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White Sox-Giants World Tour: Jan. 23, 1914

Scottish royalty treats the ballplayers like kings in Ceylon

Sir Thomas Lipton
Sir Thomas Lipton
Jan. 23 in Colombo, Ceylon: White Sox 4, Giants 1 (5 innings)

On basically every stop of the international portion of the tour, the tourists could count on a decent turnout of American fans, whether they were in the service or expatriates.

Not so much in Colombo. Joe Farrell in The Sporting News wrote that you could count the American population on one hand -- five residents, to be exact.

They only needed one fan to receive a warm welcome, though, and he wasn't even American.

In "The Tour to End All Tours," James E. Elfers relays a Marconigram the R.M.S. Orontes received on Jan. 21, one day before they were scheduled to land in Colombo:

Would be delighted if you lunch with me. Galle Face Hotel, Thursday, 1 o'clock. Kindly say how many. Lipton.

The Lipton on this message is the same on that's on your bottle of brisk iced tea: Scottish tea magnate Sir Thomas Lipton.

Though British royalty, Lipton was a self-made man. He grew up in a working-class family, with parents who ran a small provisional store. He was lured to America in 1870 to see what the land of opportunity could offer. He didn't find wealth there after working a series of odd jobs, but he did learn a valuable business lesson that served him well when he returned to Scotland.

"He learned that it was far better to scrub up your little store and light it brightly, and display your goods with some flair than to try to hide the flaws in your merchandise and pass it off as first-rate goods," [Michael] D'Antonio tells NPR's Guy Raz.

Such techniques were practically unheard of in Scotland's badly lit and badly stocked shops, so when Lipton returned home in 1870 and opened his own well-lit, fully stocked business, he was a smashing success.

One store became a whole chain of stores, and he could have stopped there. But he took it one step further when he separated himself from the rest of the suppliers in the tea trade. He bought tea gardens in Ceylon, which allowed him to 1) sell tea of consistent freshness and quality, when other merchants repackaged theirs, and 2) control his costs and make tea affordable to the poor and working class.

Americans were familiar with him, too. They knew his business side, because his brand of tea was the first to hit the United States. They also knew him as a sportsman. He was hellbent on dethroning the U.S. in the America's Cup, which was a huge deal at the time, and the master promoter made his intent clear. He could never follow through on it, but he accepted defeat in such a manner that the Americans couldn't help but love the Scotsman Yachtsman.

It was a requited affection. Lipton loved everything about his former home of five years, especially baseball, so he rolled out the red carpet when the White Sox and Giants came to a town near him.

At the hotel set on the coast of the Indian Ocean, Lipton entertained the tourists with an unexpected level of hospitality and commonality. John McGraw wrote for the New York Times:

The strangest feature of this function was the remarkable friendship which sprang up between Sir Thomas and "Germany" Schaefer, and it was all due to the Dutchman's personality. Sir Thomas was relating some of his life's experiences before the luncheon and we were knotted in a group around him listening eagerly to what he had to say. When he had finished a particularly interesting anecdote that fascinated Schaefer, "Germany" stepped out of the group and patted the Irish knight on the back.

"By gosh, Tom, you're all right," he announced with exactly the same manner he would employ in encouraging a pitcher for doing a good job in the box.

No one else in the party could have done this, but it went over big and Sir Thomas, who is very democratic, led the laugh.

"I'm glad you like me, 'Schaef,'" he replied, holding out his hand.

McGraw said that for the rest of their time on Ceylon, they referred to each other as "Tom" and "Schaef." Everybody was at ease to the point that playing the game became the second priority.

They delayed the start of the game until 3:30 due to the heat. A crowd of 5,000 showed up to the Victorian Gardens racetrack, and it was a diverse one. Elfers describes the scene:

Singhalese men in their sarongs with golden combs in their hair, turbans on Indian Brahmans, Englishmen in formal dress, England's sikh police force with their silver daggers glistening in the sun, Tamils in their native dress.

They were probably there more for Lipton than for the baseball. McGraw said the Englishmen showed enthusiasm, but "the natives were stolid in their behavior, not understanding what it was all about."

The late start meant the players could only get five innings in, with Walt Leverenz outpitching Bunny Hearn for the victory to win one for Chicago after two losses to end the Australian leg. The shortened game was just as well, because Elfers says Leverenz and Hearn were the only pitchers who dressed. The others were out shopping.

After the game, Lipton hosted a postgame ball for the teams that lasted until 11 p.m., and the players wanted to extend their stay. Even Charles Comiskey could warm up to the Glaswegian -- he autographed a ball for Lipton and gave him a lifetime pass to Comiskey Park.

Alas, the Orontes was on a schedule to get to Egypt by the start of February, and Lipton's plans for the tourists required at least two days, so they had to part ways. The White Sox and Giants left Ceylon at the same time as Lipton, though they were on the Orontes, and he was on his yacht. Later, Elfers writes, they would discover a parting gift from Lipton -- 400 pounds of tea divvied up into personalized teak boxes for all members of the traveling party.

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