The Greatest Game in the World
by John Philip Sousa
America’s March King, John Philip Sousa, was an avid baseball fan. He was a good player as a youth and when the Sousa Band formed its own team he usually pitched for the first inning or so. The team was formed during the long concert engagements at Willow Grove, PA and continued throughout the existence of the band. Playing other teams from local towns, military groups and even semi-pro organizations, the Sousa Baseball Team did very well, winning most of their games. As the band grew in size, Sousa’s Band was able to field two teams usually having games of the woodwinds against the brass section. Sousa wrote about his love for the game in Baseball Magazine, Vol II, Nr 4, February, 1909
Prenatal influence and environic suggestion has as much to do with baseball in America as it has to do with music in Germany. While music, as a scientific art, has spread over the world, baseball as a scientific game has not made the headway with other nations that we of America believe the game entitled to. I have seen games such as cricket and the Spanish game of pelota played in foreign countries, and while I admire them, I still believe that baseball is far superior to any other game of ball and bat. If baseball has a drawback, it is the early time of life at which the player is forced to retire and give way to younger blood. In cricket they have their “grand old men” who are able to pile up their “century”; in pelota they have men who play to a good old age; but in baseball we speak of men, as we did of (Cap) Anson, as old when they are but forty. There is but one way to account for the short careers of ball-players-the extreme violence of the game when the player is in action, and the extreme inactivity when the player is out of action. This gives an unevenness in effort that does not hold in any other game, and therefore is apt to tie up muscles earlier in life. I have seen matches where the only exercise a player had was when he walked in at the end of the inning and swung his bat three times hopelessly at three deceptively-pitched and sometimes he has not even swung his bat, but has been called “out” on strikes by the umpire. The only thing that ninety-nine percent or more of the players, amateur or professional, have left of their individual connection with the game, after they passed their fortieth year, is a happy memory of what used to be.
I played ball off and on from my sixth year until about my forty-fifth. The last game I played, probably the grand finale of my diamond career, was with a nine composed of members of my band. In the report of the game, my 40 years of off and on service was dismissed by the following criticism of a reporter:
“It has long been apparent to those who have watched Sousa leading his band that he if he ever got into a pictures box he would be too swift for the eye to follow. The only trouble was that the March King had no control over the ball when he started to wrap himself up and you could not tell whether the ball was coming out in the direction of the batsmen for the centerfielder.”
And this scathing criticism simply because in one inning I gave four men bases on balls and forced in a run! Ye gods and little fishes, but I was sore on that reporter! Handing out such a line of talk to a man who had been in the game for almost 40 years! But I knew that there must be something wrong and I decided to quit the game.
In my band we have had a ball team for many years. Playing at the exposition in Paris in 1900 on our natal day, the Fourth of July, our team played the nine of the American Guards on the Bagatelle Field in Paris. What could have been more appropriate for two American organizations in a foreign land to do on the glorious Fourth?
Last year, a year ago, at Willow Grove, Philadelphia our band played the Marine Corps’s nine my old colleagues for I was 12 years bandmaster of the United States Marine Corps. The following is an account of a baseball reporter of that, to us, great event:
“If Connie Mack could’ve witnessed the game of baseball yesterday morning he would’ve been tempted to make John Philip Sousa an offer. The March King proved a wonder in the pitcher’s box, and although he lasted but one inning he retired Lieut. O’Leary’s Colts in 123 order that Mr. Sousa retired to the coaching line where he gave an imitation of Arlie Latham that caused the spectators to how with delight. When Umpire Sholotterbeck said “play ball” the versatile athlete musician, composer, and author cast an eagle eye over the field, noted that his men were all in place and ready to come in on the first beat; that he spat on the new ball, threw his right leg around in front of the left, raised his arm above his head, lunged forward, and the umpire said “Strike One!” Suffice it to say Hopkins fanned. It was a surprise for the Marines. They had been looking for something easy and no one imagined that any man could write a march to King Edward VII and twirl the sphere for a strike out on big Hopkins, the slugger, all in the same season.”