Bouton: When baseball was king for Thanksgiving

From Chris Bouton at The Hardball Times on November 26, 2019:

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of the Civil War, declared Thanksgiving a federal holiday. While contemporaneous Americans associate the holiday with the Pilgrim harvest at Plymouth in 1621, such celebrations were commonplace in Europe and its colonies in the Americas. Harvest festivals and periodic days when civil and religious authorities called upon the populace to give thanks for religious figures, battlefield victories, and other important events encouraged the development of civic pride and nationalism.

In the decades following the Civil War, the emerging sport of baseball weaved itself into the broader fabric of Thanksgiving and American life. While the regular baseball season had long since ended, local businesses, athletic clubs, and neighborhood teams filled the void. The games often occurred alongside other activities like shooting contests, relay races, dog races, and other festival activities. Often they were part of charity events raising money for orphan and poor relief. In 1887, the Nassau Athletic Club in Brooklyn held its third annual charity “burlesque games” featuring a greased pig wrestling contest, a cranberry pie race, and a not-at-all-problematic baseball game between “Chinamen and colored men.”

In San Francisco, Californians celebrated Thanksgiving similarly to their brethren on the opposite coast. On November 24, 1887, San Francisco featured a host of theatrical performances, charity events, and “various other amusements, from peppering pigeons with leaden pellets and betting on horse races, to assisting in social exercises and responding to toasts.” The highlight of Thanksgiving, however, was a baseball showcase the city had never seen before.

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Originally published: November 27, 2019. Last Updated: November 27, 2019.