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The Representation of American Society in Baseball Alex S. & Seth G. Horace Greeley HS KLM 2006 How has baseball reflected American society over the course of the first half of the 20 th century?

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The Representation of American Society in Baseball

Alex S. & Seth G.Horace Greeley HS KLM 2006


Well--it's our game; that's the chief fact in connection with it: America's game; it has the snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere; it belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly as our Constitution's laws; is just as important in the sum total of our historic life.

Walt Whitman


Progressive Era

  • When Teddy Roosevelt became the 26th president of the United States, his goal was to change what had become of his beloved nation
  • Roosevelt entered office at a time in which the U.S. was already undergoing a slight transformation
  • The Progressive Era, as it became known, was a period of reform that lasted from the 1890s through the 1920s

Progressive Era Movements

  • This era helped influence movements such as:
  • Conservationism
  • Workers Rights
  • Social Justice
  • Temperance
  • Suffragettes
  • Muckrackers
  • Settlement Houses
  • Social Gospel advocates
  • Education reform
  • Trustbusters
  • Banking reform
  • Goo-Goo’s
  • Populists

Key Aspects of the Progressive Era

  • Hepburn Act of 1906
    • Gave the ICC the power to set maximum railroad rates
  • Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902
    • Lasted 163 days
    • Workers given a 10% pay increase and awarded a nine-hour day
    • Organized labor celebrated the outcome as a victory for all unions
  • Square Deal
    • Program that curbed “bad” trusts and encouraged “good” trusts

Immigration in the 1900s

  • During the 1900s many Jews, Italians, Asians (first 1/2 of the decade), and Russians entered America

The Role of Women in the Progressive Era

Jane Addams

Leader in both the women’s suffrage and the pacifist movement

Ida Tarbell

One of the leading muckrakers and the author of The History of the Standard Oil Company


Players Protective Association

  • Players Protective Association is founded in 1900
    • Originated from the Brotherhood of Professional Baseball players (1885)
    • One of the first unions created by players who objected the reserve clause
      • Forced players to stay with one team at the owners disposal
    • Players had no say as to where they were traded/sold

Byron Bancroft Johnson

  • Created the American League in 1901, which offered higher salaries and better contract options
    • Players like Cy Young, John McGraw, and Nap Lajoie jumped from the National League
  • Cracked down on dirty play and banned liquor from ballparks
  • Baseball was becoming a more acceptable activity

Immigration and Baseball

  • Baseball was becoming a reflection of the changing ethnic composition of America.
  • Many European immigrants became club owners due to limited entrepreneurial opportunities in a less risky environment.
  • A number of Northern and Eastern European immigrants played on teams as a means for social mobility.

Olaf Henriksen Denmark


Alta Weiss

1907 First Woman to Play Professional Baseball


Take Me Out to the Ball Game

"Take me out to the ball game,Take me out with the crowd.Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack,I don't care if I never get back,Let me root, root, root for the home team,If they don't win it's a shame.For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,At the old ball game."

Jack Norworth






A New World Power

  • The 1910s were a period of great change for the United States
  • Thanks to Teddy Roosevelt’s progressive mindset, the US was finally known as a ‘world power’
  • Many of the same issues found in the 1900s were still present, including:
    • Escalation of immigration and poverty
    • Labor and monopoly battles
    • Work safety and child labor problems
  • Unfortunately, this seemingly positive decade ended with the US involved in the first world war

Woodrow Wilson

  • In 1914, Wilson created the federal trade commission
    • The purpose of the FTC was to stop unfair trade practices
  • In addition, President Wilson passed the Clayton Antitrust Act in 1914
    • According to Samuel Gompers, leader of the American Federation of Labor, this act was the Magna Carta of labor
    • This act made certain business practices illegal and made individual company officers liable if their company violated the law
    • It also ended union liability antitrust laws

Labor Unions

  • During the 1910s, labor unions continued to grow as the middle classes became increasingly unhappy
  • Unsafe working conditions were highlighted by the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory
    • In this disaster 146 female workers were killed, spurring the growth of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union
  • Children were hired to work in factories, mills, and mines in unsafe conditions for many hours
  • By the middle of the decade every state had passed a minimum age law

Industrial Workers of the World

The IWW was the most militant working class organization at the time

This union was formed from a mixture of unions fighting for better conditions in the west’s mining industry

They felt that all workers should be united within a single union as well as the wage system abolished

The organization helped improve conditions for migratory farm workers by using direct action at the point of production and striking “on the job”

By 1912, the organization had around 50,000 members and was involved in over 150 strikes



“The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life. Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.”


Lawrence Textile Strike

  • This strike was led by the IWW after the mill owner decided to lower wages
  • This strike was ground-breaking in two ways:
    • The strike was primarily led by women
    • It was the first strike in America that brought working people together from over 25 different nations
  • The slogan “Bread and Roses” was first originated in this strike
  • In the end, the workers won pay increases, time-and-a-quarter pay for overtimes, and no discrimination against strikers
  • The strikers are also credited with inventing the moving picket line

The First, First Pitch

William Howard Taft establishes the tradition of throwing out the first pitch on April 14, 1910


Player-Owner Relationships

  • Players were becoming increasingly frustrated with poor conditions on and off the field
  • 1912-Players Fraternity created
    • Attempted to negotiate better conditions, but quickly fell apart
  • 1912-First players strike
    • Detroit Tigers players struck over Ty Cobb’s suspension after fighting with a fan
    • Tigers President, Frank J. Navin, hired scabs off the street to replace his striking players
    • This and numerous other problems helped to increase the sense of injustice within baseball, eventually leading to the Black Sox Scandal

The Black Sox

  • Charles Comiskey, Owner of the Chicago White Sox, paid extremely low wages and treated his players poorly
  • Due to their poor treatment, players leaped at any opportunity to earn more money
  • A group of players including: Joe Jackson and Eddie Cicotte, accepted money to throw the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds

Charles Comiskey


The Scandal

  • Multiple rumors and accusations led to the investigation of eight players, and their eventual trials
  • During the investigation, both Cicotte and Jackson confessed, although shortly after their confessions went missing
  • Now, with no evidence, all eight players were acquitted
  • Because of the evident problems, Federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was brought in as the sport’s first commissioner
  • Unfortunately for the players, Landis was not as forgiving and banned all eight players for life

Federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis

“Regardless of the verdict of the juries, no player who throws a ball game, no player who undertakes or promises to throw a ball game, no player who sits in confidence with a bunch of crooked players and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball.”


World War One and Baseball

  • Ban Johnson ordered his teams to learn close-order drills
  • John K. Tener, President of the National League, stated “This is a war of democracy against bureaucracy. And I tell you that baseball is the very watchword of democracy.”
  • With baseball now one of the leaders in the entertainment industry, owners felt no reason to stop playing
    • This decision sparked a great deal of criticism across the nation along with a drastic decline in attendance

Players or Soldiers?

  • Owners argued that baseball be considered an essential industry so that players could not be drafted
  • Secretary of War Newton D. Baker disagreed with this statement, leading to the drafting of 227 MLB players
  • Three professional players were killed in combat, one of whom was Eddie Grant, former captain of the Giants

Eddie Grant


Isolationism, The New American Ideal

  • Disillusioned by the failure of the war to achieve high ideals promised by President Woodrow Wilson, Americans chose isolationism
    • Isolationism led to the reliance of homegrown ideals
  • This renewed sense of nationalism created the need for a hometown hero
    • Charles Lindbergh
    • Babe Ruth

The Roaring Twenties

The 1920s were given the nickname the Roaring Twenties, due to the immense array of new consumer goods

Although it took time to convert from a wartime economy to a peacetime economy, the decade saw the US become the richest country in the world

America’s newfound wealth led to an increased interest in the many aspects of the entertainment industry, such as: sports, movies, and music

Langston Hughes

Al Jolson


The Unfortunate Few

  • In spite of America’s numerous advancements, African Americans, once again, did not benefit, along with the many other “2nd Class Citizens”
    • 70 million people lived below the poverty level of $2000 a year per family
  • After the US’ entrance in WWI, in which African Americans were put into segregated units run by whites, the belief that blacks were “sub-human” remained in the back of everyone’s mind
  • Three months later, in the city of Chicago, 38 people were killed, 537 were injured, and ~1000 were left homeless after the Chicago Race Riot of 1919
  • This constant disrespect for Blacks resulted in a new sense of black pride, which led not only to the famed Harlem Renaissance, but to the creation of a handful of “black-only” baseball leagues, known as the “Negro Leagues”

The End of the Dead-Ball Era

  • In 1920, Major League Baseball instituted a new set of rules which reduced the pitcher’s arsenal and improved the hitter’s chance at making solid contact
  • The extent to which offense dominated the 1920s is even difficult to comprehend today
    • From 1921-1930, each league neither league batted under .280
  • This new, exciting style of play coupled with America's economic boom led to an increase in baseball’s attendance and popularity
  • Nobody exhibited this shift towards offensive production more than Babe Ruth

The Great Bambino

His towering home runs and mammoth swings helped counter the negative effects of the Black Sox scandal and WWI

He exemplified the average American due to his rise from lowly origins and his enthusiasm for the game


Great Ballplayers of the 1920s

“What the fans saw, during the 1920s, were many of the most colorful and distinctive players in the history of the game. Babe Ruth was the era’s great personality, of course, but there were many others who remain nearly as vivid in our memories.”

- Joseph Wallace

Dizzy Dean

Dazzy Vance

Lefty Gomez


The Radio

With the creation of the radio, a new industry was developed that broadcasted play-by-play descriptions of baseball games

On August 5, 1921 Westinghouse station’s Harold Arlin broadcasted the first game from Forbes Field


The Negro Leagues

  • In 1920, Rube Foster, a former ballplayer, founded the Negro National League
  • A second league, the Eastern Colored League, was established in 1923
    • The ECL folded in 1928 and led to the creation of the American Negro league in 1929
  • The NNL did well until Foster passed away in 1930
  • Unfortunately, this came at a time in which not only baseball was suffering, but America was as well
  • Without a strong leader the NNL entered into the Great Depression and fell apart

Who is the Greatest Hitter of All-Time?

Josh Gibson

Babe Ruth

You Decide

Batting Average

Home Runs






The Great Depression

Due to underconsumption and obvious social inequalities, the United States found itself found itself spiraling downwards as it entered a state of depression in 1929

Although the stock market crash didn’t instantly plunge all Americans into debt, it left 1/3 of all the country’s population in serious need of help by 1932

America’s other 2/3 suffered from reductions in job security, money income, and hours of work

A large part of why the depression was so damaging was because of the US’ laissez-faire president Herbert Hoover

Fortunately, in the election of 1932, the US chose a man fit for the presidency, Franklin D. Roosevelt


FDR and the New Deal

  • After entering office, FDR almost immediately took action in an attempt to fix what his predecessor chose not to
  • Roosevelt’s New Deal had three components: direct relief, economic recovery, and financial reform
  • Although a couple of FDR’s agencies were unsuccessful, a great number helped to recover a struggling nation
    • In 1938, he also created the FSLA, establishing minimum wage

The Depression and Baseball

The depression hit baseball almost as hard as it hit the nation

Young men came to spring training not looking for stardom but simply looking for a job

Attendance dropped drastically as fans could no longer afford the cost to get into a game

Others, unwilling to give up baseball, made the ballpark hot dog their meal of the day

Many people felt that baseball should be suspended, but a slightly prominent figure in American society believed that it should continue...


Franklin Delano Roosevelt

FDR realized the importance of social outlets in the midst of the depression and emphasized baseball’s continuation

In the President’s mind, politics and baseball were intertwined, and both were useful in supporting society’s morale and confidence

Baseball, like the New Deal, battled public apathy, resignation, defeat, and despair

During his speeches, Roosevelt compared baseball to his New Deal to instill understanding and boost the public’s confidence


Franklin Delano Roosevelt

FDR labeled owners and players as examples of American spirit and dedication

Historian Marc Okkoken said, “He [FDR] presented a vigorous image and energetically supported baseball throughout his presidential years.”

In 1932, Roosevelt stated “Baseball as a sport has done as much as anything to keep up the spirits of people when they were losing their jobs and were in the midst of the depression.”


Fireside Chats

Throughout FDR’s famed fireside chats, he often used Baseball metaphors in hope that they would simplify his complex ideas

On May 7, 1933, in his second fireside chat, Roosevelt spoke of “making a hit” and “winning for the team”

“I know that the people of this country will understand this and will also understand the spirit in which we are undertaking this policy. I do not deny that we may make mistakes of procedure as we carry out the policy. I have no expectation

of making a hit every time I come to bat. What I seek is the highest possible batting average, not only for myself but for the team. Theodore Roosevelt once said to me: If I can be right 75 percent of the time, I shall come up to the fullest measure of my hopes.”


The Annual First Pitch

FDR threw out the first pitch of the season every April at Griffith stadium in Washington DC

FDR threw out more first pitches than any other president in history despite his physical ailments from polio


American Sports Heroes

Baseball was not only popular but it was critical during the depression. Baseball was the cure that many people needed by providing heroes and symbols that Americans cherished.

Joe DiMaggio

Lou Gehrig

Hank Greenberg


Baseball's New Deal

Baseball, like the New Deal, created new attractions in hopes of stimulating attendance and popularity

  • 1933~All-Star Game at Comiskey Park, Chicago
  • 1935~The first night game is played in Cincinnati


The Baseball Hall of Fame is opened on June 12, 1939

The first players inducted were Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson in 1936



  • After triumphing the greatest depression in US history only a couple of years prior, the last thing the American people wanted was a war
  • This belief was represented by the country’s four Neutrality Acts over the course of the 1930s, the most recent in 1939
    • This act amended the earlier legislation by supplying the UK and France on a “cash and carry” basis
    • However, US vessels were forbidden to enter combat zones and citizens continued to be barred from sailing on belligerent ships
  • Realizing that they could no longer stand idly by, the US signed the Lend-Lease Act on March 11, 1941
  • Regrettably, the US could only remain neutral for so long

A Date Which Will Live in Infamy

On December 7, 1941, the US was attacked by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and immediately declared war on her attacker

Four days later, the remaining Axis powers, Germany and Italy, declared war on the US

A Day




African-Americans and World War II

In the summer of 1941, A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, began to insist that companies receiving defense contracts should integrate their forces

Randolph planned a march on Washington that he promised would bring almost 100,000

This concept led FDR to cancel the march, but in return he established the Fair Employment Practices Committee

In 1942, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was created

In Detroit in 1943, a series of racial altercations led to two days of violence in which 34 people died, 25 of them black

Over time, military leader made racial adjustments when they realized that they were wasting manpower

By the end of the war, there were more than 700,000 black servicemen


Women and World War II

The number of women in the work force increased by about 60% and they also accounted for a third of paid workers in 1945

Through domestic analogies, male employers believed that women would find jobs such as cutting airplane wings (making a dress pattern) and mixing chemicals (making a cake) easy

A large number of women worked for the government and became known as “government girls”

A substantial amount of women were employed by the military, as both WAACs (Army) and Waves (Navy)


Wrongful Internment

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the 127,000 Japanese Americans (mainly located out west) were treated terribly and even accused of aiding Japan

Although there was no evidence, according to Earl Warren, the apparent passivity of both the Issei and the Nisei was another example of the danger they posed

In February 1942, FDR created the War Relocation Authority and placed more than 100,000 Japanese Americans in “Relocation Centers”

Two years later, the Supreme Court backed the government in the case Korematsu vs. US, stating that the relocation was constitutional


World War II´s Affect on Baseball

  • During a game at the Polo Grounds, in May of 1941, play stopped so that both fans and players could hear the president declare an unlimited emergency
  • That summer, fans alarmed by the front pages found a more reassuring kind of excitement in one of the best seasons in baseball history
  • This season was highlighted by:
    • Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak
    • Ted Williams .406 batting average
    • Both records still stand today

Baseball in Japan

The Japanese government denounced the game of baseball as a bad American influence

Terms such as: strike, out, and safe were outlawed

Japanese soldiers, in an attempt to anger GI’s into revealing their position, cursed Babe Ruth

Even young Japanese Americans played inside their internment camps


Players in the War

In all, some 340 MLB players went into uniform in WWII

American GI’s played baseball everywhere they fought, teaching it to anyone they had come in contact with

Ted Williams

Jackie Robinson

Warren Spahn

Bob Feller


Players in the War

Although some players saw combat, most stars found themselves playing baseball for the Army and Navy to raise funds for the war and to boost the morale of fellow soldiers

Pee Wee Reese

Joe DiMaggio


All American Girls Pro Baseball League

  • Philip Wrigley, chewing-gum king and owner of the Chicago Cubs, hoped to keep up interest in baseball during the war
  • There were already 40,000 women playing semi-pro softball across the country and Wrigley wanted to convert the best of them to hardball
  • Hundreds turned up in Chicago for tryouts in may of 1932 and four teams were formed:
    • Rockford Peaches, Racine Belles, Kenosha Comets, and South Bend Blue Sox

The Beauty of Baseball

  • Not only did players have to be good, but they also had to be irreproachably feminine
  • Wrigley felt that Femininity was the keynote of his league.
    • “No pants-wearing, tough talking, female softballer will play on any of our four teams.”
  • Wrigley signed up the Helena Robinson cosmetics firm to run a charm school to help the players learn grace and elegance
  • Girls were required to wear skirts, high heels, and makeup off the field, otherwise they were fined
  • Reflecting the post-war trend towards at home diversions and the return to a more restrictive conception of femininity, the league folded in 1954

The Gradual Integration of Baseball

Even though Commissioner Landis repeatedly stated that there was no rule against the integration of baseball, there had yet to be a black player in the Major Leagues as the first half of the 20th century came to a close

The hypocrisy of fighting racism abroad while ignoring it at home grew more self evident

African American picketers appeared at Yankee Stadium with signs stating “If we are able to stop bullets, why not balls?”

Landis refused to budge and club owners continued to prohibit integrating the playing field


The Beginning of a New Era

In the Fall of 1944, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis passed away

His replacement was, Kentucky politician, Albert Benjamin “Happy” Chandler

Benjamin, unlike Landis, was pro-integration and felt “If a black boy can make it in Okinawa and Guadal Canal, hell, he can make it in baseball!”


The Man Who Forever Changed the Game

At UCLA, Jackie Robinson excelled in track, basketball, football, and his least favorite of them all, baseball

In 1944, he accepted a $400 a month contract to play with the Kansas City Monarchs

On October 23, 1945, Branch Rickey, President, GM, and Co-Owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson

On April 15, 1947, 26,623 fans (14,000 of them black) attended Ebbets Field on opening day to see Robinson play for the first time


No Respect

  • Although Robinson was loved by the Black population and Dodgers Fans, he endured an immense amount of abuse from the rest of the baseball’s audience
  • At first, his own teammates, many of them southerners, didn’t want to play with him and signed a petition that said they’d rather be traded
  • Some examples of the abuse endured:
    • Threats towards him and his family
    • Pitches thrown at his head
    • Base runners tried to cut him with their cleats

Seven Years Ahead of itís Time

For all the hardships that Robinson and other black players tolerated, and despite the slow pace of integration that followed, the MLB was well ahead of the US

A year after Robinson’s first game, the complete integration of American Armed Forces finally occurred

It would be seven years before the US Supreme Court rejected the notion that separate could truly be equal

It was not until 1965 that Congress enacted meaningful legislation to protect the basic right of black citizens to vote