A nosebleed seat. A Bud Light in one hand, a hot dog in the other. And the latest version of Royals Baseball Insider tucked under one armpit. This is my typical routine whenever I settle in for a game at Kauffman Stadium. I only have to sit back and watch other fans going about their business to know that I am not the only one who appreciates the now-cliche experiences that going to the ballpark brings.
It’s hard to imagine today, but once upon a time, the idea of drinking a beer at the ballpark was not only frowned upon — it was prohibited. Early baseball owners were determined that baseball remain a dignified sport, catering to the middle- and upper-classes and imposing almost-puritanical codes of conduct on their players and their fans. However, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice that these practices were doomed to end.
Created in 1882, the American Base Ball Association (AA) was born in response to the National League (NL), which had become the dominant professional baseball organization in America during the late nineteenth century. The AA lasted for ten seasons, until 1891, and during that period, early versions of the World Series were played between the champions of the AA and the NL seven times. Although the American Association did not manage to break the monopoly that the National League held over the sport, its impact on professional baseball continues to show itself in ballparks across America today.
The American Association marked the beginning of the connection between beer and sports that continues to exist today. As one historian cleverly points out, it is only fitting that the initials for the organization known for bringing alcohol to sports were “AA.” Nicknamed the “Beer and Whiskey League” or the “Beer Ball League” by the NL, team owners created the American Association over the issue of beer sales. While the National League went out of its way to ban drinking at games, beer barons viewed baseball as means through which to sell their products to thirsty fans. In fact, six of the clubs in the AA had brewery owners on their board of directors.
At only 25 cents a seat, American Association tickets sold for half the price of National League tickets. In addition, liquor was sold at games and Sunday baseball was allowed — both of which were banned practices in the National League. As a result, AA baseball became particularly popular with the common man. What had once been known as a “gentleman’s game” now drew rowdier crowds, including immigrants and working class Americans.
In spite of its popularity with blue-collar workers, the American Association never became as profitable as the National League. Over time, the AA gradually grew weaker and weaker. Players often jumped leagues, seeking to join the better performing teams of the NL. Eventually, the American Association faded out, and some of the teams of the AA were absorbed into the NL.
Following the merger between the two leagues in 1891, each team was permitted to determine for itself whether to allow Sunday baseball. Additionally, while the basic ticket price remained at fifty cents, teams were allowed to sell twenty-five-cent seats if they so chose. Naturally, the “cheap seats” were often the farthest from the playing field and in bad condition. Furthermore, the association between beer and baseball had been established, and as beer sales continued to grow in America, so did the efforts of brewery owners to sell their products through sport. In spite of hiccups such as Prohibition, the two industries became inseparable. The impact of the American Association persisted, and to this day, baseball fans continue to enjoy the privilege of having their beer and drinking it too.
Frommer, Harvey. Old-Time Baseball: America’s Pastime in the Gilded Age. Lanham: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2006.
Riess, Steven A. Touching Base: Professional Baseball and American Culture in the Progressive Era. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood P, 1980.
Saethre, Steinar. Baseball and beer: An independent study. SUNY Cortland, 2008. Web. Accessed 9 March 2013. http://www.academia.edu/442586/Baseball_and_beer
Sullivan, Dean A., ed. Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1825-1908. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1995.