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What the ?*&! It’s a 19th Century Baseball Memo on Swearing

You think the language is a little raunchy these days? Try being on a baseball field in the late 19th century.

One auction company is in a quandry over how to present an old document that was either 1) aimed at curtailing obscenities on big league diamonds or 2) making fun of a team owner who tried to.

It’s not fancy. It’s not signed. But it’s definitely a conversation piece. Assuming, that is, all of the conversants are adults.

Robert Edward Auctions received an 1898 document from the estate of a baseball historian that includes a few cusswords most people thought weren’t invented until well into the 20th century.

It’s a never before seen one page missive from a National League committee denouncing the use of "obscene language" on the baseball field. Profanity was OK, apparently, but obscenities had gotten out of hand and the document spells out quite vividly some of the offending words used by uncouth players of the day.

The document is so ironic in its unabashed honesty and so shocking for its time some believe it may have been a parody of the attempt by baseball officials like Cincinnati club owner John Brush to eliminate such language. However, REA President Rob Lifson believes it is an actual directive from those in charge of dealing with the problem.

The item was consigned, so it should appear in REA’s spring 2008 auction catalog. Generally, however, such publications are G or no worse than PG-rated, which caused a bit of a dilemma for REA. Not wanting to offend, but believing the document was true to the company’s goal of having "opportunities to document the history of the game and its relationship to American culture," the decison was made to include it.

Lifson calls it "the most offensive official Major League baseball document that we have ever seen. That makes it all the more amusing to us, but we also recognize that maybe this is a piece that isn’t for the entire family. Truck divers, yes, sailors, yes, ballplayers in the 1890s, obviously yes. But probably not everyone."

In the end, it was decided that the item will be sold but with a "brown wrapper" addition to keep it at least somewhat family-friendly. An 1898 ticket stub has been photographed strategically over most of the offensive words.

To read the entire document, click here.

1898 document regarding baseball swearing

About Rich Mueller

Rich is the editor and founder of Sports Collectors Daily. A broadcaster and writer for more than 30 years and a collector for even longer than that, he's usually typing something somewhere. Type him back at [email protected].

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