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When Baseball Went White

Reconstruction, Reconciliation, and Dreams of a National Pastime

Ryan A. Swanson

Publication Year: 2014

The story of Jackie Robinson valiantly breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947 is one that most Americans know. But less recognized is the fact that some seventy years earlier, following the Civil War, baseball was tenuously biracial and had the potential for a truly open game. How, then, did the game become so firmly segregated that it required a trailblazer like Robinson? The answer, Ryan A. Swanson suggests, has everything to do with the politics of “reconciliation” and a wish to avoid the issues of race that an integrated game necessarily raised.
The history of baseball during Reconstruction, as Swanson tells it, is a story of lost opportunities. Thomas Fitzgerald and Octavius Catto (a Philadelphia baseball tandem), for example, were poised to emerge as pioneers of integration in the 1860s. Instead, the desire to create a “national game”—professional and appealing to white Northerners and Southerners alike—trumped any movement toward civil rights. Focusing on Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Richmond—three cities with large African American populations and thriving baseball clubs—Swanson uncovers the origins of baseball’s segregation and the mechanics of its implementation. An important piece of sports history, his work also offers a better understanding of Reconstruction, race, and segregation in America.    


Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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p. v


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p. vi

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pp. vii-xviii

To say, as many historians have, that baseball’s racial segregation resulted from a “gentlemen’s agreement” is roughly the equivalent of asserting that the Civil War stemmed from a difference of opinion.1 There is truth in both statements, but not nearly enough nuance to satisfy even...

Prominent Players and Clubs

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pp. xix-xxii

Part 1. The War’s Over, 1865– 67

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1. Washington DC: A Game to Be Governed

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pp. 2-20

Like many young veterans, Nicholas Young did not go home after the Civil War. Young wanted something more or maybe just something different than his hometown, Albany, New York, could offer. So he migrated to Washington DC in pursuit of a government career. On...

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2. Richmond: Make It a Southern Game

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pp. 21-41

Baseball took a bit longer to take hold fully in Richmond, Virginia, and in most Southern cities, than in Northern cities. The 1865 season came and went with only a smattering of games in former Confederate states. In 1866, however, baseball flourished. And it was at the end...

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3. Philadelphia: Baseball’s Boomtown

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pp. 42-66

Philadelphia’s baseball community dwarfed those of Washington dc and Richmond. Philadelphia had more ballplayers than its mid- Atlantic neighbors and, by all indications, better ones. The Philadelphia Athletic, Bachelor, Keystone, Olympic, Quaker City, and West Philadelphia...

Part 2. Sorting Out New Divisions, 1867– 69

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4. Philadelphia: Setting Precedent

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pp. 69-90

On October 16, 1867, Raymond J. Burr, vice president of the Philadelphia Pythians, found himself inside a stately Harrisburg courthouse petitioning for baseball’s integration. His was the only black face in the chambers. Thomas Fitzgerald, due to his removal from the Athletic Base...

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5. Washington DC: Nationalizing Separation

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pp. 91-112

Beginning immediately after the Civil War, dozens of Washington dc clubs played baseball. Government offices often fielded their own teams. Georgetown University gave rise to the Stonewalls and the Quicksteps, bringing collegiate baseball to the nation’s capital. But the game’s popularity...

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6. Richmond: Calibrating a Response

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pp. 113-134

Not a single Richmond baseball club attended the 1867 National Association of Base Ball Players’ convention. In fact, despite the reconciliationist overtures made by the association in 1866 and 1867, not one Southern club made the trip to Philadelphia for the gathering.1...

Part 3. New Realities Entrenched, the 1870s

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7. Philadelphia: Permanent Solutions

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pp. 137-155

Although many clubs played, there was no question about which baseball club was Philadelphia’s most powerful; the Athletics reigned supreme. The club won more games, brought in greater revenues, and had more influence in the baseball world than any other Philadelphia...

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8. Richmond: The Final Tally

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pp. 156-170

Alexander Babcock, the New York City ballplayer turned Confederate rebel, had led Richmond’s post– Civil War baseball development. Richmond never rivaled Philadelphia or Washington in terms of baseball prowess, but Babcock, as a player and team president, had shaped...

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9. Washington DC: Professional Separation

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pp. 171-190

“Base ball is business now, Nick, and I am trying to arrange our games to make them successful and make them pay,” Harry Wright, the manager of the professional Boston Red Stockings, wrote to Nicholas Young in 1872.1 The concept of “making baseball pay” was not, of course, an...

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pp. 191-198

In 1999, more than fifty years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color line, the New York Times ran a story on declining black participation in organized baseball. The piece, “Out of the Ball Park: For Black Americans, Baseball Loses Its Luster,” reported on young black men...

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pp. 199-200

This project has taken forever, it seems, to complete. Along the way there have been many people who have helped. My PhD adviser, Michael Kazin, encouraged me to explore baseball as a means of understanding the Reconstruction era. In doing so he gave me the freedom to...


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pp. 201-232


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pp. 233-246


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pp. 247-251

E-ISBN-13: 9780803255173
E-ISBN-10: 0803255179
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803235212

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 878130507
MUSE Marc Record: Download for When Baseball Went White

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Subject Headings

  • Baseball -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Baseball -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Racism in sports -- United State.s.
  • Discrimination in sports -- United States.
  • African American baseball players -- United States -- Social conditions.
  • United States -- Race relations.
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