Really now, the strangest team in history? It seems a rather extravagant claim. And I will readily admit that the competition is stiff. I for instance am rather fond of the tales of American whaling ship crews having pickup games on Antarctic ice flows.
But I put the claim forward nonetheless. I believe the strangest baseball team in history was fielded by the players of the Royal Shakespeare Company in the summer of 1959. So how exactly did a bunch of notable British actors, and a couple of blacklisted Americans, find their way onto a ball diamond?
In all such enterprises there must be an initial idea. Probably in this case it came from Canada. You see at the 1958 Stratford (Ontario) Shakespeare Festival a comedy act was performed called The Shakespearean Baseball Game.
This was a bit of doggerel put on by Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster. They did a dramatic reading in the style of the Bard strung together a little like Casey at the Bat. A sample:
Umpire 1 Hark! The players come. To our
appointed places shall we go, you at first
and I behind the plate. This game
depends on how you make your call.
Farewell! until you hear me cry “Play ball!”
It is not great art, but over the winter may have traveled across the Atlantic to Stratford on Avon, home of the Shakespeare Memorial Theater (they became the Royal Shakespeare Company later in 1959).
But an idea is not enough, you must also have means to carry it out. And by luck the cast of the summer productions had several Americans and one rather remarkable British player.
Roy Dotrice was a former POW. He fled the German occupation of his native Guernsey Island in a small boat, arriving in southern England in time to sign up for the RAF. Nobody knew, or perhaps cared, that he was only 16 at the time. He was later shot down and captured, spending two year in a variety of camps. As he was at times held with American and Canadian prisoners he learned baseball. He in fact became a rather proficient pitcher. He also participated in camp theatrical productions, all too often drawing female parts due to his youth!
Mr. Dotrice has given several interviews over the years describing baseball with the Royal Shakespeareans...
From the Philidelphia Enquirer in 1988: