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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Baseball & Society: Why It matters

I have received a comment or two on why people would not typically read what I post because their interests do not include baseball. I can understand that, being they are women, and sports seem mundane and related too much to testosterone. Well, here are a few reasons you should give professional baseball a looksie:

The founding of the oldest professional league took place in 1876. The centennial of this nation. The National League survived due to William Hulbert taking his business sense and strictness and showing little mercy for gamblers, players on the take and bad behavior.

Baseball turned into a profession shortly after the U.S. Civil War, but left behind men of color until 1947. Several black men played professional baseball (Weldy Wilberforce Walker, Moses Fleetwood Walker (see picture above) and George Stovey, for example) played up until 1887, when Adrian Constantine 'Cap' Anson , legend of the Chicago Cubs refused to play with black players. His racist example, led to a 60-year moratorium on equality for all players.

Baseball for over 80 years has merited antitrust exemption. In 1922, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, considered by many amongst the greatest Jurists in American History, wrote "baseball is a sport, not a business" and that baseball played across state lines was not "interstate commerce" and thus did not fall under the perview of regulation by the U.S. Revocation of this was still being bantered about in 2002. Baseball has been "redefined" over the years, even the stingy Phil K. Wrigley, said, "Baseball is most definitely a business." In 1950!

Baseball has produced plenty of greater writers, historians and novelists. Grantland Rice, Roger Kahn, George F. Will, Leonard Koppett, Sam Lacy, Wendell Smith, Lee Allen and Bill James are just a very few that have shaped the way baseball is viewed. They have plied their craft so well that their words resonate on until this very day.

In 1947, nearly a decade before the Civil Rights Era sprung to life under the small, but determined spirit of Rosa Parks, Jackie Roosevelt Robinson took the field and changed baseball. Jackie played four sports at UCLA, not including tennis, and was spirited to say the very least. He survived a court martial as a commissioned officer in the Army - a rarity once again - to just become the 1st black in sixty years to play in the Majors. He suffered through plenty of hardship and was treated uneven by his teammates and opponents alike. But his is the only MLB number retired on every team . (#42)

Free Agency. Though often misinterpreted as "baseball players getting rich" , free agency was a basic right all people in the workforce strive for. In baseball, for nearly 100 years, a player was attached to a team "for life" unless he retired or otherwise did not play. Owners had the option to never release a player and could pay him whatever the owner determined. (Unlike you and I, who can shop our services to the highest bidder...) Curt Flood started the ball rolling, when he refused a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies. After writing a stirring letter (though legendary legal man Marvin Miller likely helped) to Bowie Kuhn, commissioner of baseball, Flood's case went before the U.S. Supreme Court, argued by former Supreme Arthur Goldberg, only to lose. However, within 4 years, his actions would gain traction and bear fruit for hundreds of MLB players.

These are only a few reasons to be interested in baseball. It is more than a sport, more than a pasttime, and more than just grown men hitting a ball around the field. It has influenced culture, legal issues, the backdrop of society's struggles and has kept its place through tumultuous times in America.

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