A People's History of Baseball

A People's History of Baseball

MITCHELL NATHANSON
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt3fh3b8
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  • Book Info
    A People's History of Baseball
    Book Description:

    Baseball is much more than the national pastime. It has become an emblem of America itself. From its initial popularity in the mid-nineteenth century, the game has reflected national values and beliefs and promoted what it means to be an American. Stories abound that illustrate baseball's significance in eradicating racial barriers, bringing neighborhoods together, building civic pride, and creating on the field of play an instructive civics lesson for immigrants on the national character._x000B__x000B_In A People's History of Baseball, Mitchell Nathanson probes the less well-known but no less meaningful other side of baseball: episodes not involving equality, patriotism, heroism, and virtuous capitalism, but power--how it is obtained, and how it perpetuates itself. Through the growth and development of baseball Nathanson shows that, if only we choose to look for it, we can see the petty power struggles as well as the large and consequential ones that have likewise defined our nation._x000B__x000B_By offering a fresh perspective on the firmly embedded tales of baseball as America, a new and unexpected story emerges of both the game and what it represents. Exploring the founding of the National League, Nathanson focuses on the newer Americans who sought club ownership to promote their own social status in the increasingly closed caste of nineteenth-century America. His perspective on the rise and public rebuke of the Players Association shows that these baseball events reflect both the collective spirit of working and middle-class America in the mid-twentieth century as well as the countervailing forces that sought to beat back this emerging movement that threatened the status quo. And his take on baseballs racial integration that began with Branch Rickeys Great Experiment? reveals the debilitating effects of the harsh double standard that resulted, requiring a black player to have unimpeachable character merely to take the field in a Major League game, a standard no white player was required to meet._x000B__x000B_Told with passion and occasional outrage, A People's History of Baseball challenges the perspective of the well-known, deeply entrenched, hyper-patriotic stories of baseball and offers an incisive alternative history of America's much-loved national pastime.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09392-0
    Subjects: History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. PROLOGUE
    (pp. xi-xvi)

    What is baseball? At first blush this appears to be a straightforward question. And in many ways it is. Baseball is a game. Nevertheless, the question persists: what is it, really? Football is a game, but it is not baseball. Neither are basketball and hockey. Putting aside the differences among balls, pucks, rules, and regulations, there seems to be something fundamentally different about baseball when compared with these other sports. All of them are games, but to many people, baseball is baseball. In a sense, it is something else altogether.

    This sense perhaps comes from the notion that, aside from...

  5. 1 A GAME OF THEIR OWN
    (pp. 1-27)

    Practically from the inception of the game, baseball and America have been, in a symbolic sense, virtually synonymous. On December 5, 1856, the New York Mercury became the first newspaper to declare the fledgling sport to be our “national pastime;”¹ four years later nationally renowned lithographers Currier and Ives issued a print connecting the sport with the upcoming 1860 presidential election, declaring both to be our “national game[s];”² later, poet Walt Whitman would exult that baseball was “America’s game,” remarking that it “has the snap, go fling of the American atmosphere—belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them...

  6. 2 THE SOVEREIGN NATION OF BASEBALL
    (pp. 28-66)

    Having achieved the status they so longed for, the baseball “magnates” relished every opportunity afforded them to demonstrate the superiority of their game and, as a natural extension, themselves. As they were to discover, once they finally kicked the door down and established their game as a metaphor of America, there was seemingly no end to the institutions looking to glom on to them, much as they once tugged on the coattails of the WASP elites. All manner of establishments were eager to defer to baseball, to exalt it, to revel in the overt patriotism of the game as a...

  7. 3 RICKEY, RACE, AND “ALL DELIBERATE SPEED”
    (pp. 67-107)

    By the middle of the twentieth century, club owners were quite comfortable with their exalted status within American society. Presiding over America’s game, they had become accustomed to being treated like royalty wherever they went: they were the well-regarded protectors of what had become the national civil religion,¹ the Sherman Antitrust Act still did not apply to them irrespective of the expansion of Congress’s Commerce Clause powers, and the concept of due process and other mundane legal niceties were likewise notions they need not have concerned themselves with. Regardless of the nature of the engagement, the owners were the ones...

  8. 4 TEARING DOWN THE WALLS
    (pp. 108-145)

    The civil rights movement on the left provided perhaps the most obvious, but by no means only, test of the owners’ status and independence. On the right, the owners were increasingly pressured as well, as, in the midst of the post–World War II boom, challengers from all over the political spectrum wanted in on America’s game and were less content than ever to sit on the sidelines and be dictated to by the self-appointed gatekeepers of American values. As a result of this pressure from all sides, but surprisingly, chiefly from people who in many ways were new and...

  9. 5 “WAIT ’TIL NEXT YEAR” AND THE DENIAL OF HISTORY
    (pp. 146-179)

    The collective ethos represented by groups such as the Players Association, among others, may have been gaining popular support by the mid to late 1960s but it was threatened from the outset by another American ethos, one that had more deeply entrenched roots dating back well into the nineteenth century, that itself felt threatened by the collective movement. This ethos—the individualistic, “positive thinking” movement—rejected out of hand the critical, often grim portrait of America drawn by the collectivists and chose instead, as it had for decades, to embrace an unadulterated optimistic worldview that depended upon the willful ignorance...

  10. 6 THE STORYTELLERS
    (pp. 180-220)

    The stories of baseball would, of course, not amount to much if not for the storytellers. Through them, the baseball creed, the elevated national status of baseball, the tale of Branch Rickey and the desegregation of the game, the power and benevolence of the owners, and the uniquely American glory of the underdog all received confirmation as the unquestionable righteousness of these tales was dispersed throughout the country, seeping into the national consciousness. Not surprisingly, given the power of these stories, they have been zealously promoted and protected practically since the game’s inception. For more than a century baseball has...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 221-260)
  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 261-270)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 271-276)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 277-281)