WHOSE NATIONAL PASTIME IS IT?

This afternoon, Angela Smith, director of community outreach for the Florida Marlins and several foundation board members are scheduled to visit the Wolfsonian museum and library.  In anticipation of their visit, we laid out a number of baseball-related items on the main reading room tables for them to peruse.

There are only a handful of items referring to the national sport in the library collection dating from the 1930s. If a political cartoon penned during the Great Depression can be believed, the nation’s social and economic woes were distracting Americans from the action on the diamond.

GIFT OF CHRISTOPHER DENOON

A woodblock illustration entitled “Baseball Stadium” seems to indicate that in spite of the economic crisis, Americans’ interest in the national pastime remained high even if the ability to buy tickets diminished. Published in a book designed by Beryl Beck sponsored by the Art Department of Superior State Teachers College in Wisconsin and published by the WPA Library Project in 1939, the illustration shows a packed stadium and a young boy’s attempt to scale the wall to avoid paying the price of admission.

A depression-era photograph published in Hometown also appears to bear out the latter assumption, showing a number of men lounging around in baseball uniforms.

GIFT OF FRANCIS XAVIER LUCA AND CLARA HELENA PALACIO-DE LUCA

The cover illustration on a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) menu also suggests that the nation’s youth continued to spend their off-hours playing at the national obsession.

While the economy might have dampened major league baseball attendance in the 1930s, it did not appear to in any way diminish America’s love of the sport. Even after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor pulled the United States into the Second World War, baseball remained as popular as ever. Even as G.I.s were training for combat in Miami Beach, a couple of issues of Alert show how important playing ball was for morale, and a cartoon satirized claims that the game was actually Japan’s national sport.

GIFTS OF JUDITH BERSON-LEVINSON

LOANED BY MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR.

Of course with so many of America’s able-bodied men being drafted into the armed services, the sport was opened up to the talent of the “fairer sex.” Directed by Penny Marshall and starring Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, and others, the 1992 film A League of Their Own told the story of the country’s first female professional baseball league.

Thanks to the generosity of Vicki Gold Levi, the Wolfsonian library also holds a number of baseball-related items from Cuba, where the sport has also been a long-time national obsession.

GIFT OF VICKI GOLD LEVI

Among the baseball memorabilia in the Vicki Gold Levi Collection are a number of advertisements, clippings, and advertising cards lauding specific teams and players.

GIFTS OF VICKI GOLD LEVI

A popular (though totally false) legend had long circulated that Fidel Castro had once been given a tryout (and been rejected) by an American major league baseball team (the Washington Senators has often been mentioned probably for its symbolic effect). The “What if…” school of history claimed that had he only been accepted, the Cuban Revolution, Bay of Pigs invasion, and Cuban Missile Crisis might all have been happily averted. The only problem with this alternative history speculation is that the premise it is founded upon—Fidel’s prowess as a player and his supposed chance at the American major leagues—appears to have been a complete fabrication, though many photos exist showing his post-revolutionary love for the game!

~ by "The Chief" on October 21, 2011.

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