House of David baseball team members aboard a miniature train Credit: courtesy Dan Geib

Reader‘s archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we’ll dig through and bring up some finds.

Happy opening day, everybody! The 2018 Major League Baseball season officially begins at 11:30 this morning when the Cubs face off against the Marlins in Miami; you’ll be able to catch it on ESPN. The Sox season begins at 3:15 in Kansas City and also on NBC Sports Channel. And here’s a gentle reminder that BatCrack Radio Delay syncs TV and radio so you can listen to Pat and Ron or avoid the Hawk.

Reader writers have written quite a bit about the Cubs and Sox over the years. But they’ve also written plenty about baseball fans. Here’s Alan Boomer’s delightfully geeky look back on some of the greatest World Series of all time, written in 1991, when it seemed improbable that the Cubs or Sox would ever play in a Series again. (Spoiler: Boomer’s pick for best Series ever was 1912.) And here’s Ted Cox’s review of The Baseball Encyclopedia and The Bill James Historical Abstract, in which he argues that the true poetry of baseball lies in the numbers. (He may have a point. Most baseball poetry sucks.)

Just before opening day 2014, Anne Ford interviewed Margie Lawrence, a baseball artist. “One of the first things that I’ll do when I sell a bunch of art,” she said, “is make a journey to the Baseball Hall of Fame, look through their archives, work with them, because they have such weird shit. They have Ty Cobbs’s false teeth. Give me a week, I’ll find something to draw.”

After the strike-shortened season of 1994, Ben Joravsky spent some time hanging out with Rich Harris, a Sun-Times reporter who moonlighted as a vendor at Comiskey. “I know I sound like an old-timer talking about the good old days, but this strike has got me thinking how much better the old days really were—at least for vendors,” says Harris, who’s been a vendor since 1983. “Maybe guys like me are the last of a breed.”

Around the same time, Mo Ryan attended Pine Tar .406, a baseball punk extravaganza hosted by Steve Albini in the Logan Square Auditorium.

Shellac is a band for people who don’t like their brains the way they are and want them rearranged by means of elaborate and relentless staccato rhythms. After warming up with some pregame stretches (performed to the accompaniment of profanity-laced baseball commentary tapes) and doing a swell imitation of a drunken Harry Caray doing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” the three-piece of Bob Weston on bass, Todd Trainer on drums, and performance artist and sometime producer Albini on guitar launched into some of the most powerful, precise, uncompromising music you’re ever likely to hear. It was as if the band was working out some highly personal mathematical algorithms through music, and it was quite compelling.

Weirdest of all was Adam Langer’s trip to Benton Harbor, Michigan, in 1994 to uncover the secrets of the House of David, a cult that first became famous for sending its heavily bearded semipro baseball team barnstorming around the country in the early 20th century.

“We used to put on a little pepper game, an exhibition of ball handling during the fourth inning,” George Anderson, who played for the team for 27 seasons, told Langer. “When we were first starting out we used to talk about religion before the games, but later we didn’t. People didn’t care to hear about it; they wanted to see us play. They wanted to see the boys in the beards play baseball. I suppose we’d be out of fashion today. Everybody’s got a beard now.”

The House of David also had an amusement park, Eden Springs. But the cult’s reputation was damaged when its founder, Benjamin Purnell, was accused of fraud and of forcing women and girls to have sex with him under the pretext of religion. By the time Langer visited, the group had just a dozen members. When Gwynedd Stuart took her own trip there in 2014 to check in on the resurrection of the amusement park, it had dwindled to three. But one of them, Ron Taylor, still played on the City of David vintage baseball team, which travels around the midwest and observes the rules of 1858. In 2009, Ryan Hubbard managed to catch a game in Lincoln Park, though at first he thought he’d jogged into a time warp.