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We Are the Champions!

As winter turns to spring, so do thoughts turn to the national pastime — baseball. In many ways, today's game is very different from the baseball played in the 1860s — when teams such as the Brooklyn Atlantics dominated the sport.

Lady Day and Mister Ella Fitzgerald

The Brooklyn Atlantics dominated early baseball by winning championships in 1861, 1864 and 1865. The Atlantics usually crushed their competition, scoring two or three times more runs than their opponents. The game was an amateur sport. According to the rules of the National Association of Base Ball Players, athletes could not accept wages to play ball, although gifts and jobs were sometimes offered as a means of compensation. This team portrait is an original photograph mounted on a card; a forerunner of the baseball cards that became popular in the 1880s. At the start of the 1865 season, the Atlantics presented opposing teams with framed photographs of the "Champion Nine." The photographer, Scottish-born Charles H. Williamson (1826-1874), opened a daguerreotype studio in Brooklyn in 1851 and worked as a photographer until his death.

It is believed that baseball's roots are in a British game called rounders or four-old-cat. An image showing how baseball might have begun was published in 1760. The early history of baseball in America is found in a Special Presentation called Early Baseball Pictures, 1860s - 1920s. You can also trace the events that led to the day in 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke major league baseball's color barrier by visiting By Popular Demand: Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s - 1960s. This collection on the history of baseball is from the American Memory Web site, which offers more than 100 presentations of materials from the collections of the Library of Congress and other institutions.

When Jackie Robinson began his rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he became the first African American to play major league baseball in the 20th century, breaking down the "color line" in effect since 1876. In this letter from Jackie Robinson to Ralph Norton, a fellow alumnus of Pasadena Junior College, Robinson reports on his historic debut, the appointment of Burt Shotton as the Dodgers' manager and the well-being of his wife and infant son.

Another collection for fans is Baseball Cards, 1887-1914, which offers 2,100 early baseball cards dating from 1887 to 1914. These colorful cards show such legendary figures as Ty Cobb stealing third base for Detroit, Tris Speaker batting for Boston and pitcher Cy Young posing formally in his Cleveland uniform (see image above). Cigarette card collector Benjamin K. Edwards preserved these baseball cards in albums with more than 12,000 other cards on many subjects. After his death, Edwards' daughter gave the albums to noted poet and Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg, who donated them to the Library's Prints and Photographs Division in 1954. Cy Young, perhaps baseball's most famous pitcher, played for Cleveland. The panoramic photograph above was from a game played there. You can see more than 4,000 panoramic photos on a variety of subjects at Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991. For images of stadiums, click on "Search by Keyword" and type in "stadium." You'll get links to 100 extraordinary images!

Want to learn more about the national pastime? Go to Baseball and Jackie Robinson: Selected Bibliography for a reading list with books for readers of all ages, and you can also find links to related Web sites. The Library's Web site for kids and families, America's Library, includes a Play Ball! section in Join America at Play. And if you really think you're up on your baseball trivia, play the Batter Up! game as well.

A. "Champions of America." Albumen photographic print by Charles H. Williamson, Brooklyn, New York, 1865. Chromolithograph with hand-color. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Nos.: LC-USZC4-4572 (color); LC-USZ62-94553 (b&w)

B. Cy Young baseball card, created 1911; issued by the American Tobacco Co. Call No: Lot 13163-29, no. 65. Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-132874 (b&w film copy neg.)

C. "Amateur Championship Game, Telling's Strollers vs. Hanna's Cleaners, Brookside Stadium--Sept. 20, 1914, attendance 100,000." Gelatin silver print, copyright by Miller Studio (Cleveland, Ohio), 1914. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Nos.: LC-USZ62-97618 (b&w)

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