In the mid-1800s, Americans from all backgrounds were avid fans of spectator sports like horse racing and boxing. All kinds of other leisure pursuits, from fishing to gambling to theatergoing, reached across social and political divides to fill Americans’ free time.
The game of baseball’s ascendance to the status of national pastime came about by dint of being everything to everyone. It was rough and refined, traditional and modern, and highlighted individual prowess while relying on team cooperation. How baseball quickly surpassed other pastimes and became a primary symbol of American uniqueness by the end of the 19th century is a story that is partly about the powers of marketing in a modernizing nation and partly about the genuinely democratizing potential of a game that everyone could play.
Join sports historian Kenneth Cohen for an exploration of baseball's rise, how that rise sparked a decidedly undemocratic response, and the debate about whether it continues to deserve its eminent status as our national pastime today.
Cohen is the director of the museum studies program at the University of Delaware and author of the prize-winning book They Will Have Their Game: Sporting Culture and the Making of the American Republic.
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