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  • National Pastime: U.S. History through Baseball by Martin C. Babicz, Thomas W. Zeiler
  • Michael Friedman
Babicz, Martin C., and Thomas W. Zeiler. National Pastime: U.S. History through Baseball. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017. Pp. xii+277. Index, illustrations, bibliographic essay, and appendices. $36.00 hb. $18.70 eb.

Martin Babicz and Thomas Zeiler’s National Pastime: U.S. History through Baseball seeks to “show how baseball is interlinked with the history of the United States, and to an extent, vice versa” and use it as “a window through which to examine and clarify American history” (xi). Recognizing the baseball histories of Jules Tygiel, Charles Alexander, and David Voigt, among others, that analyze this relationship for popular audiences, Babicz and Zeiler explicitly state they have designed their book for classroom use “in the hopes that [students] will absorb American history in a new and engaging way” (xii). With a chapter structure examining particular topics within defined timeframes, several chapters could serve as supplementary material in a history course, but the book too often focuses on trivial matters from baseball’s history to the detriment of richer analysis that would make it a more effective teaching text.

The book is divided into fifteen distinct chapters addressing issues surrounding early American development, industrialization, race, capital–labor relations, progressive politics, economics, the Great Depression, wartime, globalization, and broader American culture. Seven appendices identify league champions, list all teams in the different major leagues with their various names and home cities, and identify key executives in the major leagues and players’ associations. A bibliographic essay discusses key books offering further information and deeper analysis on each of the book’s topics.

Each chapter focuses on one topic within a defined timeframe covering periods ranging between seven to fifty years. A one-to-two page overview identifying significant [End Page 352] historical and cultural events opens each chapter to provide necessary context, which is then followed by a description of an illustrative biography or event from baseball history to engage readers. Rather than conducting original research, the authors mobilize a broad selection of secondary sources to produce a highly readable text.

While some issues may be discussed within multiple chapters, race is the explicit focus of three, with chapter 3 examining “Color and Global Barriers (1865–1918),” chapter 8 discussing “Segregation and the Negro Leagues (1896–1949),” and chapter 11 focusing on “Jackie Robinson and Civil Rights (1947–1989).” In each chapter, the book does well to position developments within baseball against the broader state of American race relations at that time. Thus, Cap Anson’s refusal to play his Chicago White Stockings against integrated teams during the mid-1880s is shown as part of broader efforts to establish Jim Crow segregation. Likewise, the discussion of the Negro Leagues explicates the complicated social, economic, and political relationships between races under segregation, as well as demonstrating some of the negative impacts resulting from integration as these valuable businesses, owned and managed by African Americans, quickly headed toward bankruptcy.

Despite an extensive focus on Negro League baseball in chapter 8, the lack of Negro League champions, teams, and executives in the appendices undermines the book’s efforts to recognize overlooked groups as part of baseball history. Similarly, Babicz and Zeiler examine the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) in chapter 10’s discussion of “Baseball Goes to War (1941–1945)” but also deny recognition to AAGPBL champions, teams, and executives among the appendices’ listing of the important moments and people of the sport.

Unfortunately, the book’s efforts to examine American history through baseball frequently are laden with trivial detail from the sport’s history. For example, chapter 6, “Normalcy and the Black Sox Scandal (1904–1922),” provides a one-page detailed description about the 1910 National League pennant race between the Chicago Cubs and New York Giants. However, much less attention is given to more politically and economically significant developments within the sport. Combined with a table identifying the years in which stadiums opened, a short paragraph describes the construction of the fireproof concrete stadiums that essentially defined baseball architecture and served as the template for retro stadium design. Similarly, half a...


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