by Michael Aubrecht, Copyright 2003
Also online at

Source: Chess and Baseball (1998) by Robert John McCrary, past president of the U.S. Chess Federation
As many of you may have figured out by now, I'm an "old fashioned kinda guy" who likes "old fashioned kinda things". I have a very limited repertoire of interests: sports and chess. That's about it. I don't watch much prime-time television (other than Sportscenter), I don't play video games, or hunt, or fish or toil in my garage over an "old beater". I spend more time reading now than I ever have in my life and the only real exercise I get is playing with my kids in the backyard.

That being said, I am very passionate about the few interests that I do have and probably spend an unhealthy amount of time pursuing them. One hobby that I have picked up over the last few years is the game of Chess. I absolutely love it (although I'm not very good). I play all the time with my son, online with people from all over the world and against the computer in between. I have 5 boards in my house and at any given time, I can be involved in between 2-5 games (against man and machine) at the same time. I usually win 2 out of every 5, but it's not for lack of trying.

Believe it or not, Chess IS a sport. Like any sport, it requires both a game plan and strategy. It involves focus and determination. And it requires the ability to learn from your mistakes. As a freelance baseball writer, I have spent countless hours researching the history of America's National Pastime and was very surprised to learn that many similarities exist between Baseball and Chess and that they share a common history.

The Dictionary defines both as the following:

Chess: A game for two players, each beginning with 16 pieces of six kinds that are moved alternately on a board according to individual rules, with the objective of checkmating the opposing king.

Base·ball: A game played with a bat and ball by two opposing teams of nine players, each team playing alternately in the field and at bat, the players at bat having to run a course of four bases laid out in a diamond pattern in order to score.

Albert Einstein also realized the mental similarities between both games and was quoted as saying that "Chess grips its exponent, shackling the mind and brain so that the inner freedom and independence of even the strongest character cannot remain unaffected." And "You teach me baseball and I'll teach you relativity...No we must not. You will learn relativity faster than I learn baseball." In short, both "sports" are a thinking man's game.

Most baseball fans don't know that Jackson Showalter, who is credited with inventing the curve ball, was also a U.S. chess champion in the late 1880's or that Henry Chadwick, "The Father of Statistical Baseball" published a number of articles on the contemporary chess scene in the nineteenth century. They are also unaware that chess and baseball both established their first national organizations in New York City only a few months apart. The American Chess Association started in October 1857, while the National Association of Baseball Players began in March of 1858. One of the earliest baseball clubs was even named after chess hero Paul Morphy. In fact, between 1857 and 1860, both contests enjoyed national popularity and set a precedent for future sports in regards to game coverage and statistical analysis.

In 1859, an intercollegiate baseball and intercollegiate chess match began simultaneously as part of a single event when Amherst College and Williams College met on a neutral site in Pittsfield, Massachusetts to engage in a "trial of the mind as well as the muscle." Amherst won at both sports, and the teams, were heralded as "Athletic and Academic Champions." The Amherst Express newspaper summed up the "double-header concept" perfectly by printing, " The students of Amherst rejoice not merely in the fact that in this contest their Alma Mater has borne away the laurels; but also in the belief that by such encounters as these, a deeper interest will be excited by these amusements, which, while they serve as a relaxation from study, strengthen and develop body and mind."

Back in the day, coverage of sporting events rarely occurred above the local level. Chess and Baseball were the exception and for several decades, both contests competed daily in the papers across the country. Although respect for Chess in the sports media has declined over the years, ESPN Classic still lists several Chess matches in its "Classic Moments," section featuring the biggest sports events of the 20th century. They include when World champion Gary Kasparov beat IBM supercomputer "Deep Thought" (programmed to scan up to 720,000 chess positions per second) two-games-to-none in 1975.

Even today in the modern game, managers and players have repeatedly used the game of Chess in countless analogies and references. Take Dale Murphy who played for the Braves, Phillies and Rockies who said, "Baseball and chess are the two greatest games in the world. The strategy in both games is similar in a way. You never really hear about coaches in other sports maneuvering their players like chess pieces, but in baseball, that's how a manager often describes his job." Murphy approached the board with the same tenacity he showed on the field and defeated all challengers in the clubhouse except one in 1987. In fact, he showed so much potential that many believed he would become the first major league All-Star to earn the rank of "Grandmaster".

Roger Kahn, author of "The Boys of Summer," simplified it even more... "Baseball is chess" he said, "at 90 miles per hour."

So the next time you see Joe Torre swapping the line-up, changing his rotation, shifting the infield or signaling for a steal, try to picture Bobby Fischer executing a Queen sacrifice or a Kingside attack with the same goal in mind - to outwit their opponent and bring home another championship!


"Pride" of the Yankees
by Michael Aubrecht, Copyright 2003
Also online at

Equality means:
"The state or quality of being equal."

It is a simple word. Yet this 4-syllable noun has echoed like a cannon blast through the trenches of our society since the beginning of time. In the late 1940's and 50's the word "equality" emerged as the trumpet call for the women's movement in their quest to bridge the "gender gap." Today, it is inscribed on handle of the feminists' hammer that threatens to shatter the so-called "glass-ceiling." Many still feel that the "battle of the sexes" is far from over and that for every victory - there has been defeat.

Throughout the history of sports, the roles of women have often come under fire and the true integration of both sexes on a "level" playing field is still up for debate. I personally don't consider myself to be a "sexist", but I still find it hard to believe that the majority of female athletes could compete in certain contests that require brute-physical force such as professional football. However… I have no problem envisioning a female taking charge on a baseball diamond and as anyone who knows anything about the All-American Girls' League can see - "throwing like a girl" isn't always a "bad thing".

Over the past century, many women have repeatedly risen to the challenge of their male counterparts, often changing opinions and the way we (as males) look at the fairer species. One lady in particular not only dominated the male players of her time - she dominated three legends and became an inspiration both on and off the field.

In 1931, the owner of the Southern Association's AA Chattanooga Lookouts signed a talented, 17-year-old pitcher named Jackie Mitchell. Desperate for an "edge" to increase ticket sales Joe Engel opted to bill his team as the ONLY club to feature a female on the mound and the demure Mitchell fit that bill. Although she was not the first female player to sign in the minor leagues as Lizzie Arlington had broken through that barrier in 1898 while pitching a single game for Reading PA's team against neighboring Allentown, she was by far the best and would soon prove it to herself (and the world) against three of the greatest.

As was customary back in the day, major league teams often traveled the country playing against members of their minor league's farm system. This gave the locals an opportunity to see big league players in towns that did not boast big league franchises. It also kept the players in off-season shape - both in body and mind. In April of '31, the New York Yankees stopped in Chattanooga for an exhibition game, on their way home from spring training down south. Billed as a huge event due to the appearance of "Murderers Row", over 4,000 fans turned out along with scores of newspaper reporters and photographers.

Lookouts manager Bert Niehoff initially started the game with Clyde Barfoot, but after he surrendered a double and a single, the signal was sent out for Jackie Mitchell. Imagine the expressions on the Yankees' faces when the rookie southpaw (in a custom-made baggy white uniform) stepped up on to the mound to face their team. Even worse, imagine the pressure she endured, as the first batter of her baseball career was none other than the "Sultan of Swat" Babe Ruth!

Mitchell's pitching arsenal consisted of only 1 pitch - a dropping curve ball known as a "sinker" and she used it like no other ace had before (or after). A grinning Bambino took ball one, and then swung at (and missed) the next 2. Jackie's fourth pitch caught the corner of the plate for a called-strike infuriating an embarrassed Ruth who promptly threw his bat and stomped back into the Yankees' dugout.

Next up was non-other than "The Iron Horse" Lou Gehrig who followed the Babe's lead and swung at three in a row for "K" number 2. In just 7 pitches, Mitchell had sat down two of the greatest sluggers ever to don the pinstripes. After a lengthy standing ovation, Jackie walked Tony Lazzari and was pulled in favor of the returning Barfoot. Despite her historical performance on the mound, the Yankees went on to win the contest 14-4.

A few days later, Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis voided Mitchell's contract, claiming that baseball was "too strenuous" for a woman. It was a gross injustice and an obvious ploy to curb the embarrassment of their bruised male egos. (MLB formally banned the signing of women to contracts on June 21, 1952).

Determined to press on, Jackie began barnstorming, traveling across the country pitching in exhibition games and in 1933, she signed on with a men's team known as the House of David (for their long hair and beards). Mitchell traveled with them until 1937, but eventually became disenchanted with the recurring "circus-type" antics that she was called upon to do like playing an inning while riding a donkey. Fed up with baseball, she later retired at the tender age of 23 and took an office job with her father's company.

If not for the blatant railroading of Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who knows what could have been? Would Mitchell have eventually worked her way up into the "big show" opening the door for future female aces? Would the All-American Girls' League have been simply the Major Leagues with less-men in the line-up? Maybe. Perhaps we would be watching Rogers Clemens or Randy Johnson going up against a much better-looking rival.

Regardless of what could have been, Jackie Mitchell's story has become an inspiration to generations of female athletes. Who knows? Maybe one day we'll see a modern version of MISS Mitchell on the mound. I just hope that MR. Giambi and MR. Jeter can deal with a strikeout better than their forefathers from the 1931 team.


A proud, published member of

Copyright 2005 Michael Aubrecht - Best viewed in Internet Explorer at 1024x768+