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Old Time Baseball: The Introduction

by Harvey Frommer

(The introduction to the newest publishing effort of Harvey Frommer appears below - enjoy)

" I see great things in baseball; it's our game, the American game." -- Walt Whitman

This book is a trip back to another America in another century. Yet for me, it is bracketed by a different era: the time between 1975 when I wrote my first book A Baseball Century: the First Hundred Years of the National League and an evening in April 2005 at Yankee Stadium when the Yankees battled the Red Sox in the initial series that year between the age old rivals.

In 1975, my appreciation of the game of baseball deepened and expanded from the wonderful and rare privilege I had of flying across the United States with the Philadelphia Phillies and going from ballpark to ballpark interviewing players and other baseball personnel. Those full days and nights spread over much of the summer of that year made me acutely aware of the hold of the game on America, of its roots, its idiosyncrasies, its magic. The experience confirmed my sense that writing about sports was something I really wanted to do.

The Yankee Stadium experience, on the other hand, gave me pause. Baseball in 2005, especially in that huge ballpark in the Bronx and involving the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, which I have written and spoken about in depth, was many years away from baseball in 1975 and a more than a century away from the "Old Time Baseball" that is the subject of this book.

"Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our closed rooms...the game of ball is glorious." - Walt Whitman

The blaring rock music, the private boxes filled with people who too often have scant knowledge of and even less feeling for the game, the extravagant prices for food, souvenirs, programs reveal a sport that has exploded into crass commercialism fueled by print and electronic media providing more facts and factoids than anyone could reasonably need or deserve.

In 2005, 390 major leaguers earned a million dollars or more for the season. The average opening day salary was a record $2.6 million. The payroll of the New York Yankees was a tad below $200 million, more than the combined payrolls of the bottom five teams.

And the Boston Red Sox, second to the Yankees were, with a payroll of $121.3 million, not too far behind. No one could have imagined what the game would become in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century back in the 19th century when it all began.

"Old time baseball," was a time of amateurs in pre-Civil War America, of Abner Doubleday, Alexander Cartwright and the Knickerbocker Club, the National Association of Base Ball Players, Harry Wright and the Cincinnati Red Stockings -- the first real "professionals," the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, rivals like the American Association, the Union Association, the Players League. . .

All that is in place now was seeded in that earlier game ­ the box score, earned run averages, free agency, the reserve clause, unions, records, stats, organizations, spring training, post season play, stars, big business, media's non blinking eye.

"The game of baseball has now become beyond question the leading feature of the outdoor sports of the United States ... It is a game which is peculiarly suited to the American temperament and disposition; ... in short, the pastime suits the people, and the people suit the pastime." -- Charles A. Peverelly, 1866.

It is fashionable, some might say mandatory to delve deeply into the origins of baseball. The debunking of the Cooperstown myth notwithstanding, there are those who go a step further and question whether Alexander Cartwright did in fact set down the parameters of the game as we know it today and in doing so become the Father of the Game. Yet, even Cartwright's plaque at the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown refers to him as the "Father of Modern Baseball."

Baseball's origin detectives/archaeologists have come up with a range of flashes over recent years: 1344, a group of monks and nuns in a French manuscript are shown playing a game with a strong resemblance to coed softball; 1791, the first known record in America of the term baseball traced to Pittsfield, Mass; 1744, an English children's book made what some construe to be a reference to the game; 1937, an Italian demographer came upon blonde-haired Berber tribesmen in the desert in Libya playing a game that resembled baseball . . .

It would seem, with apologies to Robert Frost, these theorists are claiming the game was ours before we were the game's.

Still OLD TIME BASEBALL exerts a pull, a fascination. Figures from that long ago time peer out of faded photographs, some with mustaches, others with beards, others with the clean-shaven faces of innocents playing ball in a less sophisticated time. They were the pioneers, the trailblazers.

By the end of the nineteenth century, baseball was a sport that provided a step up, a glamorous career opportunity for youth coming out of lower socioeconomic origins. Few of them ever attended college. For the most part, their playing careers were short, and afterwards they moved into blue-collar jobs.

Many of the players came from big cities, especially the booming northeastern metropolitan areas. In 1897, for example, just 3 out of 168 National League players came from as far south as Virginia. Only 7 players came from the west, while more than a third of the athletes were born in Pennsylvania or Massachusetts.

All of them were white (with a couple of short-lived exceptions), most were of German or Irish backgrounds. Fun-loving, generous spenders, the nineteenth-century baseball players were a lively assortment of athletes who brought a verve, a daring, a love to the game that enabled the sport to surmount obstacles and to prevail.

So come, let us celebrate "Old Time Baseball."

Old Time Baseball IV: Women and Baseball

by Harvey Frommer

Almost from the start, women and baseball were part of the scene. At picnics and social gatherings, with friends and family, women in full Victorian dress played the game, running the bases, fielding grounds, taking their turns at bat.

It was felt that the rowdiness of the sport - fights among fans, cat-calling and throwing objects--even violence towards players and umpires – could be lessened with the presence of women. Teams set up tents and refreshments for female fans. Admission was often free of charge to local games. Ladies Day, a late 19th century promotion, came into being. It was designed to attract women fans to baseball, to help increase attendance, quell the fervor of the sometimes unruly crowds.

There were women who opted for the right to play the game under organized conditions. Vassar College, seeking more exercise outlets for women, formed recreational teams in the 1860s. Soon other colleges did the same. None of these teams lasted, however, because these colleges bowed to the pressures of disapproving mothers and sexist men. The teams were disbanded.

In 1880,women at Smith College attempted to create a program of organized baseball teams. The same negativity was in play. Teams were unable to come into existence.

Women’s touring teams, however, did attract a following. Showmen with an entrepreneurial feel organized women’s teams as barnstorming novelty acts across America. The Springfield ( Illinois) Blondes and Brunettes was reportedly the first team out there. It went out of business after four games. The sexism of the day was on display with comments like "a revolting exhibition of impropriety." Promoters in Philadelphia fielded two teams in 1883 - the Red Stockings and the Blue Stockings. Free admission and the novelty of it all drew more than 500 women spectators for a match in Camden, New Jersey. Afterwards admission for women was 15 cents - they got in for children’s price.

By the 1890s, women's teams, sometimes described as "bloomer girls," played across the country. One Reading, Pennsylvania men’s team even fielded a woman pitcher to boost attendance. Even though she pitched only part of the ninth inning, the local paper commented, " For a woman, she is a success."

Sadly, sexism against women participating in organized baseball was part of the cultural milieu. On March 12 ,1892, a bill before the New York State Assembly sought "To prohibit the employment of females as baseball players."

And so it went, but better times were ahead for baseball and especially for women who one day would “have a league of their own.”

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