Friday, May 10, 2013

A.G. Spaulding and the rise of Baseball by Peter Levine

I still remember my Spaulding outfielder's mitt with which I roamed Center Field in High School.  I remember the choices when I needed a mitt: Rawlings, MacGregor, Wilson (the 2000 model was very popular). There was never any real question as to which mitt to buy.  There is something special about a Spaulding.  It has been always associated with ball play.  The "pinky" used for stick-ball in my vocabulary is always called a "Spauldeen".  The Spaulding brand is practically synonymous with Baseball.  So, I bought a Spaulding.

Historian Peter Levine investigates the founder of the Sporting Goods company and concludes that Albert Goodwin Spaulding successfully grew professional Baseball from a pastoral country game into a urbanized sport.  Mr. Levine shows how the USA grew to an economic power house after the Civil War through its cities and how Baseball rose out of that rural country and was brought to the cities.  Spaulding successfully brings a pastoral existence to the hustle and bustle of the cities!

Spaulding was a very success pitcher and gained his fame as a result.  He was, however, more than a ballplayer, he was a visionary.  He saw the potential of this great pastoral game as a vehicle of recreation and business.  As a variety of teams formed and traveled throughout America for exhibitions, Spaulding conceived of a league and an organization which eventually was fixed in big cities.

Spaulding by nature was a salesman, indeed a "pitch man" and developed a catalog of sporting items first of baseball equipment and then many more outdoor equipment.  He successfully exploited the transition of a pastoral game to an urban business.  This slim volume is worth the read to gain an understanding of how Baseball gained popularity and became the "national pastime" but really all along was developed into a business with the capitalistic ambition that characterized America in the late 19th century.  Mr. Levine includes a discussion of the creation of the famed "reserve clause" that essentially meant that teams owned their players and players could not act as their own agents.  This was a collusion of owners that would not change until after Curt Flood challenged the clause in 1969.

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