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A People's History of Baseball

"Well-written and cogently argued...Nathanson has researched thoroughly, writes persuasively, and does not shy away from challenging even the most revered narrative in baseball: Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson, and the integration of Major League Baseball.... In A People’s History of Baseball, Nathanson reveals not just his masterful knowledge of baseball but also a profound and nuanced understanding of the complexities of American society. His book is a welcomed and long-needed contribution to the history of baseball, and with its challenge to accepted historical narratives it also contributes to a much more focused understanding of American cultural and historical studies."
--The Journal of Sport History

read the entire review here (612 KB)

The Journal of Sport History, Vol. 39, No. 3, Fall 2012

"A People’s History cuts through the sport’s 'patriotic, sepia haze' and reveals a business as contentious as any on Wall Street or found in corporate America...Nathanson targets such larger-than-life personalities [as] cantankerous owner Charlie Finley, social pioneer Branch Rickey, labor activist Marvin Miller and statistician guru Bill James [such that] the reader realizes that the game is much more than Mom’s apple pie and red, white and blue bunting. In essence, the national pastime showcases the best and worst of America — often at the same time."
--Tim Wendel, The Washington Independent Review of Books

“A People’s History of Baseball’’ provides vigorous and fascinating challenges to the ways in which fans have related to a game that [Nathanson] says has been “virtually synonymous” with America for well over a century. Nathanson’s thoroughly documented contention is that “facts did not matter” in the way people have celebrated the game and its virtues, and that this syndrome helps to explain, among other things, how hypocritical politicians and corporate dream-peddlers have succeeded where “thoughts were paramount and reality merely a malleable concept.’’
--The Boston Globe

"With the publishing of "A People's History of Baseball" by Mitchell Nathanson, the baseball history genre may finally have something that lays the American pastime open for all to see -- warts and all; a true historical study...."A People's History of Baseball" offers a rare opportunity to get a true sense of reality from America's pastime, without the information being diluted or spun in a way to maintain the narrative that has been so pervasive. It is safe to say that many readers may never view baseball the same way again after reading this thorough and interesting book."

"Mr. Nathanson's accusations against MLB's historical actions (and inaction) ring true. Americans prefer to think of the great statistics of star players, the thrill of watching an exciting play, and the exploits of a successful team rather than the dismal events that have punctuated baseball history. This author's work brings some balance into the picture, and fans would do well to add it to their understanding of their national game."
-- Dorothy Seymour Mills, The New York Journal of Books

"A concise look into baseball's history of mythmaking...a look at-- for the lack of a better way of saying it -- the history of baseball history. The overall theme of baseball's history of weaving its own narrative...makes this book enjoyable. Those with a broad knowledge of our country's social history will appreciate the links the author makes from that history to the game of baseball, and baseball fans in general should enjoy it, as well."
--The Hardball Times

"Presents a clear-eyed take on various delusions and frauds....I don't know if Professor Nathanson had Howard Zinn's 'People's History of the United States' in mind when he chose his title, but I think Professor Zinn would have enjoyed this illuminating take on baseball and America if he'd had the opportunity to read it."
-- Bill Littlefield, Host of NPR's "Only A Game."

"An excellent social critique that tells provocative and overlooked back stories about baseball in American history and culture. A People's History of Baseball goes beyond the game itself and examines larger issues of nationalism, mass media, legal history, and race relations."

–Robert Elias, author of The Empire Strikes Out: How Baseball Sold U.S. Foreign Policy and Promoted the American Way Abroad

"Armed with convincing and creative arguments that challenge the many myths surrounding America's national pastime, A People's History of Baseball provides ample fodder for debate among sport history scholars as well as general readers interested in exploring the game's meaningful role in shaping the American identity."
–Samuel O. Regalado, author of Viva Baseball! Latin Major Leaguers and Their Special Hunger

"Chronicles the historic power struggles among those seeking to define and regulate pro baseball...a fine book."
--Library Journal

Baseball is much more than the national pastime. It has become an emblem of America itself. From its initial popularity in the mid-nineteenth century, the game has reflected national values and beliefs and promoted what it means to be an American. Stories abound that illustrate baseball's significance in eradicating racial barriers, bringing neighborhoods together, building civic pride, and creating on the field of play an instructive civics lesson for immigrants on the national character.

In A People's History of Baseball, Mitchell Nathanson probes the less well-known but no less meaningful other side of baseball: episodes not involving equality, patriotism, heroism, and virtuous capitalism, but power--how it is obtained, and how it perpetuates itself. Through the growth and development of baseball Nathanson shows that, if only we choose to look for it, we can see the petty power struggles as well as the large and consequential ones that have likewise defined our nation.

By offering a fresh perspective on the firmly embedded tales of baseball as America, a new and unexpected story emerges of both the game and what it represents. Exploring the founding of the National League, Nathanson focuses on the newer Americans who sought club ownership to promote their own social status in the increasingly closed caste of nineteenth-century America. His perspective on the rise and public rebuke of the Players Association shows that these baseball events reflect both the collective spirit of working and middle-class America in the mid-twentieth century as well as the countervailing forces that sought to beat back this emerging movement that threatened the status quo. And his take on baseball’s racial integration that began with Branch Rickey’s “Great Experiment” reveals the debilitating effects of the harsh double standard that resulted, requiring a black player to have unimpeachable character merely to take the field in a Major League game, a standard no white player was required to meet.

Told with passion and occasional outrage, A People's History of Baseball challenges the perspective of the well-known, deeply entrenched, hyper-patriotic stories of baseball and offers an incisive alternative history of America's much-loved national pastime.