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.
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(229mm x 152mm x 21mm)
Princeton University Press
Publisher: Princeton University Press
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US Kirkus Review »
An astute examination of how baseball emerged as the national pastime by fostering a pastoral mythology that remained unchallenged until the early 1950s. White (Law and History/Univ.. of Virginia; Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1993) argues that "baseball's past history was far more complex, and far less heroic, than romanticized treatments of the game might suggest." Hardly news, but as he so meticulously demonstrates, while baseball promoted its "anachronistic dimensions" as a rural, fresh-air sport played by apple-checked youths, it was able to do so, in part, by violating anti-trust laws, by implementing such unfair labor practices as the reserve clause, and by restricting its talent pool according to race. The struggle to maintain the myth began to fail in the postwar era. Owners followed the demographic shift westward, thus dashing nostalgic hometown ties for fans of teams like the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants. At about the same time, the weakening of the reserve clause, the "new labor relations atmosphere," and the integration of the game forced baseball to surrender the "special qualities" that had allowed it to appear untouched by time. The author's delineation of the business aspects of the game are a bit dry and too involved, but things liven up when he 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. He also surveys the great baseball writers, such as Paul Galileo and Damon Runyan, and the famed announcers, including Bob Prince and Jimmy Dudley. He has some fresh insights into the game's tentative acceptance of ethnic ballplayers such as Joe DiMaggio and Hank Grcenbcrg. Baseball cognoscenti will find plenty to chew on here. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - G. Edward White
G. Edward White is University Professor and John B. Minor Professor of Law and History at the University of Virginia. His books include "The Marshall Court and Cultural Change, 1815-1835" and "Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: Law and the Inner Self."