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Following this year’s regular business meeting, Robert D. Sampson, a retired writer and college professor, will give a presentation entitled, “Ballists, Dead Beats, and Muffins: Inside Early Baseball in Illinois.” In Peoria and nearly 1,000 other places, Illinoisans couldn’t get enough of baseball in the years after the Civil War. The story of its rise and decline includes gambling, physical confrontations, and lots of fun and humor. Robert D. Sampson taps a wealth of archival research to transport readers to an era when an epidemic of “base ball on the brain” raged from Alton to Yorkville. Focusing on the years 1865 to 1869, Sampson offers a vivid portrait of a game where local teams and civic ambition went hand in hand and teams of paid professionals displaced gentlemen’s clubs devoted to sporting fair play. This preoccupation with competition sparked rules disputes and controversies over imported players while the game itself mirrored society by excluding Black Americans and women. The new era nonetheless brought out paying crowds to watch the Rock Island Lively Turtles, Fairfield Snails, and other teams take the field up and down the state.
Robert D. Sampson is a retired writer and college professor who spent nearly a decade researching the rise and decline of baseball in Illinois between 1865-1870. He is the author of “John L. O’Sullivan and His Times” (Kent State University Press, 2003) and numerous articles in academic journals. He is reputedly the “slowest man in vintage base ball,” a game played with the rules, equipment, and uniforms of the 1860 era and edits the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society.
Leave your fancy clothes in the closet on the 24th; we’re encouraging all attendees to wear their favorite baseball-related apparel to this program.