German Americans in Major League
Baseball: Sport and Acculturation
LARRY R. GERLACH
Ruth. Gehrig. Wagner. Klem. Stengel. Kuhn. Ripken. The names and achievements of the luminaries residing in baseball's Teutonic Valhalla are familiar to fans and nonfans alike. Less well known is the overall involvement of German Americans in the national pastime. In contrast to the attention given sport in ethnographic studies of African Americans, Irish, Italians, Jews, and Latins, historical and sociological studies of German Americans have ignored sport as a social institution, an agent of assimilation, or source of ethnic pride and achievement.1 And because German immigrants rather easily assimilated into mainstream American society, baseball writers and historians have paid much less attention to their ethnicity compared with other groups.2 Despite their perceived, and ultimately actual, status as unexceptional ethnics, German Americans have enjoyed prominence in all aspects of baseball history.
Since the eighteenth century, Germans have constituted the largest non-English-speaking ethnic group in America. Germanic immigration grew steadily after the arrival of the “Pennsylvania Dutch” in 1682, surged after the ill-fated Revolution of 1848, and increased dramatically after the American Civil War.3 From 1846 to 1904, Germans were by far the largest immigrant group, totaling nearly two million émigrés from 1881 to 1892. The majority of German emigrants settled in the Midwest, many on farms and in small towns, but most in the burgeoning cities of