The American Game: Baseball and Ethnicity

The American Game: Baseball and Ethnicity

The American Game: Baseball and Ethnicity

The American Game: Baseball and Ethnicity


These nine essays selected by Lawrence Baldassaro and Richard A. Johnson present for the first time in a single volume an ethnic and racial profile of American baseball. These essayists show how the gradual involvement by various ethnic and racial groups reflects the changing nature of baseball- and of American society as a whole- over the course of the twentieth century.

Although the sport could not truly be called representative of America until after Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1947, fascination with the ethnic backgrounds of the players began more than a century ago when athletes of German and Irish descent entered the major leagues in large numbers. In the 1920s, commentators noted the influx of ballplayers of Italian and Slavic origins and wondered why there were not more Jewish players in the big leagues. The era following World War II, however, saw the most dramatic ethnographic shift with the belated entry of African American ballplayers. The pattern of ethnic succession continues as players of Hispanic and Asian origin infuse fresh excitement and renewal into the major leagues.



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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