Unification through the National Game
The concept of baseball as the national game emerged in the 1850s, when the game was primarily an east coast pastime. It wasn’t until after the Civil War that baseball truly became a national sport, helping to heal and unify the country with a game that had evolved into a uniquely American phenomenon. Published songs about the national game often featured patriotic imagery, such as this cover with its nod to the Great Seal of the United States. Here the eagle clutches in its talons an olive branch and, instead of arrows, baseball bats.
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Baseball and Politics
Throughout its history, baseball has been used as a metaphor for that other national game—politics. This print, a commentary on the presidential election of 1884, depicts presidential hopefuls playing sandlot baseball on the “Potomac Flats” field. James G. Blaine pitches to Chester A. Arthur, with Samuel J. Tilden behind the plate and Roscoe Conkling as umpire. Benjamin F. Butler, with a handgun in his belt, plays first base. At second is John A. Logan holding Ulysses S. Grant close to the bag. The shortstop is John Kelly, and Sereno E. Payne plays third. John Sherman is in left field with Samuel J. Randall in centerfield.
The Great National Game: Last Match of the Season to be Decided Nov. 11th 1884. Cincinnati: Macbrair & Sons Lith., 1884. Chromolithograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (031.00.00)
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“The Game for Me”
In 1869 the game turned professional. M. Mullen’s “The Baseball Song” [image 1] aptly captures the enthusiasm for the game by the late nineteenth century: “Let others have their cricket . . . baseball’s the game for me” the lyrics declare, ending with this salute: “Long may baseball flourish in each state throughout the land.” Written in 1888, the musical tribute to the game was introduced in what became a singular year for baseball—Ernest Thayer penned his renowned poem, “Casey at the Bat” and Albert G. Spalding’s epic world tour globally solidified baseball as an American institution and national pastime. As America entered the twentieth century [image 2], little boys across the country, armed with their own bats, balls, and mitts, dreamed of playing with the big leagues. Today, Little League Baseball is the most popular youth baseball program in the world with over three million boys and girls.
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Baseball in World War I
During World War I, baseball was a useful tool to rally support for the war effort. Military displays became a normal occurrence at ballparks. Harry Von Tilzer, whose brother Albert composed the huge 1908 hit “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” created his “Batter Up—Uncle Sam is at the Plate” for these entertainments. Billed as “the great baseball war song,” it was frequently performed.
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