Quick Post: Happy American Independence Day!

Boxing Heavyweight Champion Jack Johnson, whose victory against a white opponent on July 4, 1910 would lead to race riots, resulting in 26 deaths.

Boxing Heavyweight Champion Jack Johnson, whose victory on July 4, 1910 would lead to race riots, resulting in 26 deaths.

I would like to take the time out to thank all of you who have taken the time to read my articles and wish you all a fantastic holiday.  While most of you know that today was the day the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on 1776, I would like to share some interesting tidbits about July 4th.

1776 – Despite the fact that American Independence is celebrated on July 4th, John Adams thought that future generations would celebrate on July 2nd – the date the Continental Congress voted to sever its ties with Great Britain.  In a letter to his wife, Abigal, he wrote:   “The Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.” Continue reading

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Lou Gehrig: Hero and Icon in Turbulent Times

June 19, 2013 was the 167th anniversary of the first organized and recorded baseball game (1846) as well as Lou Gehrig’s 110th birthday.  As a celebration of these events, I will be publishing posts that analyze the importance of Baseball and Lou Gehrig in particular on American Culture.

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A young Lou Gehrig in his Columbia University uniform (1921).

When it comes to sports figures, there have been few who by virtue of their character transcend their physical talent and the sporting world itself and become American cultural icons.  In his illustrious career shortened by tragedy, Lou Gehrig embodied the American cultural values of the era in which he thrived.  While he spent much of his career in the incredible shadow of Babe Ruth, eventually Lou Gehrig would emerge from his Ruthian shadow and personify the values of the 1930’s.  Amidst a world of uncertainty caused by the threat of war and a continuing economic depression, Lou Gehrig stood as a testimony of certainty- playing in 2,130 games until Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) put a sudden and tragic end to his playing days.  His rise from a modest upbringing coupled with his moral fiber and adherence to copybook maxims would serve both as a rags-to-riches story and a testimony to what hard work and personal strength could accomplish.  Through his determination, diligence, strength, and moral fiber, Gehrig became an American hero.

During the 1920s, the brilliance of Gehrig’s game – and anyone else’s game for that matter- was overshadowed by Ruth’s booming drives and personality.  Describing Ruth, baseball historian Donald Honig wrote, “He was a one-man circus, born and molded to entertain, dominate, captivate, and altogether flourish in the imagination…Everything about Ruth was big, big, big, from the statistics to the personality to the impact.  He was Moby Dick in a goldfish bowl.”[1]  In the 1920s, the United States emerged from World War I as a word power, a forced to be reckoned with.  The decade, which would go on to be known as “the Roaring Twenties,” was one where the United States experienced vast economic growth.  The stock market soared as people rushed to buy stock on credit, the automobile was mass produced, and radio production went through the roof as the medium flourished.  Fresh off of the labor unrest and progressive movements of the early twentieth century, wages were higher than ever before, and hours were lower than ever before.  There was more money to be spent for the average consumer, and the working and middle classes had a lot of time on their hands. Coupled with an escapism fueled by the bitterness of the scientific killing of World War I and the glorification of science, the increase in both free time and money to spend lead to a growth in both consumption and a mass culture, and no one epitomized this more than Babe Ruth.  The people of America craved as much as they could get and Babe Ruth was the poster child for excess.  “To whatever engaged him he was the mightiest:  hitter, pitcher, womanizer, drinker, eater.”[2]  Writing on him in 1921, F.C. Lane wrote, “Babe Ruth excels all competition by a margin so wide that there is simply no comparison.”[3] Continue reading

The Rise of Baseball as an Expression of Cultural Values Part Two: Baseball’s Post Civil War Boom to FDR’s “Green Light” Letter

June 19, 2013 was the 167th anniversary of the first organized and recorded baseball game (1846) as well as Lou Gehrig’s 110th birthday.  As a celebration of these events, I will be publishing posts that analyze the importance of Baseball and Lou Gehrig in particular on American Culture.  Please Read Part One Here.

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The Hall of Fame Plaque of Henry Chadwick, baseball’s iconic promoter and first beat writer who was instrumental in creating the statistics and record keeping still used in today’s game. (Source: http://baseballhall.org/hof/chadwick-henry).

While the NABBP suffered in organization and attendance during the Civil War, the end of hostilities resulted in baseball being more popular than ever.  Many veterans, most notably Hall of Fame Member and first National League President Morgan G. Bulkeley, would advance the promotion and organization of both professional leagues and interest in baseball in the decades following the Civil War.  Notable clubs continued barnstorming tours throughout the United States.  On September 6, 1867, the Walla Walla Statesman advertised a game between a local club and the Brooklyn Excelsiors. “”The Excelsiors having challenged the Walla Wallas to play a match game of baseball, the challenge has been accepted and the game will come off at the ball grounds to-morrow …Clubs will bring out their crack players, and hence an interesting game may be expected.”[1]    More than 259 miles away, the Vancouver register noted “Base ball mania” had reached its African American townspeople who were buying equipment at a local town stores.[2]  Traveling clubs from the north east as well as soldiers returning to the west and south spread the popularity of baseball beyond its pre-Civil War market.  This spread helped reduce the class and race barriers that existed in the early years of baseball, thereby allowing a wide variety of Americans to enjoy the game.  At Vassar College, women formed baseball clubs, encouraging other colleges to follow suit with women’s teams.  In 1867, the Dolly Vardens of Philadelphia were formed with a membership consisting entirely of African American women.

With the return of peace the popularity of baseball soared.  The Arizona Weekly Miner reported games being played by mining teams throughout the state on immigrant heavy baseball teams.  In 1868, historian Jules Tygiel estimates 200,000 baseball enthusiasts had attended a baseball game.[3] Books such as Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player and children’s fiction Changing Base were popular.  Americans were following, discussing, and reading about baseball like never before. Commenting on the era, the Chicago Tribune would call the post civil war era “the arrival of the age of baseball,” a sentiment which was shared by publications throughout America.[4]
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The Rise of Baseball as an Expression of National Values Part One: the Colonial Period Through the Civil War

June 19, 2013 is the 167th anniversary of the first organized and recorded baseball game (1846) as well as Lou Gehrig’s 110th birthday.  Over the next few days, I will be publishing posts that analyze the importance of Baseball and Lou Gehrig in particular on American Culture.  This is Part One.

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“Baseball Match at the Elysian Fields, Hoboken.” Harper’s Weekly, October 15, 1859. (http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/british/brit-7.html)

In 1845, a group of middle class New Yorkers known as the Knickerbockers began organizing and standardizing the rules to a sport that would become baseball.  Shortly thereafter, amateur baseball clubs and organization sprang up around the greater New York area.  The outbreak of the Civil War and troop movements furthered the spread of the game, and by the 1870s professional teams and organizations were promoting baseball as a spectator sport.

As baseball spread in popularity, the game itself became a representation of American values.  Promoters of the sport hailed it as a democratic institution[1] where players act “like a gentleman on all occasions” never taking “an ungenerous advantage of his opponents.”[2]  Baseball’s sensibility and reputation was opined by enthusiasts as uniquely American, and immigrants soon adopted the game through acculturation.  Its impact was felt across both class and racial lines (although leagues segregated very early on to reflect the sensibilities of society) as the sport spread through the stadiums and sandlots of America.

In times of both calm and crisis the American public has turned to baseball for entertainment.  Its star players have become household names, and baseball’s imagery and language has become part of our national culture.   American biographer Gerald Early once remarked, “I enjoy the game… principally because it makes me feel American.  And I think there are only three things that America will be known for 2,000 yeas from now… the Constitution, jazz music, and baseball.”[3]  While baseball’s rules and scope have changed over the years, its cultural impact has remanded a constant.

Long before baseball became an organized sport in the 19th century, ball and bat games were played throughout the American Colonies. As early as 1773, Southern African Americans began playing ball games on Sundays, although participation in such games could lead to punishment.[4]  More commonly played in the North however, these games, referred to as “trap,” “townball,” or “base,” were largely informal with rules that varied depending on where they were played.   Teams usually played on a square field and all batted balls were considered in play (even balls that went backward).  The English game of Cricket was also frequently played in the United States throughout the Nineteenth Century.  While baseball has many similarities to cricket, early baseball has much more in common with the aforementioned games.  However, many of the skills transferred between both games, and often skilled players could excel at both.  Historical drawings and accounts show these games continued throughout the 18th and 19th Centuries.
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