Knights of Columbus online exhibit explores baseball’s Catholic history

Joe Bukuras   By Joe Bukuras

Public domain.

Hartford, Conn., Oct 5, 2021 / 13:01 pm (CNA).

The Knights of Columbus are releasing a four part series presentation exploring the historical connection between the fraternal organization and America’s pastime, baseball.

“For the Knights of Columbus,” the group wrote in an Oct. 1 statement, “the game served as an early avenue of assimilation for Catholic immigrants and first-generation Americans.”

The presentation, “Knights of Columbus Baseball: An American Story,” is an online exhibit and a presentation by the Knights of Columbus’ Andrew Fowler, who has researched Blessed Michael McGivney’s connection to baseball.

McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus, was beatified in October 2020.

Fowler is splitting up the exhibit into four phases, or “bases”. First base was released Oct. 1. Second base will be released during spring training of 2022. Third base will be released around the 2022 All-Star game, and home base will be released during the MLB playoffs in 2022.

In his presentation of “first base,” Fowler explains the Knights’ participation and contributions to the beginnings of baseball in the United States.

Jim O’Rourke, was the first man to get on base in a national league baseball game in 1876. O’Rourke went on to become a Knight of Columbus and serve on the Council 16 World War I war fund.

“So literally,” Fowler said, “a Knight of Columbus christened the new and oldest active professional league in American sports.”

Throughout the 19th century, many baseball teams were formed, “and the Knights of Columbus was no different.”

Fowler explained the difficult path for Catholics in America during the late 1800s, because they were seen as outsiders as having allegiance only to Rome. Catholics wanted a way to assimilate, and used baseball as a means for that end.

“So what did they do? They formed baseball leagues. And these leagues also served the purpose of promoting inter-council fraternity,” Fowler says.

Fowler added that Knights of Columbus leagues began popping up all over the country, noting that Chicago’s had 42 teams participating. He said that these leagues included major leaguers, notably Joe Quinn and Ross Youngs.

Fowler continued to list “prominent Knights in baseball”, such as Connie Mack, John McGraw, Johnny Evers, and Willie Keeler. More than 200 Knights were on Major League rosters by the mid-1910s, Fowler said.

Fowler says that Blessed Michael McGivney is recorded as playing in at least one game while at seminary in 1872. Displaying the box-score card from the game, Fowler notes that McGivney scored three runs, batted “cleanup”, or fourth hitter in the order, and played in left field.

Most games during the time were not played with a fence, Fowler added. With McGivney playing left field, he said, the Blessed “most likely had a decent throwing arm.” Batting cleanup, McGivney was probably one of the better hitters on the team, he added.

Deeming McGivney the “patron of baseball,” Fowler noted that the Knights’ founder “not only played the game, but that he saw value in the game as a tool for evangelization and for bringing the community together.”

Citing a 1908 Boston Globe article, Fowler displayed writer T.H. Murnane’s quote which said: “Strange to say baseball has a spiritual side. This is a fact, and the Knights of Columbus have done much for the members of the profession, for the player Knights are bound to do their duty, and protect, as far as possible, the young men breaking into the business, making the game cleaner and more wholesome all round.”

Giving a preview of “second base,” Fowler announced that he would explore how Babe Ruth, himself a Knight, revolutionized the game. He will also touch on the Knights’ World War I baseball efforts, and the Black Sox Scandal.

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