In 1889, the guy who first used a fielding glove in the major leagues, traveled to France and introduced the game. A.G. Spaulding did not make many inroads. The game was strange to the French and it wasn’t until the French Baseball Union, an amateur league formed in 1912 by ex-patriots, that it enjoyed success. The game grew up in Paris and a game between Vésinet and Diepp drew 3,000 spectators. The league went on hiatus but French soldiers began to love the game as Canadians used the time between battles in WWI to practice the American pastime with allied troops. The arrival of Americans in 1918 did even more to widen the sport’s reach in France. Rouen, the capital of Normandy, became a baseball hotbed. A game between two American teams drew 20,000 fans. The popularity of the game must be credited to Major League players who were serving in the military in France such as Christy Mathewson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, George Kelly and Jonny Evers.
The game reached its peak at the conclusion of World War I and did not re-emerge until the allies liberated France in World War II. Between 1955 and 1992, Paris and Nice won 26 of 28 French Championships. In 1976, there were 21 baseball clubs in France. By 1987, there were 170.
The domestic league in France is called the French Elite League and it has eight teams: Rouen, Montpellier, Savigny, Senart, La Guerche, Toulouse, Montigny and Clermont-Ferrand. The Rouen Huskies have dominated the past decade, winning 9 of the last 10 league titles.
Joris Bert was the first French player to be drafted by a Major League team, as he was selected in the 19th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2007 first-year player draft.
So, why is this even up for discussion today?
There is a bond between the two nations that go beyond the political…the support at the earliest days of our country. Many Americans are Francophiles. Many French are Americanophile.
But today we are all French.