Ballists, Dead Beats, and Muffins

Inside Early Baseball in Illinois
Author: Robert D. Sampson
A social history of how Illinois embraced the game
Cloth – $110
Paper – $24.95
eBook – $14.95
Publication Date
Paperback: 05/02/2023
Cloth: 05/02/2023
Buy the Book Request Desk/Examination Copy Request Review Copy Request Rights or Permissions Request Alternate Format Preview

About the Book

Baseball’s spread across Illinois paralleled the sport’s explosive growth in other parts of the country. Robert D. Sampson taps a wealth of archival research to transport readers to an era when an epidemic of “base ball on the brain” raged from Alton to Yorkville. Focusing on the years 1865 to 1869, Sampson offers a vivid portrait of a game where local teams and civic ambition went hand in hand and teams of paid professionals displaced gentlemen’s clubs devoted to sporting fair play. This preoccupation with competition sparked rules disputes and controversies over imported players while the game itself mirrored society by excluding Black Americans and women. The new era nonetheless brought out paying crowds to watch the Rock Island Lively Turtles, Fairfield Snails, and other teams take the field up and down the state.

A first-ever history of early baseball in Illinois, Ballists, Dead Beats, and Muffins adds the Prairie State game’s unique shadings and colorful stories to the history of the national pastime.

* Publication supported by a grant from the Winton U. Solberg US History Subvention Fund

About the Author

Robert D. Sampson is the editor of the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society and the author of John L. O’Sullivan and His Times.


"Ballists, Dead Beats, and Muffins makes clear that there was a simplicity, innocence, and freshness to baseball in Illinois in these years, even as Sampson details the movement—probably inevitable—toward a more competitive and more professional level of play." --Third Coast Review

"A delightful collection of history and baseball anecdotes for both casual and serious baseball fans." --Illinois Times

"Provides a wealth of detail about the origins of the Illinois game and the teams who played it from Chicago down south to Cairo and nearly every town in between." --St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Effectively blends history and nostalgia, sparking an appreciation of the National pastime. . . . This 250-page gem by Robert D. Sampson is an exhaustive focus on baseball's early style and sweep when gentlemanly players, civic leaders, and hosts of spectators stressed the bliss more than the score." --Community Word

"Highly entertaining with useful appendices." --Spitball Magazine


“Detailed studies of baseball during these crucial years are rare, with ones that focus on a single state even more so. Bob Sampson’s Ballists, Dead Beats, and Muffins is thus both timely and valuable, confirming some long-accepted assumptions and forcing reexamination of others. Highly recommended!”--Peter Morris, author of Baseball Fever: Early Baseball in Michigan