Playing for Keeps

Playing for Keeps: A History of Early Baseball

Copyright Date: 1989
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
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  • Book Info
    Playing for Keeps
    Book Description:

    In the late 1850s, organized baseball was a club-based fraternal sport thriving in the cultures of respectable artisans, clerks and shopkeepers, and middle-class sportsmen. Two decades later it had become an entertainment business run by owners and managers, depending on gate receipts and the increasingly disciplined labor of skilled player-employees.Playing for Keepsis an insightful, in-depth account of the game that became America's premier spectator sport for nearly a century.

    Reconstructing the culture and experience of early baseball through a careful reading of the sporting press, baseball guides, and the correspondence of the player-manager Harry Wright, Warren Goldstein discovers the origins of many modern controversies during the game's earliest decades.

    The 20th Anniversary Edition of Goldstein's classic includes information about the changes that have occurred in the history of the sport since the 1980s and an account of his experience as a scholarly consultant during the production of Ken Burns'sBaseball.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7147-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface to the 20th Anniversary Edition
    (pp. ix-xxii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxiii-xxviii)
    Warren Goldstein
  5. Prologue
    (pp. 1-14)

    The historian who studies the development of organized baseball is frequently struck by a sense of déjà vu. So many of the controversies of modem baseball are repetitions of earlier disputes that one wonders, finally, if baseball really has a history, or at least a history understood as change and development. “These modem ballplayers,” begins a familiar lament, “care about nothing but money. They don’t care about their team, or their city, or their fans. In my day [in my father’s day, in the good old days] they were different.” But were they? This fan certainly would have no trouble...

  6. I The Culture of Organized Baseball, 1857–1866

    • 1 The Base Ball Fraternity
      (pp. 17-31)

      The men who played early baseball considered themselves members of “the base ball fraternity,” a fraternity organized around the baseball club. Although the language of the baseball club is still used today, even with respect to professional teams, it has been obsolete for a century. The earliest baseball organizations were genuine social clubs, in which baseball playing was an important but far from the only activity. As one club constitution put it, “the objects of the Club shall be to ‘improve, foster and perpetuate the American game of Base Ball,’ and advance morally, socially, and physically, the interests of its...

    • 2 Excitement and Self-Control
      (pp. 32-42)

      “Excitement is the great desideratum in our Metropolitan community,” declared theNew York Clipperin 1860, and baseball games were an important source of that sought-for excitement. According to theClipper’s major competitor, the excitement “attendant upon the prominent contests” of the Knickerbocker and Gotham baseball clubs in the previous decade had boosted the popularity of the fledgling game of baseball in New York. “It is well known,” the article continued, “that where a lively, well-contested and exciting game is in progress, there will ever be found crowds of interested spectators.”¹ Recognizing the importance of attendance figures, sportswriters, who usually...

    • 3 The “Manly Pastime”
      (pp. 43-64)

      The baseball fraternity’s concern for self-control was linked to a notion of manliness—of “manly” behavior on and off the ballfield. If there was a sphere from which baseball players, club members, and promoters tried to insulate their game, it was that of “boys’ play,” a category sometimes opposed to “men’s sport.” One way of distinguishing baseball as a legitimate and serious activity for grown workingmen was to insist on its manliness and to bar “boyish” conduct from the game. As a behavioral ideal, as a boundary, and at times as a weapon, the concept played a critical role in...

  7. II Amateurs into Professionals, 1866–1876

    • 4 Growth, Division, and “Disorder”
      (pp. 67-83)

      With the emergence of professional baseball in the late 1860s, the game grew at a dizzying pace and underwent far-reaching internal changes. One of the most widespread responses to these changes was an invocation of a past allegedly purer than the complicated and difficult present. By 1867, Henry Chadwick’s new weekly,The Ball Players’ Chronicle, was complaining loudly about the modem evils of the game and wondering what had happened to the good old days. “Where are the veterans,” Chadwick editorialized under the headline “The Abuses of Base Ball,” “who used to make base ball matches and fair, manly play,...

    • 5 “Revolving” and Professionalism
      (pp. 84-100)

      As we observe the consequences of baseball’s expansion, we must be wary of taking anyone consciousness, such as Henry Chadwick’s, as an exclusive guide to baseball’s emotional or material world during these years. While Chadwick saw numerous forms of control over and within the game slipping (if not speeding) away, others saw these same changes as opportunities. Where Chadwick feared ruin, the most skillful players—the early professionals—were experiencing boom times.

      By 1866 and 1867 it was well known that important clubs often paid some, if not all, of their first-nine players either salaries or shares of gate receipts....

    • 6 The National Game
      (pp. 101-119)

      The 1860s proved to be a momentous decade in the history of baseball. At the beginning of this short period the game was centered in the New York metropolitan area and embedded in the rich social life of fraternal clubs. Ten years later the game had escaped the confines of both New York and club fraternalism. Baseball’s transformation from a local club sport into an association of “clubs” scattered over the Northeast and Midwest was encouraged by the very structure of the game’s play and organization. More than any other American game, baseball was built on a geographical and psychological...

    • 7 Amateurs in Rebellion
      (pp. 120-133)

      The Cincinnati Red Stockings’ abrupt and public withdrawal from the professional game apparently resonated widely in the baseball world. For only after the Red Stocking leadership announced its decision to embrace amateur play did theSpirit of the Timesdeal at length with what it suddenly called the “very costly and very unsatisfactory” system of “pay[ing] nine players to travel about the country and represent the real club, which was all the time at home.” All at once the paper seems to have discovered that professional players “were not, in very truth, members of these clubs at all, but only...

    • 8 Professional Leagues and the Baseball Workplace
      (pp. 134-150)

      If the events of 1870 led some members of the baseball fraternity to forsake professional baseball altogether in the name of a newly discovered ideology of amateurism, they led others to plunge further into organizing the professional game. Following the 1870 convention of the National Association of Base Ball Players, it was widely assumed that the professional clubs would form their own association. When professional representatives met in March 1871 and founded the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, therefore, their action caused no special excitement. Historians, in retrospect, have called this association baseball’s first professional league, the first...

  8. Epilogue: Playing for Keeps
    (pp. 151-156)

    How did baseball players so quickly lose the power they had in the late 1860s and early 1870s? First, what they enjoyed in the earliest professional years is characterized more appropriately as individual marketplace freedom than as collective power. Only rarely did ballplayers negotiate with clubs as a group; the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players was not organized until 1885. During the years when it counted the most, then, players only exercised their freedom—they did nothing to structure or protect it. Second, playing baseball well demanded skill, self-discipline, and practice, but few ballplayers seem to have shown much...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 157-178)
  10. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 179-180)
  11. Index
    (pp. 181-184)