Ethnicity in Major League Baseball

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					                                           Major League Baseball 1

Major League Baseball: A Culturally Diverse Sport

                 Sasha Hadfield

           Kennesaw State University
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      From a nineteenth century field sport evolving out of children’s bat and ball

games came American baseball. The game of baseball has grown up with America

and is wrapped in historical significance beginning 154 years ago. It was in 1829

when the first game of baseball was played at Harvard University. By 1860

spectators were paying to see the games and thus opened the door to

commercialism. It was not much later when the National League was formed and

in 1901 the American League was born. Today major league baseball, also

referred to as MLB, has over 44 million fans! MLB has developed and changed

with the times, just as its country has. America is made up of colorful cultures and

so is American baseball. As David Voigt put it, “He who would know the heart

and mind of America had better learn baseball” (Voigt 1976). In the following, we

will explore the history of Major League Baseball and it’s evolution into a

culturally diverse sport.

      Baseball is viewed as a social phenomenon that, in its own way, gives as

accurate an insight into American life as the most scholarly history text (Kindell

1983). MLB had astonishingly high attendance numbers in their infancy. A lot of

those numbers are due to such fast urban growth after the Civil War.

Entertainment also grew during this time. People enjoyed going out to social

gatherings that a lot of the time included catching that week’s baseball game. It

was fun and at the same time patriotic.
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       MLB players were idolized by thousands of fans and were in a sense

“celebrities” of their time. It was nothing for fans to drive miles and spend the

money they had saved for a game ticket. MLB showcased their players a bit

differently during this time also. Players could easily talk to fans before and after

the games. It was in part due to that kind of fan-player relationship that signing of

baseball cards became popular. The players were very respected for their athletic

talent and paid well for it. Baseball’s popularity was reflected in many different

ways. Popular songs and dances drew on baseball themes, such as “The Live Oak

Polka” and “The Baseball Polka” (Rossi 2000). Board games were also being

invented about baseball.

      Since MLB was brought forth from men who enjoyed watching baseball at

their respected Gentlemen’s Clubs, MLB consisted of primarily white owners and

players. Black baseball was ignored by the white major leagues. Columnists in

the white press sometimes wrote about segregation, even though their own sports

editors refused to cover black games adequately. The overwhelming majority of

players in MLB came from urban areas in the east. A wave of Irish American

players came to dominate the game for the next three decades.
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      Blacks could not play baseball in the major leagues before 1947, but they

played the game nonetheless. They played it on sandlots, in city parks, at

fairgrounds, and in mill yards. They played on factory teams and summer leagues.

The very best of them played in the Negro National League, Negro American

League, and Eastern Colored League, the “major leagues” of black America.

      These leagues played the same baseball as the teams of the white major

leagues. They had enormously talented stars that were just as good as the white

players. Negro Leaguers played over a longer stretch of the year, over a greater

expanse of the globe, and before larger numbers of fans than their white

contemporaries (Ashwill 2002). Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Cool Papa Bell,

are just to name a few.

      Black teams played in major league ballparks. These teams often drew

crowds just as big as those of the white major leagues. After the game the black

ballplayers would pile into beat-up old buses with peeling paint, poor ventilation,

and bad engines, and drive all over America to play some more. “The Negro

League stars never gained the fame and glory of the white ballplayers in those

years. Jim Crow Laws kept them out of the white major leagues. None of them

made the cover of Life, did ads for Wheaties, or rode in parades with governors.

They didn’t for one reason and one reason only: they were black” (Chadwick

1992). Lou Gehrig, one of baseballs shining stars of this time openly expressed his
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thoughts on racism in baseball. He believed there was no room in baseball for


      Jackie Robinson opened the door for blacks in MLB by being the first black

player. By accomplishing this, he was instantly a huge role model for thousands of

black players across the country. From children in the South to adults struggling to

prove themselves, they would all admire Jackie for breaking the mold. What

started as a small trickle of Blacks getting contracts in MLB has now turned into an

opening of floodgates. It is important to point out that coming through these

floodgates are various minority groups, such as Cubans and Puerto Ricans. It is

significant and inspiring that a lot of these minority players have set unbelievable

baseball records.

      For many in Cuba and Puerto Rico, playing in MLB is not just a dream

anymore, but a very reachable goal if they possess the necessary skill and talent.

Most of the children in these countries have baseball idols that came from their

hometown. MLB has turned into a business stretching across the globe from Japan

to Mexico. Baseball was able to strengthen group identities (for example, that of

the Irish Americans or those of the African Americans) while simultaneously

promoting Americanism (Bairner 2001).

      Throughout its rich and colorful history, baseball has somehow managed to

survive continuing crisis, many of them self-inflicted. “Major League Baseball has
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survived and often prospered largely because for more than a century it has been

deeply imbedded in America’s roots. More than any other sport, it can truly claim

to be uniquely American” (Rossi 2000). Today we are reminded more than ever

that many different cultures exist in America and they are equal to one another and

have the same opportunities.

      Today MLB contracts are offered to anyone that has the talent and not

limited to a particular skin color. Tune into any MLB game and one will notice the

ethnic make-up of the teams is very diverse. Major League Baseball is a business

and they are not looking for the same colored people anymore, but rather the best

players out here.
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        Ashwill, Gary (2002, Fall). The Boys of Baseball. Southern Exposure

Journal of the Progressive South, 26-27.

        Bairner, Alan. (2001). Sport Nationalism, and Globalization. New York:

State University of New York Press.

        Chadwick, Bruce. (1992). When The Game Was Black And White. New

York: Abbeville Press.

        Kindall, Jerry. (1983). Sports Illustrated Baseball. New York: Fitzhenry &

Whiteside Limited.

        Rossi, John. (2000). The National Game. Illinois: Ivan R. Dee.

        Voigt, David. (1976). America Through Baseball. Illinois: Nelson-Hall

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I.   Introduction
     A. Brief early history of baseball
     B. Introduction of National league and American League
     C. Thesis statement “We will explore the history of Major League
         Baseball and it’s evolution into a culturally diverse sport.”
II.  Baseball as a social phenomenon
     A. Reasons for such growth (post Civil War era)
     B. Idolizing of baseball players
     C. Popularity
III. Why MLB was primarily white in the beginning
     A. Who made up the players, where were they from
IV. Introduce the black baseball player (1947)
     A. Where they played
     B. Who they played
     C. Their lifestyles
     D. Discrimination
V.   Minority role model (Jackie Robinson)
     A. Minorities infiltrate MLB
     B. Blacks, Cubans, Puerto Ricons
VI. Baseball turned global
     A. Baseballs survival of the times
     B. Baseball is uniquely American
     C. America and all her cultures
VII. MLB today