One hundred and twenty years ago, the New York Yankees arrived in Bermuda for spring training. While they were here, they reportedly challenged a group of locals to a game of cricket; the results of that game have been in question ever since.
I came across an interesting anecdote some months ago while researching for a story about the time the New York Yankees came to Bermuda for spring training in 1913. The story is just three sentences long—a throwaway detail for the writer, but a detail that strikes at the heart of our national pride as Bermudians.
That writer was a woman named Harriette Underhill. She was a sports columnist for the Tribune at the time, but she would later go on to be the foremost film critic in America during the silent film era—a legendary figure in the history of newspaper women and a key player in the evolution of American cinema. When the Yankees arrived in Bermuda to train, she was sent to tag along. It was big news at the time. No professional baseball team had travelled abroad for their preseason training before. Associated Press reporters sent out updates for newspapers around America, detailing the team’s progress and untimely injuries. In one article, Underhill references a cricket game that took place between Yankees players and “some Englishmen” in which the professional baseball players won.
- Reprinted in the Royal Gazette from the New York Tribune
- Hamilton, Bermuda, March 7, 1913
- Some Englishmen who were watching the men [New York Yankees players] at practice yesterday said: “The baseball looks a very stupid game. I suppose you never saw a game of cricket, did you?” And the men, like true Americans, answered: “No, but we can beat you at it,” which they promptly did.
Underhill included sparse details, but there are enough for me to tease out a scenario here just so that we have a full picture of what, exactly, is being alleged.
It’s March 1913. The New York Yankees are going through their daily practice at the Hamilton Cricket Club grounds—where Bernard Park is today. Among the crowd gathered to watch the famed ballplayers are a number of thoroughly unimpressed “Englishmen.” And they’re heckling the Yankees players, telling them that baseball is stupid, and that cricket is better. “Bet you haven’t even seen a cricket game before!” one of them yells. The proud, American ballplayers respond to this insult to their game. “No, we’ve never seen a cricket game,” one of them admits. “But we’ll beat you at it anyways!” And according to Underhill—one of the most wildly famous writers of her time, keep in mind—theydid.
Obviously, they didn’t though. That’s what I’d told myself. They couldn’t have. They wouldn’t have any idea how to bowl! They’d crack a few sixes, for sure, but they couldn’t deal with bowling themselves. I decided she’d made it all up.
Right up until recently when I found another account of a game of cricket played between locals and professional baseball players in March 1913. Except, every detail was the opposite. It wasn’t the Yankees that played us in cricket; it was the minor league baseball team here training with them—the Jersey City Skeeters. And it wasn’t Englishmen, or Bermudians, who insulted baseball. The baseball players insulted cricket. And they sure didn’t beat us like good American boys. They took licks for an hour before giving up and going back to their own sport. This account comes from an interview with one Jack Watlington in the Royal Gazette in 1943, as he recalled the year the Yankees came to town.
Here is how our version of the story has been recorded in history.
- CRICKET FOUND DIFFICULT BY BASEBALL PLAYERS from the Royal Gazette December 23, 1943.
- American servicemen who think cricket is an easy game to play should not be deceived. The Sports Editor of the Royal Gazette learned from Mr. Jack Watlington, a member of the Hamilton Second XI cricket team thirty years ago, that the Jersey City baseball team which wintered here at that time made this mistake much to their discomfort. After decrying the British national lame, the International League team agreed to play a game of cricket with the local eleven…Jersey City scored about 60 runs, according to Mr. Watlington’s recollection, and then took the field. They found bowling difficult, not being able to take account of the fact that a spin ball breaks faster on the ground than in the air. The Hamilton Second XI finally had to lend them a couple of bowlers. The home team lost a couple of wickets until Harry Tucker and Jack Watlington partnered. While they were at the wicket the score was crossed; and from then on the runs mounted steadily.
After about an hour of this, the ballplayers found they had to quit and attend baseball practice.