Baseball: An Encyclopedia of Popular Culture

By Edward J. Rielly | Go to book overview
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Introduction

Baseball, in its earlier versions of rounders and townball, was played prior to the Revolutionary War. In its more modern version, it antedates the Civil War. Professional teams go back as far as the Cincinnati Red Stockings of the late 1860s, with professional leagues originating in the early 1870s. The current National League dates to 1876, the American League to 1901. Other major leagues have come and gone, and minor leagues have flourished, declined, and, recently, regained some of their earlier stature. Major league teams have even moved across borders, with Canada featuring two major league clubs, and major league teams sometimes play in other countries. A typical major league roster now has a genuine international flavor, with players from Japan, Korea, various Latin American countries, and occasionally Australia joining American and Canadian performers.

Baseball, however, is more than its professional leagues. College baseball had become popular by the middle of the nineteenth century, and during the latter decades of the twentieth century a variety of organizations arose to offer boys and girls opportunities to play organized ball, including Little League, PONY, and the Babe Ruth League. Softball, properly considered a version of baseball, also has become popular, especially, but not exclusively, with girls and young women.

Baseball has become more than a national and international phenomenon. It is part of the fabric of American life. It does not occupy merely a portion of American society but, like an ingredient in a national pot of soup, has permeated almost every aspect of society. It both affects and, in turn, is affected by virtually every other dimension of popular culture. That interdependence, however, has not been achieved without also reflecting the failures of American society. Baseball is a commentary on the American way of life, and that way of life has been both good and bad.

America, since the days of the Pilgrims, has been viewed as a land of opportunity, a land of freedom. Of course, that opportunity and freedom have been achieved too often at the expense of others. As Europeans and descendants of Europeans moved westward, conquering rivers, mountains, forests, and plains, they also conquered those Native Americans who long had lived among those

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