- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
In Past Time, Tygiel gives us a seat behind home plate, where we catch the ongoing interplay of baseball and American society. We begin in New York in the 1850s, where pre-Civil War nationalism shaped the emergence of a "national pastime." We witness the true birth of modern baseball with the development of its elaborate statistics--the brainchild of English-born reformer, Henry Chadwick. Chadwick, Tygiel writes, created the sport's "historical essence" and even imparted a moral dimension to the game with his concepts of "errors" and "unearned" runs. Tygiel offers equally insightful looks at the role of rags-to-riches player-owners in the formation of the upstart American League and he describes the complex struggle to establish African-American baseball in a segregated world. He also examines baseball during the Great Depression (when Branch Rickey and Larry MacPhail saved the game by perfecting the farm system, night baseball, and radio broadcasts), the ironies of Bobby Thomson's immortal "shot heard 'round the world," the rapid relocation of franchises in the 1950s and 1960s, and the emergence of rotisserie leagues and fantasy camps in the 1980s.
In Past Time, Jules Tygiel provides baseball history with a difference. Instead of a pitch-by-pitch account of great games, in this groundbreaking book, the field is American history and baseball itself is the star.
The National Game
Reflections on the Rise
of Baseball in the 1850s and 1860s
In November 1860 popular lithographers Currier & Ives depicted the results of the most significant presidential election in the nation's history in a most unusual fashion. The firm issued a print featuring the four leading contenders for the presidency—Unionist John Bell, northern Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, southern Democrat John Breckinridge, and Republican Abraham Lincoln—as baseball players. The three losing candidates each held baseball bats emblazoned with their political positions—"fusion," "nonintervention," and "slavery extension." Lincoln, holding a ball, his right foot planted firmly on "home base," fittingly held a long rail, labeled "equal rights and free territory." Each of the men discussed the outcome of the election using baseball jargon. Bell wondered "why we three should strike `foul' and be `put out.'" Douglas muses, "I thought our fusion would be a `short stop' to his career." Breckinridge, shown slinking back to Kentucky with his fingers sealing his nostrils, complains "that we are completely `skunk'd,'" a popular term for a rout or shutout. Lincoln warns his defeated opponents that should they choose to challenge him again, "You must have `a good bat' and strike a `fair ball' to make a `clean score' & a `home run.'" Currier & Ives entitled its editorial cartoon: THE NATIONAL GAME. THREE "OUTS" AND ONE "RUN."
This print appeared at the very moment that the United States stood on the edge of defining foritself the meaning of terms like "nation" and "national." The "national game" illustrated here is not really baseball, but politics. Three years earlier, most Americans would have found this metaphor undecipherable. But Currier & Ives, a New York-based firm with a national clientele, felt confident that in 1860 its patrons not only would recognize the baseball imagery, but would understand the baseball language and be familiar with the notion that baseball had been anointed "the national game." Thus, the cartoon captures not just the profound political challenge confronting the United States, but also the extent to which a fledgling pastime had captured the imaginations of a significant segment of the American populace.
The question of why baseball appealed to the American people has evoked both treacly flights of romantic fancy as well as more serious scholarly analysis. Amherst College Professor Allen Guttmann attributes baseball's triumph, in part, to "the place of baseball in the cycle of the seasons." Yale President Bart Giamatti, shortly before he became baseball commissioner, lyrically explained, "The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer ... and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you in the fall alone." Philosopher Michael Novak invokes the "mysticism of baseball numbers," while Guttmann adds "the tendency of baseball toward extremes of quantification." Others have proposed theories of rural nostalgia, the folk-hero factor, and baseball as a compensatory mechanism for the travails of industrial life.
Yet these explanations have a curiously ahistorical flavor. They describe values and attributes that Americans have grafted onto baseball after it became embedded in our culture. In 1860, when Currier & Ives felt comfortable in portraying baseball as "the national game," there was no clearly defined baseball season; statistical computations were in their barest infancy; few players or writers invoked rural imagery in their depictions; individual players remained anonymous rather than heroic; and industrial life had yet to cut the wide swath it would in the latter third of the nineteenth century. The key to baseball's appeal, therefore, rests not in the false nostalgia of the twentieth century, but in the culture of the United States in the years immediately preceding the Civil War.
The half-decade before the 1860 elections witnessed the clear elevation of the modern version of baseball in the consciousness of the influential mid-Atlantic states and, to a great extent, the nation as well. From the 1830s through the late 1850s Americans played an assortment of ball and bat games. Each city and region boasted its own variation. In New England, Philadelphia, and areas of Ohio and Kentucky, residents played versions of townball, in which squads of various sizes (up to fifteen men on a side) played on a square field with no distinction for foul territory and recorded outs by "plunking" base runners with a thrown ball. One out retired the side, and a fixed number of runs, usually 100, won the game. One correspondent reported playing bat and ball games at midwestern barn raisings. In many urban centers cricket flourished among British immigrants. In New York, the Knickerbocker game, which replaced the square with a diamond and "plunking" with the tag and force play, increasingly predominated in the 1850s.
Yet until roughly 1855 these games (other than cricket, which had been brought from England with a higher degree of organization), while growing in popularity, appeared on a largely ad hoc basis. A handful of clubs structured regular practices and mostly intramural games. Most participants played ball games more informally. Games rarely pitted teams from rival regions, cities, or communities.
The next few years, however, featured both a startling explosion of organized baseball clubs, most playing the New York version of the game, and a growing assertion that baseball was now our national pastime. In 1855 the New York City area boasted a dozen clubs. The following year expansion began in earnest. Porter's Spirit of the Times, one of the first newspapers devoted to covering sporting events, reported that baseball players had converted every grassy lot within ten miles of New York into playing fields. Brooklyn, asserted the Spirit, was emerging as the "city of baseball clubs." The Spirit and the New York Clipper that year began to refer to baseball as the "national game." On December 5, 1856, the New York Mercury coined the phrase "the national pastime."
These assertions might well be dismissed as wishful hyperbole. After all, the version of baseball being celebrated in 1857 was not a national, but a New York pastime. Even the Spirit qualified its initial 1856 designation, calling baseball "the National game in the region of the Manhattanese." In January 1857, when the first "national" convention of baseball clubs created a National Association of Baseball Players, all fourteen clubs represented came from New York and Brooklyn. As the New York Clipper noted after the second convention in 1858, the association was "a mere local organization, bearing no State existence even—to say nothing of a National one." A writer in Harper's Weekly in 1859 protested, "We see no evidence that ... base-ball ... is so generally practiced by our people as to be fairly called a popular American game."
But the aptly named Spirit of the Times and others who asserted the national character of the new game had tapped into a deeply felt sentiment. Several commentators have argued, with considerable supporting evidence, that the wish to create a "national game" stemmed from, in Melvin Adelman's words, a "desire upon the part of Americans to emancipate their games from foreign patterns." The Spirit called for a game "peculiar to the citizens of the United States, one distinctive from the games of the British like cricket or the German Turnverein." The New York Times in an 1857 article entitled "National Sport and Their Uses" argued that "To reproduce the tastes and habits of English sporting life in this country is neither possible nor desirable."
The concept of nationalism, however, expresses not only distinctiveness from others but defines the disparate elements that unify a country. Improvements in transportation and communication in the antebellum era had begun to create a more truly national culture and fueled the ongoing sectional controversy over the meanings of federalism and republicanism. Indeed, this type of nationalism lay at the core of the political debates rending the United States in the 1850s. Northern soldiers fought for "union," a concept in which the needs of the nation transcended those of its component parts. Before the Civil War, the union, Carl Degler argues, was not yet a nation. American nationalism remained incomplete. The southern threat of secession challenged the assumptions of nationhood, threatening to fragment the United States, as James McPherson writes, "into several petty, squabbling autocracies" undermining the American experiment in democracy.
This conviction did much to shape the demand for national attributes, particularly in the northern states, which facilitated the spread of baseball during the pre-Civil War years. Even by 1860, when the Currier & Ives cartoon appeared, baseball, particularly the New York version, had indeed become a more national pastime. The game had largely supplanted townball in both Massachusetts and Philadelphia. Baseball appeared in California and New Orleans in 1859. In 1860 the Brooklyn Excelsiors toured Philadelphia, Baltimore, and upstate New York, spawning new baseball clubs in their wake. Washington, D.C., and Lexington, Kentucky, also welcomed baseball in 1860, as did several cities in the Midwest, including St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, and Cleveland. Players in these cities adopted the rules published and printed by the National Association. Songs like "Baseball Fever," "Baseball Polka," and, in 1861, the "Home Run Quick Step" celebrated the increasingly popular game.
Ironically, throughout the 1850s, the British sport of cricket had a broader popularity than baseball. Cricket clubs appeared in at least twenty-two states and more than 125 cities and towns. At least in its organized forms, it attracted more participants, greater attention in the press, and larger crowds to its showcase events. In 1858, landscape architects for New York's new Central Park dubbed the land allocated for ball games the Cricket Ground, much to the chagrin of enthusiasts for the newer game. This has led several historians to posit a rivalry between the two games for the sporting soul of America, wherein "baseball vied with cricket for supremacy" and Americans ultimately "rejected" cricket, which "lost out" to baseball. Some engage in the dubious exercise of explaining how baseball appealed more to the American "character" or "spirit" than cricket. Others note the advanced institutional standardization of cricket, transplanted intact from England, and the unwillingness of British-American cricket players to adapt the game to make it more palatable to an American audience.
This interpretation, however, misreads the tenor of the era. Cricket was rarely more than an immigrant game, one used, as George Kirsch points out, to allow the English community "to preserve its own ethnic identity." Its popularity stemmed from the predominance of British immigrants in America among the white-collar and skilled occupations that employed most of those who participated in organized sports. There is no evidence that native-born Americans, who had always played indigenous varieties of ball and bat games, or non-British immigrants ever evinced much interest in cricket in any place other than Philadelphia, where the game had its greatest popularity. When crossovers occurred and choices had to be made, it was more likely to be the British-born cricketers, like Henry Chadwick and Harry and George Wright, who abandoned the immigrant game for that of their adopted homeland, rather than the other way around. Both games benefited from the same social forces that made organized sports possible in the 1850s, and baseball clearly borrowed from the institutional, statistical, and linguistic traditions of cricket. Nonetheless, baseball and cricket developed separately, rather than in any true competition with each other. Cricket remained contentedly confined to the British community, leaving a clear field for baseball to develop in its own manner.
The form that it assumed was the "Knickerbocker" or "New York" variation on townball. Both nineteenth-century commentators and some recent historians attributed the triumph of the New York game in the 1850s to its uncannily intuitive adherence to the American "temperament" or "character." In 1866 Charles A. Peverelly called it "a game which is pecularly suited to the American temperament and disposition," a sentiment echoed in the Spirit of the Times in 1867, which hailed it as "the pastime which best suits the temperament of our people." Twenty years later Mark Twain invested baseball as, "The very symbol, the outward and visible expression of the drive and push and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing booming nineteenth century."
The fundamental difference between the New York game and most versions of townball and cricket lay in its configuration into a diamond, rather than a square or oval. In both townball and cricket the ball could be hit in any direction. The New York version of baseball designated a fair territory within the baselines established by the diamond, giving greater order and direction to the game. Indeed, the baseball diamond has assumed a mystical quality in the hands of romanticists. Allen Guttmann notes that, among team games, the movement in baseball is "uniquely circular" and wonders, "Is it wholly accidental that the four bases correspond numerically to the four seasons of the year?" Michael Novak writes, "To circle the bases is to traverse 360 feet, the precise number of degrees in a circle." The distance of ninety feet between the bases, contends Novak, repeating a frequently held fallacy, "leaves an almost exact balance between runners and fielders ... another two feet in either direction might settle the issue decisively between them." (In reality, any similar distance would produce a similar balance.)
Several recent commentators have performed metaphorical gymnastics to shoehorn the baseball diamond into the nineteenth-century American soul. David Lamoreaux sees the diamond as "an almost physical analogue of the country, an abstraction of the idea of the continent as it appeared to Americans in the mid-nineteenth century." The infield/outfield division parallels that between civilization and wilderness, with the infield "an abstract symbol of the civilized portions of the country." The outfield, "with its theoretically illimitable reach ... suggests the frontier." Warren Goldstein, on the other hand, sees the diamond as an allegory of nineteenth-century urban life. "The game was a constant play of safety and danger," writes Goldstein, not unlike the daily journey through hostile urban neighborhoods. The tour around the bases required a passage through a territory "patrolled by the opposition," where one "could be put `out' for the slightest error of skill or judgement," in order to return home safely. Novak envisions this same circuit as a "voyage" of "Yankee Clipper ships blown silently across the sparkling seas, sails creaking in the wind (the canvas that covers the diamond when it rains) ... the silence and isolation of each sailor at his post, encircling the world for trade."
Stephen Gelber argues that baseball, appearing in "the formative years of modern business" alongside large factories and commercial enterprises, replicated the environment of the new urban workplace. "The highly structured, sequential nature of baseball" duplicated the modern urban work experience. Thus, baseball "mark(ed) the transition from individual to corporate values ... subsuming the individual into the collective." Goldstein agrees that the "baseball world had never been very far removed from the world of work," but places its appeal within antebellum artisan culture, with its emphasis on manliness, self-control, and self-discipline, rather than the incipient corporatism stressed by Gelber.
Melvin Adelman compares baseball to cricket, in which a batter may hit indefinitely until put out. Adelman contends that "Baseball's structure expressed the American notion of individualism, with its emphasis on independence, self-reliance and equality," articulating the "American commitment to equal opportunity as each batter is afforded roughly the same number of at bats regardless of success." Novak carries the American analogy even further. Baseball, writes Novak, "born out of the enlightenment and the philosophies so beloved of Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton," is "designed as geometrically as the city of Washington ... orderly, reasoned, judiciously balanced ... a Lockean game, a kind of contract theory in ritual form." Novak likens baseball to the U.S. Constitution, integrating a system of checks and balances, with the umpire as judiciary, the batters as executives, and the fielders "a congress checking the power of the hitters."
Yet one need not dip into the murky depths of metaphor to explain baseball's appeal. The sudden expansion and acceptance of the New York game reflect several factors, not the least of which was the emergence of an increasingly national culture. The spread of the railroad and telegraph facilitated the spread of ideas and activities throughout the country. As George Kirsch has pointed out, the centrality of New York City in this emergent national culture helped to spread the game. The city's sporting weeklies, like Spirit of the Times, which enthusiastically promoted baseball, gained a limited but increasing circulation in other major cities. Businessmen traveling to New York, like George Beam who introduced baseball to Baltimore, discovered the game and brought it back to their home cities, while itinerant and migrating New York businessmen became missionaries for the game, founding clubs wherever they settled.
Furthermore, the argument that baseball, the "New York" game in particular, suited the American or modern urban industrial character stands reality on its head. It would be more correct to say that the men who shaped baseball in the 1850s and 1860s fashioned it in their own image. As Adelman has noted, the originators of the game embraced the modern, rational, scientific worldview that had grown prevalent in mid-nineteenth-century America. The appeal of the New York game lay not in its inherent attributes, but in the ability of its originators to incorporate emerging social attributes into the evolving game. Beginning in the 1840s, these athletes and, in the 1850s and 1860s, their supporters in the press consciously attempted to create a sport that suited their modern sensibilities. They replaced the chaos of townball—with its large teams, plunking, indefinite directional and time boundaries, and too frequent side changes—with a more ordered, rational variation. Limiting play to nine men on each side, imposing a diamond with foul lines radiating outward and confining play within that area, fixing the length of a game at nine innings, and replacing the "one out-all out" role with a variation of three outs to allow more sustained play all reflected conscious decisions designed to make the game more attractive to those who played it. Baseball did not appeal to Americans, as many have suggested, because it took less time to play than cricket or townball. The architects of the game deliberately adopted an out and inning structure designed to compress play into the time available for games.
Nor were the New York arbiters averse to incorporating the best from other variations. At the early conventions of the National Association, delegates repeatedly debated hale changes designed to improve baseball. Fundamental elements of the game, like the distance between the pitcher's mound and home plate, the numbers of balls and strikes, and the meaning of a foul ball, would not be resolved for decades. In the 1880s baseball would incorporate overhand pitching from the Massachusetts game. The original New York game that spread through the nation in the late 1850s allowed players to be put out by catching the ball on a bounce. Both Massachusetts townball and cricket required the more difficult skill of catching the ball on the fly. Suggestions to adopt the fly rule were heard at the first national convention in 1857 in order to make the game "more manly and scientific." The debate over the fly rule lasted several years before the measure was ultimately adopted in 1863.
The terms "manly" and "scientific" reflect the rhetoric of nineteenth-century modernism. Yet, there was nothing inherently manly or scientific about catching a ball on a fly (at least when compared to other athletic feats) or about the game of baseball. Players imbued the game with these desirable attributes so as to justify their participation and to make it more attractive to similarly minded men. Sportswriters and baseball publicists shared a similar worldview and described the game accordingly. By invoking this language, they gave the game of baseball a modern ethos.
These changes in the game largely reflected the desires of the players. Yet, it is surprising, given the absence of commercialized or for-profit matches in the 1850s, how prominently the concept and needs of spectators figured into these deliberations. As Harold Seymour argues, "The long process of rules refinement ... was to make the game increasingly palatable to spectators." Part of the appeal of the Knickerbocker diamond configuration stemmed from its attractiveness to observers. The clear definition of fair and foul territory allowed those watching to get closer to the action without interfering with the course of play. Henry Chadwick, in defending the fly rule in 1860, invoked the demands of the fan, commenting, "Nothing disappoints the spectator ... as to see a fine hit to the long field caught on the bound in this simple childish manner." The growing demand for reports on baseball on the part of participants and nonparticipants alike led to expanded newspaper coverage. The first book catering to the baseball fan, Beadle's Dime Base Ball Player, appeared in 1860.
Yet, in the late 1850s and even the early 1860s spectators were not generally paying customers. Although sports entrepreneurs had charged for access to horse races, cricket matches, and prize fights for several decades, no record exists of an admission fee required at a baseball game until a New York-Brooklyn all-star contest in 1858. The need to recoup rental fees for the Fashion Course racetrack, rather than the quest for profit, led to a tariff variously reported as between ten and fifty cents. The practice of charging those wishing to attend games did not begin in earnest until 1862, when William H. Cannemeyer demanded a ten-cent fee to watch clubs at play at Brooklyn's new Union Grounds. Others, particularly in the post-Civil War years, sought to emulate his success. By this time a ready baseball public had appeared without the lure of widespread commercial inducements.
The years immediately following the Civil War would witness, in the words of the Chicago Tribune in 1866, "the arrival of the Age of Baseball." The Paterson (New Jersey) Press described a baseball "frenzy" in the city. The nearby Newark Advertiser added in 1868, "People have baseball on the brain to an extent hitherto unequaled." The Spirit of the Times noted in 1867 that "Of all out of door sports, base-ball is that in which the greatest number of our people participate either as players or as spectators." Another national periodical conservatively estimated that 2,000 organized baseball clubs graced the nation that year. California alone boasted as many as 100 clubs.
Baseball became a symbol of reunification. The New York Clipper in 1866 asserted that "the (baseball) fraternity should prove to the world that sectionalism is unknown in our national game." Clipper reporter Henry Chadwick, one of the most ardent advocates of a national game with standardized rules, expressed fears of regional variations leading to "four or five distinct styles of playing base ball," in which case "the term `National Game' would have become a misnomer."
By this time the leading clubs in many cities had evolved into professional teams, paying top players to represent them against other professional squads. These games, increasingly played before paying audiences, attracted large crowds. Harold Seymour estimates that 200,000 spectators attended games in 1868. The following year, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the nation's first openly professional team, toured the nation. Outing magazine reported that 179,000 fans paid to see the Red Stockings play.
Thus, by 1870 baseball's architects and promoters had invented a sport and established an ethos surrounding it that held a broad appeal to nineteenth-century Americans. They had rationalized the ball and bat games of preindustrial society and endowed the resulting amalgam with the language of modernism emphasizing order, science, and manliness. Baseball had become embedded in the culture on several levels: as a popular pastime for boys and men; a spectator sport; a centerpiece of national and local periodical reporting; a profession and form of entrepreneurial commercialized leisure; and increasingly as a source of national pride. The Civil War had defined the United States as a nation. In its aftermath, baseball truly reigned, as Currier & Ives had prematurely crowned it in 1860, as the "national game."
|1||The National Game||3|
|2||The Mortar of Which Baseball Is Held Together||15|
|3||Incarnations of Success||35|
|4||New Ways of Knowing||64|
|5||Adjusting to the New Order||87|
|7||The Shot Heard 'Round the World||144|
|8||The Homes of the Braves||165|
Posted October 1, 2011
No text was provided for this review.