COLLEGE STATION, Texas – David Vaught, head of the History Department at Texas A&M University and a baseball historian, has won the 2014 SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) Award for his book, The Farmer’s Game: Baseball in Rural America, published last year.
The SABR Award, formerly known as the Sporting News-SABR Baseball Research Award, honors research projects that have significantly expanded the knowledge and understanding of baseball. The award will be presented to Vaught during the 44th SABR national convention held July 30-Aug. 3 in Houston.
“The award is especially gratifying because my goal was to write a scholarly book that would be interesting and entertaining to non-scholarly readers,” Vaught says.
Vaught’s book on baseball’s early beginnings, which took almost six years to write, explains the relationships of baseball and American culture.
It shows that baseball’s origins, despite current-day thinking, were that of a game played in small country towns. Most games were played on Sundays because that was the only day players were free from their chores, and games featured plenty of betting by both fans and players, who relied on the wagers because few were paid a regular salary to play.
“There was rarely a game played that did not involve gambling,” Vaught wrote in his book. “Back then, gambling was as much a part of baseball as pitching, hitting and running.”
Vaught says today’s fans might have a hard time even recognizing baseball as it was played back then.
“There were few rules and for years, the batter could stand and hit the ball in any direction he wished, even behind him. No balls and strikes were called, and the game itself was usually called ‘Town Ball,’ not baseball.”
Equipment was all hand-made and balls consisted of whatever could be molded into a round shape. Tree limbs or saw lumber were used for bats.
“It really wasn’t until the 1880s or so that the game evolved into something resembling modern-day baseball,” Vaught adds.
The game especially thrived in Texas, where cotton farmers would meet on Sundays in a pasture and play before dozens, if not hundreds, of local town folk. Teams such as the La Grange Boll Weevils, the Saxons of Brenham, the Round Top Scrubs, the Carmine Stars and numerous others were comprised of cotton farmers out to have a good time and make a few dollars while doing so.
Players and fans consisted primarily of German and Czech immigrants who had come to Texas many years earlier and they quickly became attracted to the game, as Vaught explains, because “picking cotton and playing baseball required fine hand-to-eye coordination and persistence, and Texas Germans excelled at both.”
Vaught has written three other books and is currently working on one about Gaylord Perry, the Hall of Fame pitcher from rural North Carolina who won 314 games and was the first to win the Cy Young Award in both the American and National Leagues.