Edison and Baseball

Thomas Edison, baseball fan? Absolutely!

Baseball has roots in America that go back to the mid-1700s. Edison throws out ballThe first organized team that played under rules similar to today’s game was the New York Knickerbockers in 1845. The first competitive game was played at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, NJ, in 1846. In the 1860’s “New York” style baseball swept the nation (due to the Civil war) and baseball was touted as the “national pastime” by metro New York journalists. During this time, there were many leagues, both large and small; the larger leagues associated with cities were able to drive up revenue and hire the better players and gain media attention. In Brooklyn, the Edison Field (I) was home to the Ampere AC and then the semipro teams, the Edisons and the Voltas, in 1907.

Edison with ball team circa 1920

Edison was known to support and sponsor company teams. Edison is seen in the center of the photo with one of the Edison baseball teams in the 1920s at a unknown location.

As baseball continued to gain popularity and become more organized in the United States, a common practice was to have someone throw out the opening pitch. Edison, in his later years, could be found at ball games doing just that!

The Thomas A. Edison film company captured what is the first known baseball game footage on May, 20 1898. Photographed from one camera position behind home plate, the film shows 27 seconds of a game in progress. The action includes two players running toward the camera; one uniform is distinguishable as that of a team from Newark, New Jersey. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Reagan reading on the radio

Early in his career, Ronald Reagan was a sports announcer and reconstructed baseball games to broadcast on the radio from reports telegraphed via an Edison Universal stock ticker. He never actually attended the games! Today we just pull out our phone and watch the game!

Edison at Florida Training camp

Headline News: Fort Myers Tropical News, February 25, 1926

A recruit by the name of Tom Edison broke into big league company yesterday and finished his first try-out with a batting average of .500, a mark which Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and the best sluggers of the land have never been able to reach after a whole season of endeavor.

Edison is a local boy, coming here when comparatively young by way of East Orange, NY [sic]. He lives out on McGregor Boulevard. Although known to his intimates as an expert electirican, few of them suspected his talent for baseball. Yesterday, unannounced he appeared at the Fair Grounds where the Philadelphia Athletics are in the throes of their spring training. As he stood around watching the ball players do their stuff he attracted the eye of Kid Gleason, one of Connie Mack's right hand men.

"Think you could hit one?" asked the Kid. "Sure," replied Edison with the confidence that is music to the ear of the baseball coach. "Let's go," decided Gleason promptly. "Here, Connie," he added, "you be catcher and I'll pitch." The Kid seized a ball and trotted to the box. Mr. Mack donned Micky Cochrane's big glove and was right at home, for backtopping was one of the things he did best during his playing days. Mr. Edison was armed with the big bludgeon with which Al Simmins knocks 'em fenceward and the movie picture men gathered around.

...Mr. Edison swang again and caught the ball on what Sam Gray described as the "very beagle." It soared out of the infield for a Texas leaguer over first base, a hit that even so agile a ball hawk as Joe Hauser would have failed ot get.

"Sign him up, Connie" advised the chorus as Mr. Edison handed back the bat to Simmons and shook hands with the crowd which surged to congratulate him.

From Tom Smoot's The Edisons of Fort Myers.

Cobb, Edison and Mack c. 1927

In the 1920s, Edison found his way into the Athletics training camp in Florida where he said, "Baseball is the greatest of American games. Some say football, but it is my firm belief, and it shall always be, that baseball has no superior...I have not attended very many big games, but I don't believe you can find a more ardent follower of baseball than myself, as a day seldom passes when I do not read the sporting pages of the newspaper. In this way I keep a close tab on the two major leagues and there was one time when I could name the players of every club in both leagues." St. Petersburg Times, February 25, 1927

In a recent article entitled Edison at the Bat, Andrew Martin writes, "Fort Myers Possesses a rich tradition of professional baseball that is well known around the country, but few people know that this reputation Edison and Baseball Commissioner Connie Mack, 1926started in large part because of famous inventor and part-time resident Thomas Edison. Best known for his numerous inventions, including the movie camera and light bulb, Edison was also a dedicated baseball fan and took batting practice with the Philadelphia Athletics in Fort Myers during spring training in 1926 & 1927, making national headlines each time. These episodes provided some of the most unique scenes the city has ever seen and the press coverage helped establish the city’s connection with baseball that remains today." Read the full article...

Connie Mack managed the Philadelphia Athletics for the club's first 50 seasons beginning 1901.  He played professional baseball before becoming a manager and owner of the Athletics.  Mack was easy-going and liked disciplined players on his team.  Norman Lee Macht, who recently wrote Connie Mack: The Turbulant and Triumphant Years, 1915-1931, shares the following account of the first meeting between Mack and Edison.

"One Wednesday morning a motorcar pulled up to the third base line and stopped. A few people got out and helped a white-haired gentleman down from the running board. The man walked slowly over to Connie Mack. One of his companions introduced him as the inventor Thomas Edison. Mack said a few words, but his soft voice didn't register.

"I can't hear a word you say," the seventy-nine year old Edison said. "I'm deaf as an addar."

Mack shouted in his ear, "Do you like baseball?"

"I'm a real crank," said Edison, still using the obsolete ninteenth century term for a fan.

Macht goes on to share this account of Edison meeting Ty Cobb: "On Ty Cobb's first day in an A's uniform on March 7, 1927, a gang of fifty newspaper and movie photographers were there to greet him. When Thomas Edison showed up, Cobb joined the festivities, offering to pitch to the eighty-year-old inventor....Cobb stood about halfway to the mound and lobbed the ball. Edison took a mighty swing and connected; the ball hit Cobb in the shoulder knocking him to the ground. Amid cries of "Sign him" from the spectators, Cobb picked himself up and shook hands with the smiling Edison."

Edison and the Athletics, Edison home in Fort Myers, courtesty Edison & Ford Winter Estates

Thomas Edison, center, poses with the entire A's baseball team at his home in Fort Myers.  
Photo courtesy of the Edison & Ford Winter Estates

Yankee Stadium: Edison Cement

Old Yankee StadiumThe closing of Yankee Stadium at the end of the 2008 baseball season also brought to a close a chapter in Edison history. The Edison Portland Cement Co. provided the concrete for the original 1923 stadium, a concrete so “hard Edison Portland Cementand durable,” says sportswriter Tom Verducci in a recent Sports Illustrated piece, that New York City decided “not to touch it” during the 1973-74 renovation.

Edison’s cement company did not become a profitable enterprise until 1922, the year construction began on the stadium. Perhaps the sale of concrete for Yankee Stadium put Edison Portland Cement Co. in the black. According to a 1923 news report, more than 30,000 cubic yards of concrete, made from 45,000 barrels of cement, 30,000 cubic yards of gravel, and 15,000 cubic yards of sand went into the stadium’s construction.