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Exhibition Baseball Americana

At the Ballpark

Albert Von Tilzer (1878–1956) and Jack Norworth (1879–1959). “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” New York: New York Music Co., 1908. Music Division, Library of Congress (036.00.00)

“On a clear day I can see the sun, and that sucker is 93 million miles away!” — Umpire Dick Stello, to a manager who questioned his eyesight

From sandlots to stadiums, social bonds, collective memories, and shared familiarity unite fans and spectators whether they are seated in beach chairs on the sidelines, in the bleachers, or in club-level cushioned seats. Major League Baseball dramatically altered the game’s natural rhythms on the evening of May 24, 1935, when President Franklin Roosevelt symbolically flipped a switch in Washington, D.C., that lit up Ohio’s Crosley Field, home of the Cincinnati Reds. Since then, for many teams, baseball’s day games gradually dwindled and nine innings filled its nights.

Meanwhile, the ballpark experience is a balance of the classic and the current. Traditional live organ music succumbed to the batter’s customized walk-up song. Gourmet and ethnic cuisine now join hot dogs and popcorn on the concession stand menu. And the $5 ticket is still available, though it once sat fans behind home plate rather than 500 feet away from it.
The Ballpark Community
In the Bleachers

The Ballpark Community

“Next to religion, baseball has furnished a greater impact on American life than any other institution,” mused President Herbert Hoover, who knew both offered his fellow citizens solace during the Great Depression. In times of crises and beyond, ballparks can serve as settings for fans to express a sense of unity and commonality, with shared songs, symbols, rituals, and rites. “The Star Spangled Banner” was first regularly performed at ballparks during World War I and became a traditional pre-game event in World War II. Crowd participation at the game is expected, from cheering and chanting to passing chow and change down the row. For decades grandstands were filled with spectators dressed in their Sunday best but by the mid-twentieth century baseball caps were common fan-wear. In the 1980s, ball clubs began licensing mass-market sports apparel to the faithful, prompting an extraordinary sea change in ballpark attire. Today waves of logoed T-shirts and jerseys ripple through the stands and matching hats bob in an ocean of team colors.

Baseball on the Map

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Washington, D.C. Sanborn Map Company, Vol. 3, 1959. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (035.00.00)

In the Bleachers

In the 1880s, life at the ballpark got considerably more interesting for fans of the American Association, also known as the Beer and Whiskey League. The association, a rival to the National League, attracted fans with cheap tickets and modern-day amenities, including Sunday games, comfort food (“dachshund sausages,” later dubbed “hot dogs”), and alcoholic beverages. These were especially appealing to the large German immigrant populations that supported teams in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Louisville, and Pittsburgh. The leagues also courted women, often with free admission or designated Ladies’ Days, which helped build a strong female presence. John Montgomery Ward of the New York Giants noted at the time that “the sport has no more ardent admirers than . . . its lady attendants. . . . if her favorite team fails to bat well she characterizes the opposing pitcher as a ’horrid creature,’” and she was liable “to criticize plays and even find fault with the umpire.”

Cheering from the Bleachers

Marvin E. Newman, photographer. Crowd at Milwaukee County Municipal Stadium during Braves baseball game, September 12, 1956. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress