The House of David was an apocalyptic cult that formed a commune community which focused on clean, hirsute living, celibacy, and most memorably their minor league baseball team.
Founded in the late 1800’s on 1,000 acres of land, the new society farmed and developed a shockingly sophisticated series of services such as their own electricity, cold storage, and cannery.
However the House of David is likely best remembered for its shockingly successful baseball teams.
The community’s founder was a big sports fan and believed that such endeavors were good for both the body and the soul.
Starting in 1913, the commune had started playing competitive baseball and within just a couple of years, the players had fallen into a strict training regimen.
By the 1920’s the House of David players had become a fairly famous “barnstorming” sensation, traveling around and playing exhibition matches. Many of the players caught the attention of the major leagues, but the House of David forbid the cutting of their hair, so the trademark beards that made the team recognizable also made them unfit to move up to the pros.
Despite the bearded ceiling, the teams managed to gain a great deal of notoriety and some teams even took on professional players who would grow a beard or sometimes even wear fake beards in solidarity with their teammate’s religion.
The teams continued to play well into the 1950’s but the House of David commune was beginning to disband and was eventually embroiled in an underage sex scandal which essentially snuffed out any straggling remnants of the sect.
However the baseball teams and their communal heritage are still remembered in the House of David Museum which explores the history of the colony from its illustrious baseball teams to their impressive zoo to their industrial triumphs.
It perhaps says something of tennis’s slightly misshapen role in the national consciousness that a grown-up book documenting the sport’s entire history doesn’t seem quite so ridiculous.
It’s hard to imagine a publisher going for a social history of football such is the wealth of knowledge already out there.
But tennis, as Elizabeth Wilson explains in Love Game, has always been seen as a slightly effete cousin among British sports.
One which envelops the country for a fortnight, but barely makes a dent for 50 weeks of the year.
So it’s reasonable, you suppose, that you could capture much of the history of it in just over 300 pages.
Of course, you can’t. Not really. For those that know their McEnroes and Murrays but not their Lenglens and Lacostes, she weaves a well-drawn line straight through the game.
Which is handy, but frankly, there are whole books to be read or written on tennis’s Riviera era from the 1870s to the war; on the sport’s uneasy, but in many ways pioneering relationship with gay players; on Roger and Rafa; on Gottfried von Cramm and the Nazis.
Wilson addresses all here, of course, and, to be fair, often in depth.
She’s particularly good on the early days of the game, when vicars promoted the sport, through to its widespread adoption by the turn-of- the-century moneyed classes.
But the human stories – many forgotten to non-tennis buffs – are what give this history some bite.
Yes, we get chunks on Connors/McEnroe/Borg but most fascinating are the stories of gay players like serial US Open winner Bill Tilden, who was shunned by the tennis world because of his relations with young boys, and died penniless, and Von Cramm, who survived being gay under the Nazis on account of his fame.
American marathon runner Thomas Hicks won the gold medal at the 1904 Olympics – but nearly died trying.
At mile 10 Hicks was already reliant on the support of handlers; by mile 20 they were dosing him with a mixture of strychnine, a rat poison, and egg whites.
As Karen Abbott describes:
“He began hallucinating, believing that the finish line was still 20 miles away. In the last mile he begged for something to eat. Then he begged to lie down. He was given more brandy but refused tea.
He swallowed two more egg whites. He walked up the first of the last two hills, and then jogged down on the incline. Swinging into the stadium, he tried to run but was reduced to a graceless shuffle.
His trainers carried him over the line, holding him aloft while his feet moved back and forth, and he was declared the winner.”
At the time mixtures of strychnine, heroin, cocaine, and caffeine were widely used by endurance athletes, a practice which persisted until heroin and cocaine became available only by prescription in the 1920s.
Hicks’s case marked the first recorded instance of drug use in the modern Olympics.
Cameron Percy hits his approach shot on the first hole during the third round of the Genesis Open golf tournament at Riviera Country Club, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017, in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles.
There are all sorts of literary friendships in history. J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg and The Algonquin Round Table.
But they usually restricted themselves to literary pursuits. Not so with J.M. Barrie’s cricket team, which was packed with famous names and almost no athletic ability.
J.M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan) loved cricket. He loved it so much he formed a cricket club in 1887. But he didn’t pick his team based on athletic ability, no. That would be silly. Instead, he invited people based on a more eccentric set of criteria:
With regard to the married men, it was because I liked their wives, with the regard to the single men, it was for the oddity of their personal appearance.
He got what he asked for, naturalist Joseph Thomson wore pajamas as a substitute for cricket whites. Also joining the team were Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, P. G. Wodehouse, G. K. Chesterton, Jerome K. Jerome, and A. A. Milne.
The name of the club was the “Allahakbarries,” which is a culturally insensitive pun. And a mistake, since the two explorers who came up with it thought the name meant “Heaven help us,” which was something the team would need to say a lot.
That’s not what “Allah Akbar” actually means, but, hey, they did manage to get Barrie’s name in there.
Among the team’s greatest hits:
Right before the first game, Barrie discovered his teammates trying to decide which side of the bat to use to hit the ball.
One French player thought that when the umpire called “over,” the game was literally finished.
Barrie described a player as “Breaks everything except the ball.”
Barrie had to write the team a book of advice which included asking them not practice before matches since it would only give their opponents confidence and “Should you hit the ball, run at once. Do not stop to cheer.”
Dakar Rally Drivers Stephane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean Paul Cottret, from France, race their Peugeot through harsh country during the Argentinian 10th stage of the Dakar Rally, between the Chilecito in and San Juan, Argentina,