“[I]t is good to see health-promoting exercises taking the place of insipid enervating amusements.” ~ The Washington Star reporting on a baseball game in Washington, DC in 1860
Oh, Washington Star, you have no idea.
No idea what “insipid enervating amusements” your great-great-great-great grandchildren will come up with. No idea.
We name our children North West, for heaven’s sake. You really have no idea.
But, you’ll be pleased to know that baseball is pretty much the same.
(Sure, some teams play indoors on fake grass, some under glowing swaths of electric lights, and some won’t even let their pitchers come to bat anymore. Players come from all over the world. And, it’s no longer a whites-only game. So, ok, times have changed a bit.)
While baseball’s beginnings go back much further, it was the Civil War that helped turn baseball from a regional, neighborhood pastime – complete with myriad, often vague, sets of rules – and into a pretty standardized game.
Baseball game between Union prisoners at Salisbury, N.C., 1863. Lithograph of a drawing by Maj. Otto Boetticher. Courtesy of the National Archives
That game, base ball, helped pass time during wartime and was taken home across the nation into peacetime.
President Andrew Johnson
It’s said that President Andrew Johnson was the first sitting President to watch baseball games during the 1860s.
“Johnson indulged few recreational activities [but] he came to appreciate baseball, which was well on its way to becoming America’s past time. On occasion, the President took time to watch pickup games organized on the South Grounds of the White House,” according to Jeffrey K. Smith in The Loyalist: The Life & Times of Andrew Johnson.
(Thank you to my friend Gloria, a diehard Cubs fan, who actually read that book and brought the baseball quote to my attention. And, thank you to my Editor/Husband who said it was also important to mention that then-Vice President Johnson was drunk at Lincoln’s second inauguration.)
By the 1920s baseball’s place in our nation was clear. It was, President Calvin Coolidge declared, “our nation’s game.”
All 30 major league teams are scheduled to play today … all decked out in the stars and stripes.
Each team will wear special “Independence Day” caps.
Like the Baltimore Orioles.
And, the New York Yankees. (I am sharing the Yankees cap with you so I can take this opportunity to report that the Orioles swept the Yankees last weekend. Go O’s!) And, the Cleveland Indians. Wait. That can’t be right, can it?
Yes, Major League Baseball apparently thought it would be appropriate – possibly even cute – to paint Chief Wahoo in the stars and stripes. I’m not even comfortable writing this.
But, hey, MLB, we all make mistakes. And, so, here’s the new Cleveland cap you’ll see today.
There. That’s better.
And, if you’re a Toronto Blue Jay? Fear not, no stars and stripes for you today. Your maple leaf is quite fetching!
So, tip your cap today to the sport that is our “nation’s game.” Chances are, you’ll be tipping a baseball cap (but hopefully not that Chief Wahoo one).
And, have a happy Fourth of July!