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Lauri "Tahko" Pihkala

Born 5 January 1888, Pihtipudas. Died 20 May 1981, Helsinki

Candidate of Philosophy 1912 ( i.e. MPhil. in economics, history of the Nordic countries, Latin and practical philosophy) from the Imperial Alexander University

Awarded title of honorary professor 1948 (granted by the President)
Awarded title of honorary doctor 1969, University of Jyväskylä.

Seminal figure in sports, author and chief editor.

Photo: Suomen Urheilumuseo
Author: Tero Juutilainen
Translated by: Mira Apell, Susan Huotari, Anna-Maria Jukarainen, Saara Suominen, Laura Mena, Hilda Tuomisto. Revised by: John Calton.

The Man behind Finnish baseball

Lauri “Tahko” (‘grindstone’) Pihkala is especially commemorated for his work in developing Finnish baseball. Finnish baseball is often compared to American baseball, and with good reason. As it happens, Pihkala visited the United States in 1907 and got to watch a local game of baseball. It is said that Pihkala had wondered how people had the patience to watch such a boring game over several hours. Nonetheless, he understood that ball games in particular might have a certain appeal.

”I don't think any other object is quite as appealing to a child, especially a boy, as a bat and ball. He’ll take to them like a duck to water.” Citation: Finnish National Dictionary of Biography entry for Lauri Pihkala.

Finnish baseball was based on ball games, such as ‘king ball’, that were also played back in the days when Finland was a grand duchy, the problem being, though, that the rules varied from region to region. Pihkala's aim with Finnish baseball, initially called long ball (pitkäpallo), was to create a ball game that would have uniform rules and get the whole country moving.

It took some time for his idea to be taken up and the disruption caused by the First World War certainly didn't help, not to mention the lack of enthusiasm for sports among Finns. It wasn't until 1920 that the first trial match of long ball was played, and a few years later the name was changed to Finnish baseball (pesäpallo).

Photo: Suomen Urheilumuseo​

In the early years, Pihkala the game was spread through the Civil Guard organisations, with whom Pihkala had been working intensely. With its playing terms such as ‘wounds’ and ‘deaths’, it was presented to the guards as a game that prepares you for war, even though this was partly a question of marketing the sport. However, the role of the Civil Guard is lodged in many people's minds and as late as the 1980s there was debate about the militarism of pesäpallo.

Pihkala’s involvement in sports magazines in the 1910’s and 1920’s helped to boost the popularity of Finnish baseball, as well as his role as a roving coach working for the sports league of that time. Finnish baseball quickly caught on and it was declared the country’s national sport. Nowadays Lauri “Grindstone” Pihkala’s claim to fame is Finnish baseball, even though this was only one of his merits.

In this video from the Yle archives, Lauri Pihkala gives his views on militarism in sport (in Finnish).

Sources (mainly in Finnish)

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