Academic journal article Base Ball

Take Me out to the Ballgame: The Pursuit of Pleasure and Profit on the Ball Field

Academic journal article Base Ball

Take Me out to the Ballgame: The Pursuit of Pleasure and Profit on the Ball Field

Article excerpt

Happiness is an elusive concept. However, it is hard to imagine that settling into a bleacher seat with a hotdog in one hand and a cold beverage in the other to take in America's pastime would not qualify as happiness, if not sheer bliss. But when and how did baseball rise to such an elevated state? In an attempt to address this question I look back to the last half of the 19th century to see how people used their time, how that use changed, and how baseball fit into the picture.

From an economic perspective, time can be divided into two distinct usages: labor and leisure. Labor is the sale of one's time for a paycheck-i.e., the labor market. All other time is defined as leisure time. Most of us have a more strict definition of leisure time, commonly referred to as "free" time.

Not all leisure time is necessarily free time, however. Technically, leisure time is any time not spent in the labor market. Some of that leisure time is occupied by sleeping, eating, and household chores, which are not considered "leisure" activities by everybody. Free time, then, is the leisure time for which there are no obligations. ... unfettered happiness. One avenue through which it may be pursued is the consumption of entertainment.

Over the course of the last half of the 19th century, many factors contributed to the rise of the entertainment industry through their impact on both demand and supply. These factors included rising incomes, the decrease in hours of the average work week, increased population and urbanization, falling transportation costs, and a reduction in time needed to complete household chores. The decreasing cost and increasing efficiency of transportation made the circulation of entertainment providers much more feasible. The organization of booking agencies (which in baseball took the form of leagues) reduced operating costs, and in baseball the professionalization of the labor force led to an increase in the quality of play, making it more attractive to spectators.

Quite simply, the two things that are most likely to increase the demand for entertainment are more money and more time, and both were moving in generally favorable directions throughout the 19th century, despite periodic economic slowdowns As Figure 1 indicates, the average workweek of the non-farmer steadily decreased by more than 10 percent between 1870 and 1910, while the real (inflation-adjusted) wage of these workers nearly doubled. In this period the population increased and, more importantly for the consumption of entertainment, it was moving to town. In 1880 one in four Americans lived in cities; 30 years later almost half of Americans did. The urbanization of America resulted in increased salaries. Inflation-adjusted wages for urban workers increased by almost 50 percent in the last three decades of the 19th century. Urban Americans also had fewer children, worked 10 percent fewer hours, and were located nearer to entertainment venues. As Table 1 indicates, all of these variables led in the direction of more time for entertainment.1

As people moved from the country into town they were able to take advantage of modern time-saving conveniences made possible through electrification and city water hookups, neither of which was common in rural America until well into the 20th century. Access to public utilities led to a reduction in the amount of time and effort it took to complete basic household chores.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that household chores were less time-consuming at the end of the 19th century than at the beginning. The availability of running water to urban dwellers is but one of many contributors to added leisure time. The growth of the prepared foods industry and technological changes that reduced the time it took to prepare meals and clean up after them increased as the century drew to a close. In 1866 the tin can with key opener was patented. This led to the popularity of canned foods, first introduced by Heinz and Franco American at the end of the 1870s. …

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