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Anthropological Perspectives on baseball, America’s Pastime

Author: Rachel Gill, June 25, 2011


What makes baseball America’s pastime?

In seeking to answer this question, there are several perspectives from which to draw a conclusion, the outcome likely depending upon one’s personal association with baseball and American culture. Since it is difficult, if not impossible to answer such a question objectively without the skewing effects of opinion, let us consider a few different points of view using anthropological constructs.


A Linguistic Anthropological Perspective:

The term America’s pastime is an idiom that does not certainly fit into an objective definition according to English etymological standards. Therefore, the subjective nature that defines baseball as America’s pastime is a matter of popular belief and not necessarily a literally translatable fact.

A Cultural Anthropological Perspective:

Henry Chadwick, born October 5, 1824, in Exeter, England, migrated to America, settling in Brooklyn, New York with his mom, dad, and younger sister in September 1837. By the mid-1850s, Chadwick had become a cricket writer for the New York Times often covering games at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey.

From cricket, a bat-and-ball game originating in England baseball would evolve. Later in his life Chadwick recalls playing cricket with his friends, describing how they would “dig a hole in the ground for the home position, and place four stones in a circle, or nearly so, for the bases, and, choosing up sides, we went in for a lively time at what was the parent game of baseball.” After watching the Gotham and Eagle baseball clubs play in 1856, Chadwick became convinced that he could make baseball America’s “national game in word and in truth.” (henrychadwick.com) His passion for this idea led him to becoming a sports writer for the Long Island Star, The New York Clipper, the Brooklyn Eagle as well as other local newspapers. By 1860, he began writing Beadle’s Dime Base Ball companion, which was the first definitive baseball guide.

 

A Physical Anthropological Perspective:

Before it was the United States of America, it was British territory and though the Declaration of Independence and war formally sealed the political separation between England and America that inevitably occurs where there is physical separation between groups of people, it takes much longer to develop a distinct and unique cultural identity that spawns patriotism, nationalism, and asserts political power.

As such, early Americans were frantic to create a cultural identity that would quell fear of falling back under British control. Part of this deliberate effort of early Americans, specifically, those living in New York and the surrounding areas, to separate themselves from Britain transpired through the evolution of baseball from cricket, which was a very popular and very British sport during the mid-1850’s.

An Archeological Perspective:

There was no television, smartphones, internet, video games, planes, trains, or automobiles to meet the recreational needs of early Americans. Without the aid of technology, games like baseball served as an outlet for our ancestors to pass the time, literally, and as technology increases so games like baseball become more archaic from a past time, so to speak and hence, baseball becomes America’s pastime.






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