baseball action by the 1870s (both as players and spectators), and some even managed to move on to other sports, such as basketball, by the very last years of the 19th century. In summary, it can be argued, that the presence of women on baseball diamonds made it possible for others to move on to other courts of athletic competition.

Chapter 5 proffers particulars about how some of the mining companies funded/sponsored teams in order to give their workers an opportunity to “burn energy” in a “wholesome” undertaking. This miniscule investment afforded employers with a way to keep their men out of local cathouses and saloons, all the while building (hopefully) loyalty to the employer and preventing the spread of unionization efforts.

In the final chapter, Tenney utilizes baseball as a mechanism to show how far Arizona had come from its earliest territorial days. He does this by discussing how professional sides utilized improved railroad (and other transportation) connections to more effectively move not only paid players, but squads representing the various growing communities. The presence of baseball made it possible for outsiders, back in the other contiguous states, to see Arizona as “modern” as the rest of the nation. This territory/state was no different from the rest of the United States, after all, they played the same games that other Americans did.

In summary, Tenney’s work is an effective example of how to utilize sport history as an apparatus to examine broader historical trends and issues. In a scant 174 pages, the author has tied the sport to issues of race, class, and gender. The story of baseball in Arizona is more than just an examination of the final scores of individual contests, it is an effective way to document the spread of technology, economic progress, and examine race relations, just to name a few critical topics. John Darrin Tenney has performed an effectual task that captures not only the excitement on the field, but also how baseball helped shape the territory of Arizona as it moved into its early history as the last of the contiguous states in the Union.

Jorge Iber is a Professor of History and Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. His area of specialization is the study of Latino/a participation in the history of American sports. He is the author/co-author/editor of nine books. His most recent work, Mike Torrez: A Baseball Biography, is a biography of former Major Leaguer Mike Torrez (he of the pitch to Bucky “Bleeping” Dent in the 1978 playoff game between the Red Sox and Yankees) published by McFarland.

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