CREATING THE NATIONAL PASTIME by G. Edward White

CREATING THE NATIONAL PASTIME

Baseball Transforms Itself 1903-1953
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 An astute examination of how baseball emerged as the national pastime by fostering a pastoral mythology that remained unchallenged until the early 1950s. White (Law and History/Univ.. of Virginia; Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1993) argues that ``baseball's past history was far more complex, and far less heroic, than romanticized treatments of the game might suggest.'' Hardly news, but as he so meticulously demonstrates, while baseball promoted its ``anachronistic dimensions'' as a rural, fresh-air sport played by apple-cheeked youths, it was able to do so, in part, by violating anti-trust laws, by implementing such unfair labor practices as the reserve clause, and by restricting its talent pool according to race. The struggle to maintain the myth began to fail in the postwar era. Owners followed the demographic shift westward, thus dashing nostalgic hometown ties for fans of teams like the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants. At about the same time, the weakening of the reserve clause, the ``new labor relations atmosphere,'' and the integration of the game forced baseball to surrender the ``special qualities'' that had allowed it to appear untouched by time. The author's delineation of the business aspects of the game are a bit dry and too involved, but things liven up when he looks at the gambling and cheating that were a part of the game early in the century, and when he examines the growth and economic importance of night baseball and of radio and TV broadcasts. He also surveys the great baseball writers, such as Paul Gallico and Damon Runyan, and the famed announcers, including Bob Prince and Jimmy Dudley. He has some fresh insights into the game's tentative acceptance of ethnic ballplayers such as Joe DiMaggio and Hank Greenberg. Baseball cognoscenti will find plenty to chew on here. (24 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-691-03488-5
Page count: 364pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1996




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