Viewing The Game From The Fans’ Perspective

From SABR member John Thorn at on June 15:

I have begun to think that instead of surveying the fields of play for the Great Story of Baseball I might better have looked at the individuals surrounding me in the stands, and their antecedents, the ones who more than any ingenious lad made baseball the national pastime. It was the spectator—not a Doubleday or a Cartwright, neither a Chadwick nor a Spalding—who transformed baseball from a boys’ game into a nation’s sport.

Around the time of the Civil War, members of the press used to call the strangely ardent spectators enthusiasts or thirty-third-degree experts concerning the game of ball. (They used to call some of them pickpockets and drunks and rowdies, too.) By the early 1880s the baseball-mad were commonly called cranks or bugs, both terms intended to reference chronic and incurable illness, with more than a dash of lunacy. In the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of April 18, 1884 an ex-Governor of Maryland noted:

“There is a man in the Government Hospital for the Insane who is perfectly sane on every subject except base ball. He knows more about base ball than any other man in America. The authorities have humored him so that he has been able to cover the walls of his large room with intricate schedules of games played since base ball began its career. He has the record of every important club and the individual record of every important player…. He has figured it all out. His sense has gone with it. He is the typical base ball crank.”

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Originally published: June 16, 2011. Last Updated: June 16, 2011.