Baseball, even from its early days in the middle of the nineteenth century, proved popular with people of all stripes. There was little sense of play for its own sake, however, as baseball, although entertaining for spectators, was usually associated with values like health, teamwork, and discipline. Baseball also was associated with work, and the vocabulary of work was often applied to the game by reporters and participants alike. Hard work and practice were seen as vital to success on the field of play as much as in the working world.
Many of the early teams were drawn from workplaces. The Eckford Club of Brooklyn drew its players from among the shipwrights and mechanics employed at the Henry Eckford shipyards. Several teams, including the Atlantics, consisted of players from the food trades. This alliance between the workplace and the diamond accelerated as ballplayers increasingly came from blue-collar occupations. By the early decades of the twentieth century, industrial leagues had become common, consisting of teams from companies involved in such industries as the railroad, electricity, meatpacking, and textiles.
Teams sponsored by, for example, textile companies would play each other. Companies took the games seriously, as management believed that baseball competition promoted good health, kept their workers’ minds off labor issues, and helped to integrate immigrants into the American culture. Winning was sufficiently important that teams would recruit nonemployee ringers to gain an edge, such as the Parisian Cloak Company, which paid the teenage Casey Stengel $3 per game to pitch. Women’s leagues also developed, featuring such teams as the Goodyear Girls and Westinghouse Maids. Even prisons featured teams, which would play against visiting clubs.
These sorts of teams became generically known as the industrial leagues, which remained popular even during the Depression. Their popularity remains potent even today, as the legions of workplace softball teams attest.
See also: Business; Jackson, Joseph Jefferson;
Women in Baseball.