- The Culture and Ethnicity of Nineteenth-Century Baseball by Jerrold I. Casway
Jerrold I. Casway, in The Culture and Ethnicity of Nineteenth-Century Baseball, sets himself a difficult task of covering baseball’s ethnic and cultural impact in one reasonably sized book. Casway succeeds in writing an interesting and readable book that addresses the well-worn topic of ethnicity in American baseball during its formative years in a way that brings new insights to this topic. He argues that, as baseball expanded from urban centers in the northeastern United States, the commonly accepted Irish American ballplayer and spectator no longer adequately described a sport that spread rapidly throughout America en route to its claim as “the national pastime.” Just as America, a land of immigrants, could not be described by any one ethnicity, neither could baseball be described in this way. As America suffered through a long ordeal of discrimination, upheaval, misunderstandings, and heroics by many ordinary citizens who had recently immigrated to America from a multitude of countries, so did baseball undergo many of these same growing pains. Casway further argues that the multiethnic nature of baseball contributed to its appeal to many Americans of different ethnic backgrounds, social classes, economic strata, and genders.
Casway discusses race and ethnicity during baseball’s embryonic origins and how these changed as baseball grew beyond its urban northeastern cradle. Representative players from different ethnic groups are showcased and demonstrate how they both fit ethnic stereotypes and broke them. The trials of players identified as ethnically different show that America in the nineteenth century did not tolerate significant diversity and often used ethnicity to shut doors.
The transition from ballplayer to front office, through the pathway of coaching and managing to eventual ownership of a ball club, demonstrates the maturation of baseball from a pastime to a professional athletic endeavor. Ethnic origins and traits of individuals who became managers and the difficulties encountered by these individuals of several ethnic groups as they interacted with ballplayers who were becoming more diverse demonstrate additional ethnic and cultural issues faced by baseball as it matured.
How players and teams dealt with ethnic issues and the pressures they faced as competitive athletes convey further the disruptions and accommodations ethnicity and professionalization engendered. Casway focuses on Philadelphia baseball to provide greater detail on ethnic and cultural issues. Al Reach and Ben Shibe provide examples of different ways of developing Philadelphia into a major baseball city. Casway attributes great influence to Reach and Shibe in the development of Philadelphia baseball and the growth of baseball into a national pastime, and even attributes many aspects of modern baseball to their influence.
Cultural aspects of professional baseball addressed by Casway include intemperance, women’s involvement in baseball, the public’s perception of ballplayers, and the ballplayers’ understanding of themselves as professional athletes. Marketing of baseball from entertainment to a professional sport and the development of dedicated baseball stadiums from open [End Page 361] fields support Casway’s argument that baseball accomplished something of significance for America.
The chapter notes, bibliography, and index are well done and provide significant value to researchers and baseball fans at all levels. Casway uses his background in Irish history and baseball well and comes to interesting and provocative conclusions. Although the book lacks some in its coverage of Negro League baseball during the nineteenth century, Casway breaks new ground when he shows Irish Americans, while suffering discrimination themselves, adopting aspects of Jim Crow to further their aims and marginalize African American ballplayers.
An additional weakness of the book is the limited number of baseball cities Casway discusses in depth. The baseball cities he discusses emphasize Boston, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, and Philadelphia. Although Casway argues that baseball’s movement away from its cradle in the northeast drove many of the changes and eventually absorbed ethnic issues, he does not show enough of this in the leading edge of baseball’s advance through areas other than the northeast. Discussion of Central American...