September 23, 2014

Early Baseball



Read delightedly of the book The Summer of Beer and Whiskey (it had me at “summer”, or maybe “beer”, certainly by "whiskey"). It's an engaging history of the very early years of baseball.

Nugget of interest: Read where Oscar Wilde spent about a year visiting America, including going to a Cincy Reds game I believe. 1882-ish.

The book explains the popularity of baseball in those days to our desire for the interplay between communal activity with brilliant individual achievement, emphasis on the latter. Which baseball does showcase pretty effectively. The football counterpoint might be the quarterback and running back, both of whom have a huge individual role to play in football. But when your team is on defense you have no individual to key off since there's no pitcher equivalent in football. The 1880s version of baseball was quick-quick-quick. Fast-paced. No endless drag-out of batters stepping out between pitches, no commercial timeouts between innings. Games lasted between 90 minutes and 2 hours. Perfect.

Mark Twain called baseball the perfect image of his America: “the drive, push and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century!” Wow. That feels like a completely different game than what we have now, a game that feels leisurely, lazy, and relaxed. It's almost like he's describing football, not baseball. Although perhaps baseball in the 1880s was the football of its generation: very driving, pushing and rushing compared to the alternatives. (Golf?) Probably in 40 years football will seem to slow to us and we'll look back at football as boring.

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