Today is the birthday (1873) of John Barton “Bart” King, a US cricketer, active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who was regarded as the best US all rounder of his day. You might think that being the best at cricket in the US is not saying much, but he played in first class cricket against English and Australian teams and was a key player in defeating them. Don Bradman called him “America’s greatest cricketing son” and he was made an honorary member of the MCC.
King was born in Philadelphia in 1873. Early in his life, he worked in the linen trade in his family business, but when it was clear that he was cut out for cricket, which, at the time, was played in the US by men who had independent means and could devote themselves wholly to the sport, his teammates set him up in a sinecure selling insurance.
King came to cricket only after first playing baseball. He began to play club cricket at Tioga Cricket Club in 1888, aged 15, starting out as a batsman. Tioga was one of the lesser Philadelphia cricket clubs. King played his first recorded match for the club in 1889, when he was tried as a bowler due to his physique (he was 6’1”). He took 37 wickets for 99 runs for the club in the 1889 cricket season. King played for Tioga until 1896, when he joined Belmont Cricket Club, the premier team in the US.
In 1893, the Australian team stopped by Philadelphia on its way home from a tour of England. Australia fielded a strong side, but the team was tired after a long tour and trip. In spite of this fatigue, the Australians chose to face the full strength of the Gentlemen of Philadelphia in a three-day match starting September 29th. On a small ground at Belmont, the September grass was coarse. It had been rolled so that the ball moved very quickly across the ground. The Australian side, fielding first, dropped many catches and could not cope with the short boundary, allowing the Philadelphians to reach a total of 525 runs. King came in to bat last, at number 11, making 36 runs. The leading Australian bowlers, Hugh Trumble and George Giffen, took 2 for 104 and 0 for 114 respectively. When the Australians came to bat, they hoped that they would, by now, have recovered from their tiring journey, but ran into problems when dealing with Bart King’s developing swing bowling. The side was all out for 199, with King taking 5 wickets for 78 runs. The Australians followed on and were all out again for 268, allowing the Gentlemen of Philadelphia to win by an innings and 68 runs.
The cricket world was stunned that a single US city could turn out a side capable of beating the full strength of Australia. The Australians won the return match on October 6th by six wickets, but the Australian captain, Jack Blackham, said to the Americans, “You have better players here than we have been led to believe. They class with England’s best.”
King joined the US cricket team’s tour of England in 1897. The tour was very ambitious, and was arranged mainly for educational purposes: few on the US side expected to win many matches. Previous tours had tended to involve amateur English sides with a low level of competition. In 1897, the tour started on June 7th at Oxford, ending in late July at The Oval almost 2 months later. The schedule included fifteen matches against all of the top county cricket teams, the Oxford and Cambridge University teams, the Marylebone Cricket Club, and two other sides, though only a few of the counties thought it worthwhile to put their best elevens on the field.
While the tour initially aroused some curiosity, many English fans lost interest until Bart King and the Philadelphians met the full Sussex team at Brighton on June 17th. King demonstrated his batting ability in the first innings with a fourth-wicket stand of 107 with John Lester. He then took 7 wickets for 13 runs, and Philadelphia dismissed Sussex for 46 in less than an hour. King took 6 for 102 in Sussex’s second innings, helping the Philadelphians to victory by 8 wickets.
Despite the excitement surrounding King’s performance, the Americans did not fare well overall, and the results may have been worse than hoped for by the tour’s promoters. Philadelphia won only two of their fifteen matches, losing nine and earning a draw in the remaining four. After their win against Sussex, the only other win of the tour came against Warwickshire. During this match, King took 5 for 95 and 7 for 72 and scored 46 runs. According to Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, King proved himself to be the best bowler on the US side and had to do much of the work. He bowled 300 overs, more than anyone else in the team, taking 72 wickets with a bowling average of a little over 24 runs. In addition to his bowling, King scored 441 runs as a batsman at a batting average of just over 20.
Following the 1897 tour, many English counties were interested in securing King’s services. It was thought that he would not play as a professional, so alternative means of remuneration had to be found: one county reportedly offered to arrange a marriage with a widow who had an income of £7000 per year. In the end, King returned to the United States.
The Philadelphian team returned to England in 1903. This proved to be King’s most successful tour, particularly his performances in the matches against Lancashire and Surrey. King played in 13 of the 15 matches on the tour, missing two with a strained side. In his first match, against Cambridge University, he took 5 for 136 and 4 for 28. He followed that with 8 for 39 in the first innings against Oxford University, though the match was eventually abandoned as a draw due to rain. In his next match, against Gloucestershire, he took 2 for 26 in the first innings but did not bowl in the second. He also took 7 for 51 and 2 for 28 against a strong MCC side at Lord’s. Then came the Lancashire match at Old Trafford. In Lancashire’s first innings, King bowled 27 overs and took 5 wickets for 46 runs. The Philadelphians passed Lancashire’s first innings score, but their lead was quickly overtaken in Lancashire’s second innings. With the wind strong over King’s left shoulder, the scene was set for him to dominate the opposition. In his first over after the lunch break on day two of the match, he yorked one of Lancashire’s opening batsmen and his replacement with successive balls. He clean bowled two more batsmen in his second over, and bowled a stump out of the ground in the third. In 3 overs, he had taken 5 wickets for 7 runs. After this performance, King had to be rested in the field. One batsman was run out before King returned to take 4 more wickets, ending the innings with 9 for 62. The Philadelphians won next morning by nine wickets.
Against Surrey on August 6, King was overpowering again. It was in this match that King gave what Barker called his finest first-class performance ever. Batting first, he scored 98 runs in the Philadelphian’s first innings before being run out, and he then took 3 for 89 in Surrey’s reply. In the second innings, he made 113 not out and then took 3 for 98. Surrey lost the match by 110 runs. Apparently, King was so exhausted after his performance that he fell asleep during a speech by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Alverstone at a banquet after the match.
King played in his last two international matches in 1912, against Australia. His performances were of the highest quality, given that he was nearly 40. In the first match, he took 9 wickets for 78 runs to help Philadelphia win by 2 runs; in the second, Australia won by 45 runs despite him taking 8 for 74.
King died at a nursing home in his native Philadelphia in 1965, two days short of his 92nd birthday. The Times of London ran an obituary for him, which quoted Plum Warner as saying that: “Had he been an Englishman or an Australian, he would have been even more famous than he was.”
Though King focused on bowling throughout his career, he was also a very fine batsman. In 1905, he established a North American record batting record by scoring 315 at the Germantown Cricket Club. The following year, he scored 344 not out for Belmont against the Merion Cricket Club, setting a North American batting record which will almost certainly never be beaten. He scored 39 centuries in his North American career, and he topped 1,000 runs in six seasons. He took over 100 wickets in eight seasons, including a double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in four seasons. In his whole career, he scored 19,808 runs at an average of 36.47, and took 2,088 wickets at an average of 10.47. He took all 10 wickets in an innings on three occasions, and took 9 wickets in an innings five times. One of these occasions, in the Gentlemen of Ireland’s first innings in 1909, was followed by a hat-trick in the second innings.
King was one of the first bowlers to be able to deliver outswing and inswing balls. He used the outswinger most often, and rarely used the inswinger because he did not want batsmen getting used to it. In consequence it was deadly. As you can see from the first photo, his delivery was unusual – sort of a mix of baseball pitching and conventional bowling. He began his run up with the ball clutched in both hands behind his head, but then released it with a straight arm. He was never given a no-ball for throwing.
For today’s recipe I am reminded of the classic US statement, “As American as apple pie,” which to me is about as absurd as saying, “As American as pizza.” Wild apples are indigenous to Asia, and were brought to North America by European colonists. In the sense that the US was colonized by English immigrants you can peg apple pie as “American” in that it was an immigrant also. So was cricket. “American as pizza” is actually a better twist on the saying inasmuch as tomatoes were first domesticated in Mexico, and then used for pizza in Naples before returning to the US. It’s also true that US pizza is markedly different from Neapolitan pizza. Maybe, “As American as pumpkin pie” would be even better because it fuses a North American cultigen with European cooking style. Frankly, my sister’s apple pie recipe is the best there is, and I have given that already — https://www.bookofdaystales.com/johnny-appleseed/ — any other, US or otherwise, would be second-best. Apple pie with cheesecake using Philadelphia cream cheese seems like an ideal blending for today’s recipe because King was from Philadelphia. Here’s one idea: