To all my U.S. friends, I hope you have a relaxing holiday, and please stay safe!
To all my U.S. friends, I hope you have a relaxing holiday, and please stay safe!
When I was a small boy in Kansas, a friend of mine and I went fishing. I told him I wanted to be a real Major League baseball player, a genuine professional like Honus Wagner. My friend said that he’d like to be President of the United States. Neither of us got our wish.
~Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States
When one thinks of the American Civil War, a number of key themes come to mind: North vs. South; the Union and the Confederacy; slavery; race; Gettysburg; Appomattox; and so on… One rarely thinks of baseball, and yet the game provided entertainment and escape during this tumultuous period in our nation’s history.
Contrary to what the Abner Doubleday myth would have us believe, baseball was already well-established by the time the “War Between the States” broke out, and it is believed that President Abraham Lincoln may have been one of the game’s first fans. At the very least, many historians agree that Lincoln most likely watched, and possibly even played, the sport. There is no doubt, however, that the game was already making its way into the national consciousness. The political cartoon below show Lincoln with the other three Presidential candidates, John Bell, Stephen A. Douglas, and John C. Breckinridge, in the fall of 1860. The men are depicted as ballplayers, and Lincoln, of course, has his foot on home plate, representing victory. He smugly tells his opponents, “Gentlemen, if any of you should ever take a hand in another match at this game, remember that you must have ‘a good bat’ and strike a ‘fair ball’ to make a ‘clean score’ & a ‘home run.’”
Baseball was a pastime shared by both North and South, and officers on both sides touted the sport as a distraction from the horrors of war, as well as a means through which soldiers could exercise. Interestingly, the outbreak of war encouraged the growth of the sport, as large concentrations of young men gathered together in encampments often found themselves in need of a way to pass the time. To solve the problem of boredom, men from New York took to teaching their fellow soldiers, who came from areas throughout the country, the rules and play of baseball. What was once advocated as a “gentleman’s game” now spread amongst men from a wide variety of backgrounds.
One of the most famous games that took place during the war was between the 165th New York Infantry and the New York Regiment All-Star nine. Played in 1862, approximately forty thousand soldiers showed up to watch the matchup in Hilton Head, South Carolina. That’s a crowd that surpasses attendance at most Major League Baseball games today! As the war raged on and nationalism grew stronger, baseball became increasingly viewed as patriotic. Competitions were sometimes viewed as representative of the conflict between North and South.
Playing ball in the middle of the war wasn’t always fun and worry-free, of course. Some soldiers learned to play the game in one of the many Civil War prisons. The teams of active regiments experienced constant changes in their rosters, as men were killed on the battlefield. Sometimes, the ballgames themselves were interrupted, such as one George Putnam wrote home about:
“Suddenly there was a scattering of fire, which three outfielders caught the brunt; the centerfield was hit and was captured, left and right field managed to get back to our lines. The attack…was repelled without serious difficulty, but we had lost not only our centerfield, but…the only baseball in Alexandria, Texas.”
When the war ended and soldiers returned home, many of them shared the game they had learned with their communities. A game that was once mostly confined to the New York area exploded throughout the country. Baseball became a force that helped to heal the rift in the country as many fans began to refer to it as “the national pastime.” Many new leagues formed throughout the nation. Referred to as the “Textile Leagues,” they resembled the minor league system of today. As baseball’s popularity became widespread, the foundation was laid for the establishment of organized and professional play.
Aubrecht, Michael. “Baseball and the Blue and Gray.” Baseball Almanac. Baseball-Almanac, July 2004. Web. Accessed 17 May 2013. http://www.baseball-almanac.com/articles/aubrecht2004b.shtml
Bluett, Terry. “Baseball and the Civil War.” Pennsylvania Civil War Trails. PA Tourism Office. Web. Accessed 18 May 2013. http://www.pacivilwartrails.com/stories/tales/baseball-and-the-civil-war
“Cartoon Corner: The National Game, Three Outs and One Run.” Abraham Lincoln’s Classroom. The Lincoln Institute, 2003-2013. Web. Accessed 18 May 2013. http://www.abrahamlincolnsclassroom.org/Cartoon_Corner/index3.asp?ID=97&TypeID=1
Kirsch, George B. Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime During the Civil War. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton U P, 2003.
Rothschild, Richard. “Lincoln was game for baseball.” Chicago Tribune. ChicagoTribune.com, 11 February 2003. Web. Accessed 18 May 2013. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2003-02-11/sports/0302110160_1_16th-president-historian-jules-tygiel-abner-doubleday
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.