How the 1920s Forever Changed Baseball It should come as no surprise to a majority of Americans that baseball is considered America’s national past time. In fact, for many people baseball has always been an enormous part of every day life. People are exposed to baseball through multiple mediums such as television, newspapers, and even the radio. When did this obsession start for the citizens of America? The 1920s is known as the Golden Age of Sports. While many sports started to emerge during this decade, baseball was already established in 1875 and rapidly gaining popularity.
Multiple factors affected the way that baseball changed during the 1920s. Due to its increased popularity of baseball and certain aspects of the game, the 1920s created what is known as modern day baseball. Previous to 1910 a rubber-centered ball was used, which had “less resiliency than the modern cork-centered baseball. ” When baseball switched to the cork-centered ball in 1910, “batting averages shot upward phenomenally, but the managers continued long afterwards to employ the ‘scientific’ strategy” (Mandell 131).
Before the cork-centered ball, the game was dominated by extraordinary pitchers and batters who had difficulties hitting (Mandell 130). Walter Johnson was considered the decade’s best pitcher and totaled 3,497 strikeouts and 113 shut outs in his career (Mandell 130). Once the ball was changed the game became more interesting by having the game now balanced between the offense and defense. This made it possible for listeners to be entertained listening to a ball game instead of constantly having to go to watch the game. During this decade and the decade before, mass production made the radio a staple in most households in the United States.
The wide scale production made radios much more affordable for common families. “By 1925, 40 percent of workers in the United States earned at least $2000 annually … and many enjoyed shortened workweeks, which gave them increased leisure time” (“The 1920s: Sports: Overview” 1). With the excess money that the workers now possessed, they would go out and buy, “among other items, automobiles, radios, and tickets to movies and athletic events” ((“The 1920s: Sports: Overview” 1). Swarms of people were going to stadiums to watch their favorite team compete. More people went to baseball games, more people followed baseball, and more people played baseball for fun than any other sport” (“The Golden Age of Sports” 1). No other sport was as prominent as baseball was during the 1920s. A major draw to baseball was that it was a new form of theater. “The sheer drama of baseball was yet another attraction. Baseball had a cast of well-defined heroes and villains, familiar plots, comedy, and the unexpected” (Rader 129). Baseball proved to be able to produce larger-than-life characters, or the “heroes,” time after time.
To name a few there was, most notably, Babe, Wahoo Sam, and Bugs. In every game, the umpire served the purpose of the villain (Rader 129). While people in the 1920s might not have had the financial excess to spend money on seeing a Broadway play or other large-scale theater productions, baseball games had the same attraction for a lesser price. While many well-to-do people did attend baseball games, “… every mother’s son from banker to bum is eligible for membership in the Benevolent Brotherhood of Baseball Bugs” (“The National Pastime in the 1920s: The Rise of the Baseball Fan” 1).
Everyone was welcome to play participate in baseball, whether it be as a spectator or player. At this time baseball was not just for one race either. People of all races and backgrounds played baseball. For example, in 1920 Andrew “Rube” Foster founded the Negro National League, NNL, so that when baseball was finally integrated the black and Hipic players of the time would be ready for the challenge (Heaphy 39). Even men that did not come from well-respected upbringings were immediately accepted into the world of baseball.
George Herman Ruth Jr. , more commonly known as Babe Ruth, was the prime example of how accepting baseball was. Babe grew up in Baltimore, Maryland and said, “… he became a ‘bad kid,’ who smoked, chewed tobacco, and engaged in petty thievery. ” When Babe turned seven “his parents sent him to the St. Mary’s Industrial Home for Boys, and institution … for … delinquents. ” (Rader 178). After twelve years in the home and building his baseball reputation, Babe was drafted to the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox (Rader 178).
Babe wrote in an autobiography, “The greatest thing about this country is the wonderful fact that it doesn’t matter which side of the tracks you were born on, or whether you’re homeless or homely or friendless. The chance is still there” (Rader 178). All people of different races and upbringings were brought together through baseball, as spectators and players, although the sport would not be integrated until 1947. The popularity of baseball greatly affected the way that the sport would change. Without the demand of the spectators, certain changes would not have been made to the game. The most marked feature of the new sporting landscape was the ascendancy of ‘big-time’ spectator sports, that is, sports that were attracted and were designed for mass audiences” (Rader 173). Baseball changed from a player-centered sport to a spectator-centered sport. In American Sports it says that: After 1920 the fans virtually dictated the character of American sport history. Even the ethos and structure of ‘amateur’ sports like Little League Baseball and high school football resembled their professional counterparts more than the player-centered sports of an earlier era.
In principle, if not in practice, amateur sports had been for the pleasure and benefit of the players; in short, the athletes ‘played. ’ But with the ascendancy of the spectators, the athletes ‘played’ for the fans; sports then became a form of ‘work. ’ (Rader 173) Baseball eventually became a consumer run industry. Magnificent stadiums were beginning to be built during the 1920s, beginning with Yankee Stadium in 1923 (Rader 128). “The massive baseball parks, built of concrete and steel, bore mute testimony to the values Americans place upon baseball. The fans saw the parks as more than a place for commercial amusement, the stadiums were also a “king of civic, religious sanctuary representing and entire community” (Rader 128). Judging solely on the change of the stadiums from rustic to urban, it’s clear that America was changing baseball into a larger-than-life, commercialized industry. Before Babe, fans were loyal to certain teams, but Babe changed the face of baseball, making the fans more player-loyal.
Apart from the enormous increase in the popularity of baseball during the 1920s, Babe Ruth was extremely influential in how the game is now. Paul Gallico, a sports-writer, said, “In times past we had been interested in and excited by prize fighters and baseball players, but we have never been so individually involved or joined in such a mass outpouring of affection as we did for Ruth” (Rader 179). Not only did Babe change the focus of the spectators to the individual players from the team, he set a new standard in the amount that players should expect to be paid.
Christy Walsh became Babe’s literary agent and “… as Ruth’s ‘literary agent’ he increased Ruth’s writing income from $500 to $15000 in the first year” (Rader 181). Most players made less than $10000 a year playing professional baseball. By the time Babe was at his highest point, he was making close to $3 million from playing and outside endeavors relating to baseball (Rader 181). Other than the amount that he was paid and how America idolized him, Babe Ruth undoubtedly changed the history of baseball forever by making the homerun a common feature of the game.
Before Babe, homeruns were not common, especially out-of-the-park homeruns. Outfielders played very shallow, which caused inside-the-park homeruns more frequently than seen today (Rader131). Babe Ruth shattered that normality by hitting out-of-the-park homeruns like no one had ever seen before. Baseball was forever influenced by the skill, idolization, and salary of Babe Ruth. There is no denying that baseball has long been considered America’s pastime, but it was not always like that. The game grew immensely in the 1920s and morphed into the baseball that is around today. One distinguishing and very important quality of baseball was the (however much the game did, indeed, resemble games played in many places for millennia) it was believed to be historically and exclusively American” (Mandell 180). Growing up with parents that were actively involved in athletics throughout their adolescent life, sports were an enormous part of my and my brothers’ lives. Starting at age six I began playing tee-ball and from there moved onto softball, while my brothers did the same, except moved onto Little League.
The popularity of professional baseball was evident even in tee-ball and Little League by having the teams named after the professional teams. It is obvious that the popularity in the 1920s continue into modern day baseball, not only by the growing number of fans, but almost how professional baseball has affected the amateur level of baseball. Work Cited Heaphy, Leslie A. The Negro Leagues 1869-1960. 1st . Jefferson: McFarland&Company Inc. , Publishers, 2003. Print. Mandell, Richard D. Sports A Cultural History. 1st . New York: Columbia University Press, 1984. Print. Rader, Benjamin G.
American Sports. 1st . Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1983. Print. Sumner, Jim. “The Golden Age of Sports. ” North Carolina Museum of History. American Social History Products, Inc. , n. d. Web. <http://www. ncmuseumofhistory. org/collateral/articles/s04. golden. age. sports. pdf>. “The 1920s: Sports: Overview. ” American Decades. 2001. Encyclopedia. com. 4 Dec. 2012 <http://www. encyclopedia. com>. . “The National Pastime in the 1920s: The Rise of the Baseball Fan. ” History Matters. American Social History Products, Inc.. Web. <http://historymatters. gmu. edu/d/5087/>.
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