Altherr: Basepaths and baselines, the agricultural and surveying contexts of baseball’s emergence

From SABR member Tom Altherr at Our Game on August 8, 2012 (with a hat tip to John Thorn):

Recent research has established that baseball and baseball-type games predate the 1840s. … But the question now arises: Why did baseball appeal to an increasing number of Americans in the early Republic? Why in those transitional decades, moving from the settlement of the Revolutionary ferment to the volatile Jacksonian trends, did Americans move toward allegiance to baseball-type games? What other American developments may have affected, modified, paralleled, or drawn along the expansion of baseball and baseball-type games? Certainly baseball did not emerge in a cultural vacuum, a total escape from the agricultural and commercial cares of the times.

To start down a path toward some sort of answer, it is necessary to revisit the Country Game thesis. According to this interpretation, baseball originated in rural environs and even as the sport exploded in urban locales by the 1840s and 1850s, players and spectators alike ever since have celebrated baseball as some sort of pastoral design, a pleasant recreation of the rural past fading before their eyes, a harkening back to some sort of golden age of rustic simplicity and harmony. Many commentators have celebrated the rural roots of the game, waxing eloquently about green fields as temporal heavens, barefoot boys with cheeks of tan whiling away summer afternoons, and rural virtues manifesting themselves in the practitioners of the game.

Read the full article here:

Related link: The above article from Tom Altherr won a McFarland-SABR Baseball Research Award in 2012

Originally published: August 8, 2012. Last Updated: August 8, 2012.