Baseball and Abraham Lincoln
By the late 1850's the new game of baseball was spreading westward from its east coast origins. Local teams were popping up everywhere, including the city of Springfield, Illinois. During this baseball's rapid growth, Abraham Lincoln was campaigning for his presidency. Just on their own, baseball and Lincoln are steeped in lore. So, it's inevitable that their lore intertwine with the mysterious card depicted above. Is it really Abraham Lincoln in a baseball uniform?
The Card's Origin
A disabled Vietnam Veteran created a modest number of unusual cards in San Francisco during the 1980s & 90s, giving them away in exchange for donation. This particular card claims to be a photograph of Abe Lincoln. The original source of the photograph used for the card was from a newspaper in Springfield, Illinois with the caption "Unknown Springfield Player, 1859." It's not known who made the leap from "unknown" to "Abe," but it does look like him "pre-beard." Although there were 500 of these made, they don't realize much money on the market. Once can show up on eBay for $8-$12.
Lincoln's Baseball Connections
We know that the Lincoln was a fan and player of the game. A little bit of research can attest to that. In fact, Albert Spalding's book "America's National Game" contains this snippet accompanied by a drawing of Lincoln holding a bat and ball:
"In fact, it is recorded that in the year 1860, when the Committee of the Chicago Convention which nominated Abraham Lincoln for the Presidency visited his home at Springfield, Illinois, to notify him formally of the event, the messenger found him engaged in a game of Base Ball. Information of the arrival of the party was imparted to Mr. Lincoln on the ball field. 'Tell the gentlemen', he said, 'that I am glad to know of their coming; but they'll have to wait a few minutes until I get my next turn at bat.' As monumental as a bid to be the United States' sixteenth president may have been, Lincoln was too engrossed in his ball game to forego his turn at the plate."
Granted, there are differing versions of this around. However, it does appear to be an "improved" version of a contemporary newspaper
story that appeared in several newspapers, including the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin June 16, 1860:
"How Lincoln Received the Nomination
When the news of Lincoln's nomination reached Springfield, his friends were greatly excited, and hastened to inform "Old Abe" of it. He could not be found at his office or at home, but after some minutes the messenger discovered him out in a field with a parcel of boys, having a pleasant game of town-ball.
"All his comrades immediately threw up their hats and commenced to hurrah. Abe grinned considerably, scratched his head and said "Go on
boys; don't let such nonsense spoil a good game." The boys did go on with their bawling, but not with the game of ball."
This varies from Spalding's version in various minor details, but interestingly, they differ with what game it was that Lincoln was playing: base ball (the New York rules game, or town ball (earlier version of the baseball family).
There are other reference to Lincoln and baseball. In particular is this from William Herndon, Lincoln's law partner, who wrote biography about his friend. A Springfield bootmaker recalled this from the late 1830's or early 1840's to Mr. Herndon:
"Lincoln played townball...could catch a ball." And this account by Frank P. Blair from a 1900 biography. Blair's grandfather owned an estate seven miles north of Washington. He recalled from when he was seven or eight years old that Lincoln would come to visit quite frequently: "We boys, for hours at a time, played 'town ball' on the vast lawn, and Mr. Lincoln would join ardently in the sport. I remember vividly how he ran with the children; how long were his strides, and how far his coat-tails stuck out behind, and how we tried to hit him with the ball, as he ran the bases. He entered into the spirit of the play as completely as any of us, and we invariably hailed his coming with delight."
Conclusions About The Card
It's undeniable that Lincoln had a connection to "Base Ball" or "Town Ball." However, it is doubtful that the card depicts Lincoln. Historians and researchers of both Lincoln and Baseball, with the time and resources available to them, would have documented this long ago it would seem. Does it really matter though? If you have one of these, it's certainly a great conversation starter to share with your friends!