This is a collection of essays about American history. I say that lest this be mistaken for a book about baseball. This would be a natural misconception. Baseball, after all, appears in its title. Each of its chapters revolves around baseball. The purpose of this book, however, is not to examine developments or events in the sport, but rather changes occurring in American society. The narratives rarely venture onto the field but concern themselves more with the broader baseball experience: how fans received and processed their baseball information; how they witnessed the games; what baseball symbolized in different eras; and how each generation reinvented the national pastime to fit its own material reality and ideological perceptions.
Many historians will recognize the subtitle, Baseball as History, as a play on Warren Susman's seminal collection of essays, Culture as History. "Each age has its special words, its own vocabulary, its own set of meanings, its particular symbolic order," wrote Susman. "A careful study of the conventions, the unassuming everyday acts, the rhetorical devices in speech and song, the unconscious patterns of behavior, all help to uncover ... those fundamental assumptions that such cultures share."
Baseball, a constant in American life since the I850s, reveals much about these "fundamental assumptions." I do not subscribe to Jacques Barzun's unfortunate and oft-quoted adage, "Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball." Remarkably, people with a total ignorance of baseball have written many fine books on American society and culture. Nor do I wish to over-intellectualize the game, ascribing hypo