Ryczek: Going pro: Baseball in the 1860s

From SABR member Bill Ryczek at The National Pastime Museum on November 25, 2016:

The sporting world is frequently subject to historical, political, and social influence, and when great events occurred in America, baseball felt their impact. At first, the game was too small and parochial to be affected by national trends. During the 1850s, when baseball experienced its first growth spurt, there had been bitter intersectional conflict between Northern and Southern states, but baseball was essentially a New York sport, and regional differences were irrelevant.

During the 1860s, America was ravaged by a bloody civil war, and following the peace a booming economy was accompanied by westward expansion. The country’s population was also in the midst of a steady migration from farms to cities, and each of these factors had a significant impact on the game of baseball.

The Civil War was the first to be fought after sporting events had become popular among adults, and baseball men had to decide whether it was morally and socially acceptable for fit young men to devote time to sports when other young men were suffering and dying for their country. The New York Clipper, one of the leading sporting journals, urged all able-bodied men to enlist in the army but qualified their recommendation by stating later that “Enthusiasts in the game [of baseball] are looking forward to a brilliant season. We hope they will not be disappointed.” As it would be in future wars, baseball was promoted as beneficial exercise that would build strong soldiers, and as entertainment that provided a welcome respite for those who remained on the home front.

Read the full article here: http://www.thenationalpastimemuseum.com/article/going-pro

Originally published: November 28, 2016. Last Updated: November 28, 2016.