At a time when many baseball fans wish for the game to return to a purer past, G. Edward White shows how seemingly irrational business decisions, inspired in part by the self-interest of the owners but also by their nostalgia for the game, transformed baseball into the national pastime. 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. White describes its progression to an almost mythic status as an idyllic game, popular among people of all ages and classes. He then recounts the owner's efforts, often supported by the legal system, to preserve this image.
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. According to White, 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.
White's story of baseball is intertwined with changes in technology and business in America and with changing attitudes toward race and ethnicity. The time is fast approaching, he concludes, when we must consider whether baseball is still regarded as the national pastime and whether protecting its image is worth the effort.
"An astute examination of how baseball emerged as the national pastime. . . . Things liven up when [White] looks at the gambling and cheating that were a part of the game early in the century, and when he examines the growth and economic importance of night baseball and of radio and TV broadcasts. . . . Baseball cognoscenti will find plenty to chew on here."--Kirkus Reviews
"Mr. White, an affectionate but agreeably dry-eyed student of the game . . . is unfailingly interesting about the influence of Hank Greenberg and Joe DiMaggio on American attitudes about ethnicity, on the business culture of an industry in which competitors also are partners, on the evolution of the relationship between major league teams and the journalists who cover them. . . . Mr. White's insights are frequently accompanied by fascinating facts. . . ."--George F. Will, The New York Times Book Review
"Remarkable. This is one of the first books about baseball that doesn't confuse the game with the author's lost boyhood, his failure to connect with Dad, or the end of American innocence. . . . one of the most original studies of baseball in years."--Jesse Berrett, LA Weekly
". . . perceptively examines the ways baseball mirrored a changing American society in the first half of this century. . .White paints an especially vivid picture of the evolution of the ballpark from a small wooden structure; through the concrete-and-steel boom of 1908-15. . .White is also strong on the pervasiveness of gambling and game-throwing, and how baseball's barons responded by inventing the rhetoric of its pure, pastoral roots. . . ."--Jeff Z. Klein, New York Newsday
"This book should provide real insight into [baseball's] glorious past, and why it is no accident that we remember that past as glorious."--Richard J. Tofel, The Wall Street Journal
Table of Contents
Hardcover published in 1996