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
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.”