Factors that led to the Growth of American Baseball
FACTORS THAT LED TO THE GROWTH OF AMERICAN BASEBALL
Most people will agree that baseball is the most popular game in the U.S. No other sport evokes more nostalgia than baseball in America. Jacquez Jarzun observed in 1954 “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.” Baseball’s tradition is strong, and it is always referred to as America’s “national pastime”. Even though its origin can be traced to the 19th century, baseball fans in large numbers to ballparks and entertains even more on the TV and radio. Baseball originated before the civil war (1861-1865) as an English game known as rounders. There have been many variants of baseball and to accurately pin-point the exact origin is extremely hard. Before baseball, there were other common sports such as cricket, but various factors made it the most popular game in the United States.
American civil war
The spread of baseball primarily occurred during and after the American civil war. American soldiers used baseball to escape and forget, temporarily, the stresses and hardships of war. It also fostered unity and morale among the men. During the American civil war, baseball was played both in the North and South. As soldiers moved to great distances to fight, they helped to spread the game, its rules and playing style to different parts of the country. Also, there was the exchange of prisoners which helped to spread the game among men and soldiers from diverse cultural backgrounds. Cricket was famous during the pre-war era, but it was harder to play during the war since it required finely cut grounds, whereas baseball could be played anywhere which further enhanced its popularity.
In 1838, in Philadelphia, the first sets of rules which resemble the modern game were set out by the New York Knickerbockers Base Club (a group of thirty men who played together frequently). In 1857, sixteen New York area clubs including the Knickerbockers came together and founded the national association of base ball players – an organization to oversee the sport. Although the rules of the National Association of Baseball Players did not allow non-amateurs to compete, several clubs secretly paid some players to play. After much pressure, the NABBP formed a professional class in a meeting in December, 1869 CITATION Sul97 p 72 l 2057 (Sullivan 1997, 72). Subsequently, the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first ‘all professional’ club. A group of Ohio investors financed the team. The unremarkable and outstanding undefeatable season of the Cincinnati Red Stockings paved the way for the full blown professionalization of baseball. The baseball clubs were turned into entertainment business and tools of civic boosterism. After only five years in existence the NABBP was struggling and in 1876 the owner of Chicago white stockings, William A Hubert, poached some players from other teams and formed the national league along with teams from New York, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boston, and Hartford hence baseball quickly embraced professionalism unlike the other sports. The players were tied down to clubs by signing contracts, and the clubs sought to develop exclusivity. The national league then saw the introduction of the ‘reserve clause ’ in the players contracts, which permitted the club to retain an athlete’s rights by the end of the labor agreement between the club and the athlete. This prevented poaching from other teams. The national league claimed this kept the player’s salaries in check and maintained the sports long term profitability. Most teams by 1887 had approximately 14 players on their reserve list. The clause reduced poaching and the freedom to move from one club to another, which, in turn, kept the salaries very low.
Baseball has been the most popular sport in America for centuries because it has successfully managed to bridge the gaps between different cultures in the country. The game was played and enjoyed by street cultures such as volunteer fire companies, theatre partisans, gangs from the streets, and militias, even though, it was conceived by the working class and middle-class men who enjoyed sports CITATION Dre01 p 13 l 2057 (Dreifort 2001, 13). The national league attracted more middle-class fans by introducing a 50 cents charge and ban on alcohol sale. The American Association, in turn, attracted more immigrants and peasants audiences by reducing the charge to a quarter, permitting the sale of liquor and introducing the Sunday ball. This cemented it as American’s favorite pastime.
Baseball became extremely famous in 1980’s because men just loved it. When I say men, emphasis should be put on the young boy. Baseball was a youth movement, fermented in the face of disapproving authority. Firstly baseball was an outdoor activity; many residents by then lived in crowded houses holding many people in one room. In summer such houses plus school buildings were places to be avoided, that meant streets and parking lots were the place to be and baseball as an outdoor activity. Baseball gave young men something physical and exciting to do outdoors. The sport was also easy to learn and did not have stringent rules like cricket. This culminated in more hitting and lots of fielding and running. There was, therefore, endless action and little boring dead time. In addition, baseball was a team sport; it needed constant working of various people with different talents in order to succeed which enhanced unity. Young males of this era were compounded by various problems – war, poverty, sickness -which seemed the norm. These young men needed a form of security and they sought it in the ambiance of team sports. And of all the team sports that were available at that time, baseball was it.
Baseball and business
Forbes magazine values the Major League Baseball at $36 billion, while the average baseball team value is a record $1.2 billion. The most valuable team, the New York Yankees, is worth $3.2 billion. This was not the case about two centuries ago (Ozanian 2015, para. 5). Albert. G. Spalding was among the first entrepreneurs to understand the relationship between baseballs popularity and profits. After the civil war he, with the assistance of Henry Chadwick, worked tirelessly to exploit baseball as America’s national game. Henry Chadwick was the chief editor of the American Sports publishing company (Baseball Hall of Famers 2015, para. 1). They both strived to prove that baseball was born in America and is enshrined into American livelihood. They financed a commission which included people of “undisputed reputable knowledge of base ball” which in 1907 proclaimed news that the proponent of the game wanted to hear. The commission identified Doubleday a major general in the United States Army and a hero of the battle of Greensburg as the founder of base ball. This elevated Double day into a war hero. Through this, Spalding proclaimed he had freed base ball from “English traditions, customs, and conventionalities.” Having freed baseball from any old world decadence, Spalding launched an aggressive campaign to celebrate the ‘American game’. In 1911, he published “America’s national game” which he proclaimed baseball as “the exponent of American courage, Confidence, Combatism, American Dash, Discipline, Determinism Vigor, Virility” CITATION Kim12 p 67 l 2057 (Kimmel 2012, 67). Americans throughout history are eager to embrace both fact and fiction with equal enthusiasm in the name of national pride. The need to associate with the country’s special qualities and unique features has encouraged a focus on the simple and the symbolic which baseball perfectly fits.
At first, major league baseball teams saw the media as a threat. They resisted originally on putting their games on the radio with the fear that people will prefer sitting at home and listening to the games for free rather than going to the parks. Soon, however, they discovered radio was a source of income through free advertising hence helping to attract even more fans. In early days, teams saw broadcasting of their shows as free publicity hence charged little or nothing at all for the rights. This enhanced the popularity of baseball since radios were present in almost every household. Chicago Cubs were the first team to broadcast their home games back in 1925. Media helped make baseball a nationwide sport that can be watched in the comfort of your home at any time.
Baseball is a game of numbers. Baseball gravity was founded on scoring and record-keeping. More people can remember Barry Bonds 73 home runs in a season but can’t remember the number of college votes Obama got in 2012 presidential election. Baseball players are judged by their numbers. Young players in the 1890s were fascinated by the search for it meant they could go into history books. Numbers are immortal, which meant they are associated with fame. Young men in the era strived for recognition, they dreamt of becoming heroes.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Baseball Hall of Famers. Henry Chadwick. 2015. http://baseballhall.org/hof/chadwick-henry (accessed December 7, 2015).
Dreifort, John E. Baseball History from Outside the Lines: A Reader. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2001.
Kimmel, Michael S. History of Men, The: Essays on the History of American and British Masculinities. New York: SUNY Press, 2012.
Ozanian, Mike. MLB Worth $36 Billion As Team Values Hit Record $1.2 Billion Average. March 25, 2015. http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikeozanian/2015/03/25/mlb-worth-36-billion-as-team-values-hit-record-1-2-billion-average/ (accessed December 07, 2015).
Sullivan, Dean A. Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1825-1908. Nebraska: U of Nebraska Press, 1997.