The American Game: Baseball and Ethnicity

By Lawrence Baldassaro; Richard A. Johnson | Go to book overview
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On 15 April 1997, at Shea Stadium in New York, Major League Baseball honored the great Jackie Robinson by celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of his historic entry into the big leagues. At that time, I said, “The day Jackie Robinson stepped on a major league field will forever be remembered as baseball's proudest moment.”

Jackie's achievement, so ably assisted by Branch Rickey, was a seminal event not only for baseball but also for the entire country. For the first time, baseball, long hailed as our national pastime, truly became the game that represented all of America.

Throughout the early days of its history, baseball had attracted immigrants and members of diverse ethnic groups. For some, it was a way out of the ghetto; for others, it was a pleasant diversion from a difficult existence; and, for many, the game provided a measure of acceptance, a platform on which one could stand proudly and proclaim his status as an American.

The American Game: Baseball and Ethnicity describes baseball's role in the evolving ethnic changes that took place in America beginning with the Anglo-Americans, who contributed to the formation of the game a century and a half ago. In separate essays, the book examines the roles of various European ethnic groups as their members entered the game beginning in the latter part of the nineteenth century and continuing though the middle of the twentieth. They and their forebears came from Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and other Slavic nations. Some were Christians; some were Jews. As a whole, the ethnic representation in baseball was presented publicly as a metaphor for America's melting pot.

In truth, it was not quite the melting pot it was supposed to be. In his essay “Unreconciled Strivings: Baseball in Jim Crow America,” Jules Tygiel examines how African Americans were excluded from baseball as they were from other aspects of American life. Baseball certainly regrets its role in the exclusion of African Americans for most of its early history,


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