ITPL Ep 032 featured image

Episode 032 How Baseball Became America’s National Pastime

This week we step up to the plate to take on the origins and history of baseball, and how the sport has both reflected and shaped American society.

Among the many things we’ll discuss:

Early bat and ball games that date back as 14th century Europe (and one involving nuns and monks!).

How British immigrants in the 18th century brought early forms of baseball to North America, including rounders and cricket.

Why baseball emerged as a popular sport in US cities, and not in the pastures of rural America.

Why Alexander Cartwright and NOT Abner Doubleday is the the true “father of baseball.”

How the American Civil War played a key role in popularizing not just baseball, but the so-called “New York” version that eventually became the standard.

Why the early promoters of baseball insisted it remain an amateur sport played by men of good character –and why they eventually lost the battle to the forces of commercialization.

How as many as 50 African Americans played major league baseball in the 1870s and 1880s before the surging racism of the day led owners to purge black players and segregate baseball. And why Moses Fleetwood Walker was the first African American to play major league baseball, 60 years before Jackie Robinson re-integrated baseball.

Why the individualism of baseball both sets it apart from other major team sports and reflects a core American value.

How there are dozens of words and phrases in the American lexicon that trace their origins to baseball, everything from “rain check” to “big league” to “screwball.”

Further Reading

Block, David. Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game (University of Nebraska Press, 2005).

Nemec, David. The Great Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Major League Baseball. 2nd ed. (University of Alabama Press, 2006).

Peterson, Robert. Only the Ball Was White: A History of Legendary Black Players and All-Black Professional Teams (Gramercy Books, 1999).

Rielly, Edward J. Baseball and American Culture: Across the Diamond (Haworth Press, 2003).

Riess, Steven A. Touching Base: Professional Baseball and American Culture in the Progressive Era (University of Illinois Press, 1983. Revised 1999).

Rossi, John. The National Game: Baseball and American Culture (Ivan R. Dee, 2002).

Thorn, John. Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game (Simon & Schuster, 2011).

Tygiel, Jules. Past Time: Baseball as History (Oxford, 2000).

Voigt, David Q. America Through Baseball (Nelson Hall, 1976).

White, G. Edward. Creating the National Pastime: Baseball Transforms Itself, 1903-1953 (Princeton University Press, 1996).

Music for This Episode

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

Jon Luc Hefferman, “Winter Trek” (Free Music Archive)

David Szesztay, “Joyful Meeting” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

Production Credits

Executive Producer: Lulu Spencer

Technical Advisors: Holly Hunt and Jesse Anderson

Podcasting Consultant: Darrell Darnell of Pro Podcast Solutions

Photographer: John Buckingham

Graphic Designer: Maggie Cellucci

Website by: ERI Design

Legal services: Tippecanoe and Tyler Too

Social Media management: The Pony Express

Risk Assessment: Little Big Horn Associates

Growth strategies: 54 40 or Fight

© Snoring Beagle International, 2017