Goldman: Placeboball: When baseball proves itself nonessential

From SABR member Steven Goldman at The Hardball Times on June 7, 2018:

On May 26, 1918, a few of the approximately 24,000 fans in attendance at Chicago’s Weeghman Park (as Wrigley Field was then called) for the tilt between the New York Giants and the Cubs added an angry variant to the annals of the seventh-inning stretch. When the band launched into “The Star-Spangled Banner,” one man, a “slacker or German sympathizer or conscientious objector or something of the sort,” failed to rise to his feet.

This was a provocative act in a time of conflict; the United States had been officially enrolled in the Great War since April of the previous year. Accosted by nearby fans, the man claimed to be physically incapable of standing, but, reported the Chicago Tribune, “when he refused to take off his hat that was too much.” A physical altercation ensued. Reports differ as to whether soldiers or sailors in the stands were among those who set upon the man or those who rescued him. Either way, he had to be taken out of the park for his own safety.

Major League Baseball and its fans like to celebrate the game as being not only the national pastime, but the great national unifier, but at that very moment, as dis-unified fans were litigating with their fists the very (and sometimes still) controversial issue of whether the United States should have entered into the war, the government was balancing the reality of that claim against other, more practical factors and finding it wanting. Thanks to a challenge to the government by Eddie Ainsmith, a career .207/.271/.275-hitting reserve catcher with the Washington Senators, baseball’s very right to exist at a time of national crisis, the very sort of crisis the game is supposedly designed to soften or ameliorate, was in doubt.

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Originally published: June 7, 2018. Last Updated: June 7, 2018.