The First Sport: Baseball at U-M

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The 1882 varsity baseball team, which was noteworthy for the presence of Fleet Walker, the first African-American athlete at Michigan (bottom row, third from the right)

During the Civil War, young men established baseball as the first formally organized sport at the University of Michigan. Within a few decades, baseball had become the school’s primary varsity intercollegiate sport. The growth of the “National Pastime” at U-M illustrates the importance of student organizing, the increasing popularity of athletics on campus, and the significance of race in American sport.

When Jack Hinchman arrived at Michigan in the fall of 1862, organized sports were still relatively unknown on campus. A star player for the Brother Jonathans, a successful baseball club from the Detroit area, Hinchman was determined to change this. He and fellow freshman Emory Grant from Wisconsin helped introduce baseball to U-M for the first time during the spring of 1863. Their efforts not only sustained the sport of baseball in Michigan during the Civil War, but also paved the way for wider athletic activities at U-M. A study of Hinchman, Grant, and other influential figures from some of the University’s earliest baseball teams offers a glimpse into wider developments at Michigan at a crucial time in American history.