Despite a long tradition in sports, France never was a big nation of baseball. The FFBS currently counts 200 clubs, 2 academies and 9,000 members. However, its 120-year long baseball history proves that the roots go deep in the collective memory.
Albert Goodwill Spalding is responsible for the organization on March 8, 1889 of the first baseball game ever played in France… in the shadow of the brand new Eiffel Tower. Later on, Spalding becomes a member of the Olympic organization and therefore very often comes to Paris. He is at the origin of the foundation in 1912 of the French Baseball Union, the ‘ancestor’ of the FFBS. In 1913, he founds a club near Saint-Germain (the Spalding Athletic Club) and organizes an exhibition tour in several cities of Normandy in August. Back in New York, in January 1914, Spalding declares “the next baseball country will be France”. A few weeks later, in February, the Chicago White Sox and the New York Giants play a series of games in Nice and Paris. As a direct consequence of this event and given the number of new clubs, the creation of a European baseball league is announced during the spring. The first cities supposed to take part are Paris, Nice and Monte Carlo. This project is of course abandoned when World War I breaks out in June 1914. Spalding dies in September 1915 and unfortunately doesn’t have the chance to see the so called ‘World Greatest Baseball League’ which is organized in France from 1918 to 1919. With the help of the YMCA, and the Knights of Columbus, the US Army manages a 2,500-team championship for the AEF doughboys all over France. This Two-Million-Men-League includes many famous players such as Ty Cobb, Christy Matthewson or Pete Alexander. In July 1919, the final baseball games of the Inter-Allied Games are played between the USA and Canada in the Pershing Stadium, Paris, in front of 22,000 people. Baseball is officially instructed in the French Army’s regiments.
In 1921, the Parisian clubs organize the first national baseball league. In August 1924, the Paris All Stars team defeats the London Americans in a series of games called ‘European World Series’ played in the Paris Stade Élisabeth. A few months later, the French Baseball Federation is officially founded by Frantz Reichel in 1924, right after the 2nd Paris Olympic Games, during which the Chicago White Sox and the New York Giants again play several exhibition games in Colombes. Charles Comiskey (White Sox owner) and John McGraw (Giants manager) take part to the federation’s foundation and eventually become Member of Honor of the FFBS. Reichel, Secretary General of the Olympic Games Committee, is elected President. The national championship is played until 1939.
After WWII, French people again shows interest in baseball but the development is quite slow except for the French territories in northern Africa. In April 1953, the FFBS takes part to the foundation, in Paris, of the Fédération Européenne de Baseball, which later becomes the CEB. It also is a founding member in September 1973 of the Federation Mundial de Beisbol Afficionados which later becomes the IBAF.
In the late 80’s and the beginning of the 90’s, French baseball suddenly experiences a quick growth after the hosting of a European Cup and a European Championship in Paris: The number of players reaches 14,000 and numerous clubs are founded everywhere in the country, including New Caledonia. Yoshio Yoshida, living legend of the Japanese baseball, manages the French national team from 1990 to 1995, leading France to its first World Cup in 1994. But this unfortunately doesn’t last, the FFBS having to deal for years with serious difficulties and as a result many clubs disappear.
Since 2009 and 2010, the new FFBS Executive Committee is composed for a large majority of former players of the ‘Yoshida’s generation’ who have set youth baseball development as a priority in order to consolidate the global situation.
Among other international competitions, the French national team has taken part to:
- all the European Championships from 1955 to 2010 (best result: 3rd in 1999)
- the World Cup in 1994 (Nicaragua), in 2001 (Chinese Taipei) and in 2003 (Cuba)
- the Merit Cup in 1992 (USA)
- the Intercontinental Cup in 1991 (Spain), in 1993 (Italy) and in 1997 (Spain)
- the President Cup in 1993 (South Africa)
- the Olympic Games Qualifying Round in 2003 (the Netherlands)
France has been invited to the World Baseball Classic Qualifying Round to be played during fall 2012.