Baseball and Chess

By Bill Wall


Baseball and chess were the first two pastimes to form national organizations.   In October 1857, the American Chess Association was formed.  In March 1858, the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) was formed.


In April 1859, a Brooklyn baseball team was named after Paul Morphy.  The “Morphy Base Ball Club” was active in New York for several years.  Paul Morphy was an honorary member.


On July 1-2, 1859, Amherst College and Williams College held a competition involving both baseball and chess (muscle and mind).  The student bodies of each college selected a team of 13 baseball players and a team of 3 chess players to compete against each other in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.  Amherst won both events (the baseball score was 73-22 in 25 innings).  The events were the first intercollegiate baseball game and the first intercollegiate chess match.


In 1873, chess master Captain George Henry MacKenzie (1837-1891) captained a baseball team made up of New York chess players.


Henry Chadwick (1824-1908) is considered the “father of baseball.”  He was a sportswriter, baseball statistician, and historian. He compiled the first baseball rulebook, created the box score, and kept statistics on batting average and earned run average for each baseball player.  In 1880, he wrote “De Witt’s American Chess Manual.”  In 1905, he was the co-author of “How to Learn to Play the Game of Chess.  He played chess at the Brooklyn Chess Club and the Queens County Chess Club.


Jackson Whipps Showalter (1859-1935), 5-time U.S. chess champion, was an avid baseball fan and amateur player.  He was a noted pitcher in Lexington, Kentucky, and famous for his curve ball (he did not invent it).


In 1909, Jose Capablanca attended Columbia University to play baseball.  He played shortstop on the freshmen team.  At one time, he considered becoming a professional baseball player, but abandoned the idea after as shoulder injury.


In 1994, a National League vs. American League chess set was created.  It was endorsed and signed by Willie Mays.


In 1996, a Golden Age of Baseball Chess Set was created by the Danbury Mint.  It was the first chess set authorized by Major League Baseball.  The kings were Babe Ruth (American League) and Hank Aaron (National League).  The other pieces included Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Ted Williams, Walter Johnson, Stan Musial, and Roy Campanella.  The pawns were bat-in-ball pawns.  It came with a stadium-design chessboard and display case.


Baseball players who play(ed) chess include Barry Bonds, Jim Bouton, Don Drysdale, Frank Francisco, Ron Guidry, Travis Hafner, Ken Holtzman, Derek Jeter, Mike Marshall, Christy Mathewson, Thurman Munson, Dale Murphy, Mickey Rivers, and Gary Sheffield.


Ron Guidry was once on the cover of Chess Life magazine.  He was quoted as saying, “In both baseball and chess, you are always looking ahead and cannot afford to underestimate your opponent.”