Baseball America’s National pastime

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Not simply a professional sport, baseball has been treated as a focus of childhood rituals and an emblem of American individuality and fair play throughout much of the twentieth century. It started out, however, as a marginal urban sport associated with drinking and gambling. It progressed as an idyllic game, popular among people of all ages and classes. Baseball grew up in the midst of urban industrialization during the Progressive Era, and the emerging steel and concrete baseball parks encapsulated feelings of neighborliness and associations with the rural leisure of bygone times.

The study plans to outline the following:

* Statement of the idea of a “national past time”. Its emergence, the concept behind it, its development due to cultural change in the Progressive era.

* Review of Literatures that pertains to evidence in history of baseball, a sport that were the favorite game of the nation, despite its origin of some other culture.

* The progressive era and what it entailed. Why did it give preference to baseball as the favorite recreational game.

* The social structure of the Progressive Era.

* America’s embracement of baseball as a patriotric game.


Baseball is the national pastime precisely because it reflects in so many ways the past times of America. The associations are many and rich, the shared symbols plentiful and potent. A select sampling should make this clear. Baseball, rather than deny its age, revels in its past. Historians labor to uncover the early, formative stages of the game and to mediate between rival claims to the “birthplace” of the sport. Baseball celebrates its early days, preserves its historical treasures, stages old timers’ games, even accepts the uncommon notion that players of a bygone era might just match up against today’s heroes. America was once a predominantly rural and agricultural society.

This study plans to revel that baseball initiated as a symbol of an emerging American society. Later, however, it gradually developed into a culture by merging with mass culture. The progressive era, marked the end of the Civil War and the emergence of a culture that is a combination of brutal farm hands, and gently bred men. The moraled group who are learning the ways of the west, while those of the west learning of East.

Although cultured social groups did not support the game, development of rules and regulations encouraged masses who were educated and gentle as well. For example the reforms of 1905/6 for football by the NCAA. While during the 1890s, baseball interlocking ownerships trouble were overcome by the formation of American League. The formation of this organization marked the evolution of baseball as an official game. Participations of NL players, and franchising it in various cities indicated that the people around the country began to accept it.1


The paper plans to study through various literature / case study method of study. After which a conclusion will be obtained by studying the facts and history evidence from the primary and secondary sources.

A conclusive result is obtained in deciding whether the origin of the favorite past time is the choice of the masses or the development of the Progessive Era.

Making sense of the Progressive era

The Progressive Era was one of reformation. The American society was going through a change of culture. The period’s reformers’ goals were to “reform” American society so that it was more efficient, moral, just, equitable, and capable of realizing America’s “manifest destiny”. Within this society, the modern athletic sports were viewed as tools that would help them realize this goal.

However, the critical doubt that nagged everyone at this period was will they be able to reform the society as they want, as the ideology that the group had or will it deteriorate their agricultural life. That is why they were more focused to direct any source that would govern the attention of the masses and integrate mass cultural value at the same time. At the time baseball that was dominant among the average family. Since the majority were average farm hands, the ideology rapidly caught up speed.

Among the ideological goals, improved health of the society, inducement of stability, introduction of order and discipline within the various mass institutions. With these to underline the social culture, there emerged the trend of baseball fields and stadiums. The creations of social buildings and gatherings became the focal point of community development. As mentioned, baseball was found to be more the favourite recreational activity, the leaders focussed on its promotion. iii

With the formation of National League, it then became an understood symbol of national game. The event was not brought about that easily. There was a tug of war between football, basketball, and baseball, and for the women tennis. Although the other games were more developed due to British colonial culture that matured the games. While baseball originally from colored people, was still in its initial stages.

There was also the controversial implication of adopting baseball as the national game as an average social individual is considered to be a white, Anglo-Saxon, of middle class or urban man. While the average baseball player at that time was a colored Cuban, who was considered a low man during the Progressive Era and not trainable because lack of education and social upbringing.

However, progress was made when these nostalgic themes, together with personal financial concerns, guided owners toward practices that in retrospect appear unfair to players and detrimental to the progress of the game. Reserve clauses, blacklisting, and limiting franchise territories, for example, were meant to keep a consistent roster of players on a team, build fan loyalty, and maintain the game’s local flavor. These practices also violated anti-trust laws and significantly restricted the economic power of the players. Owners vigorously fought against innovations, ranging from the night games and radio broadcasts to the inclusion of African-American players. Nonetheless, the image of baseball as a spirited civic endeavor persisted, even in the face of outright corruption, as witnessed in the courts’ leniency toward the participants in the Black Sox scandal of 1919.

On April 14, 1911, the Polo Grounds, the field where the New York Giants baseball club of the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs played its home games was destroyed in a raging fire. A year after a new steel and concrete Polo Grounds had been built for the comfort and convenience of the baseball fans. It was the apparent permanency of its structure, which symbolized the apparent permanency of baseball as a game that would be forever identified with a large American city.

The Polo Grounds was by no means unique in being a steel and concrete stadium that replaced an older wooden structure in the years between 1908 and 1915. Hilltop Park in New York also became symptomatic of the state of ballparks in the era just preceding the emergence of their concrete and steel “permanent” successors. First, the capacity of most of the wooden ballparks was comparatively small, especially when measured against structures such as the new Polo Grounds. That capacity was primarily a function of the fact that major league baseball, at the time of its “official” beginnings in 1903, was not very far removed from the game that had first started on a professional basis in the 1860s.

National pasttime- The 1890s as a transition decade:

At the time of such social integration, in 1890s, only a few sports were created with discipline and played at academic institutions. Such games included basketball, volleyball (both, not coincidentally, in a particular place, the

Springfield, Mass., YMCA). The questions was raised which game would serve and create a sense of patriotism. A game that could be played by anyone, anywhere in the country, liked by all. Since basketball and volleyball are only a choice of a few states, it became evident that baseball is the only one left that would be liked and appreciated by everyone in the country.

The era also introduced the emergence of a leisure class who are willing to spend more time at recreational activities. That is when professional athletes were given priority to joining the National League, giving the white male preference instead of the usual colored players. These players were meant to have the effect on its audience, a feeling of closeness with the game when they watched their fellow color man play in the field. Thence, modern sports expanded through and beyond middle class. World War I (1918-9) marked the significance of the widespread of baseball to larger American audience.

The behaviors and beliefs about athletic sports became the standard behavior and beliefs. The urban and middle class reformers advocated change and improved or “progressed” games. They initiated regulations that were more connected to the white Americans. Improved conditions were introduced which included efficient players, order in game schedules and a disciplined audience. This reflected the kind of society that was building outside the athletic field.

The construction of new ballparks thus symbolized that major league baseball had come to be regarded as a potentially lucrative business, as distinguished from a diversion from the business world. And yet the central attractions of baseball as a spectator sport, the generation of new owners realized, lay in the fact that it was a diversion from the business world, a game echoing the associations of childhood play and leisured, sporting pursuits. Paradoxically, the more baseball was thought of as a pastime, a retreat from urban life as much as a confirmation of its vitality, a vicarious experience as much as an observational experience for the “cranks” and “bugs” (later “fans”) who attended games, the more it appeared to become a spectacle that was socially desirable, as well as emotionally uplifting, to attend.

From its earliest modern decades, baseball was thought of as a business, a form of entertainment for profit, but implicitly presented as a much more engaging spectacle than a circus or an opera or a play. It conjured up idyllic rural and pastoral associations, although staged in an urban setting.

In modern day however, the proliferation of professional sports and television channels is another force likely to keep baseball from storming back to the center of America’s sports consciousness. The bonds of fan loyalty originally forged by summer afternoons and evenings spent listening to one’s team on the radio are rapidly dissolving. Younger fans flip channels, mixing a few innings of the superstation’s game with the World Wrestling Federation or a favorite evening soap opera. Football and basketball – women’s as well as men’s – televise better than baseball.


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