Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime during the Civil War
George B. Kirsch
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During the Civil War, Americans from homefront to battlefront played baseball as never before. While soldiers slaughtered each other over the country's fate, players and fans struggled over the form of the national pastime. George Kirsch gives us a color commentary of the growth and transformation of baseball during the Civil War. He shows that the game was a vital part of the lives of many a soldier and civilian--and that baseball's popularity had everything to do with surging American nationalism.
By 1860, baseball was poised to emerge as the American sport. Clubs in northeastern and a few southern cities played various forms of the game. Newspapers published statistics, and governing bodies set rules. But the Civil War years proved crucial in securing the game's place in the American heart. Soldiers with bats in their rucksacks spread baseball to training camps, war prisons, and even front lines. As nationalist fervor heightened, baseball became patriotic. Fans honored it with the title of national pastime. War metaphors were commonplace in sports reporting, and charity games were scheduled. Decades later, Union general Abner Doubleday would be credited (wrongly) with baseball's invention. The Civil War period also saw key developments in the sport itself, including the spread of the New York-style of play, the advent of revised pitching rules, and the growth of commercialism.
Kirsch recounts vivid stories of great players and describes soldiers playing ball to relieve boredom. He introduces entrepreneurs who preached the gospel of baseball, boosted female attendance, and found new ways to make money. We witness bitterly contested championships that enthralled whole cities. We watch African Americans embracing baseball despite official exclusion. And we see legends spring from the pens of early sportswriters.
Rich with anecdotes and surprising facts, this narrative of baseball's coming-of-age reveals the remarkable extent to which America's national pastime is bound up with the country's defining event.
critical period in the evolution of the national pastime. Those years witnessed the triumph of the New York style of play in Boston and Philadelphia, major rule revisions by the National Association of Base Ball Players, and the growth of commercialism and even some professionalism in baseball. City championship matches and intercity tours boosted the popularity of the game, as did sporting week48 HOME FRONT lies which chronicled the game’s growth. Club ofﬁcials could not ignore the carnage on
Lovett recalled that when he played as a boy for a junior club near Boston, batters sometimes shortened up on the bat, grasping it near the middle, “and by a quick turn of the wrist [struck] the ball, as it passed them, in the same direction in which it was thrown, thus avoiding the ﬁelders and giving the striker a good start on the bases.” After hitting the ball, the striker ran around the bases until he was put out or remained safely on a base. He could be retired if the catcher caught three
return contest for the title and eventually led to the Massachusetts Baseball Convention in Dedham in May 1858, at which the Massachusetts Association of Base Ball Players was created and a constitution, bylaws, and rules and regulations were approved. At this convention representatives of the Tri-Mountain club tried to persuade the delegates to adopt the code of the New York version of the game, which had been created by the New York Knickerbocker club back in the 1840s. It featured a diamond
journalists, biographers, and historians elevated his reputation to heroic and legendary proportions. As they did so, it was only natural that they found ways to tie his name to the national pastime. While there is precious little hard evidence proving that Lincoln actually played, watched, or even paid attention to baseball, nevertheless there are several tales that connect him to the sport. Certainly as president, Lincoln had ample opportunity to see a baseball game. Before, during, and after
event in the sport’s early modernization was the founding of its ﬁrst centralized governing body— the National Association of Base Ball Players, or the NABBP. As historian Harold Seymour has pointed out, the creation of this organization in 1857 was crucial in baseball’s history, launching an era in which players met annually to reﬁne the rules, resolve disputes, and control the sport’s development. When the 1858 convention decided to perpetuate itself by drawing up a permanent constitution,