I'm back on Deadspin today, with a bit of forgotten baseball history that I've been digging into for the last few months. It's got it all: moustaches, old-fashioned racism, and a cloak-and-dagger labor war. What more could you want?
The bulletin was posted on the evening of February 8, 1889, in the lobby of Cairo's Hotel d'Orient:
Base-ball at the Pyramids. The Chicago and All-America teams, comprising the Spalding base-ball party, will please report in the hotel office, in uniform, promptly at ten o'clock to-morrow morning. We shall leave for the hotel at that hour, camels having been provided for the All-Americas and donkeys for the Chicago players, with carriages for the balance of the party. The Pyramids will be inspected, the Sphinx visited, and a game played upon the desert near by, beginning at 2 o'clock.
Around the notice huddled 20 travel-weary ballplayers, baseball missionaries brought by Albert Spalding to spread the national pastime around the globe. They had traveled from Hawaii to Australia, from Ceylon to the Suez, exhibiting their game—and Spalding's sporting equipment—whenever they got the chance. In Australia they had played for thousands, but in Cairo they were curiosities who passed their time like all American travelers: shopping in the bazaars, screaming at beggars and complaining about the food. Tomorrow would come an exhibition that nobody asked for, which remains one of the strangest in the history of American sport.
Among them was one whose mind was not on sightseeing. John Montgomery Ward—shortstop, lawyer, and president of the nascent players' union—was transfixed by a short item in the American newspaper, the first he had seen in months, which said that the National League had taken advantage of his absence to enact a salary cap that would cut his income in half. As his teammates prepared to greet the Sphinx, the most remarkable mind in baseball was taking the first steps to a revolution.