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Baseball History Resources: Brief History

A quick overview of some prominent topics and helpful resources in the study of baseball history.

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Although the true origins of baseball extend back into games of ball and stick, baseball as it came to be known was invented in the 1830s and popularized during the American Civil War (1861 – 1865). Quickly spreading in popularity, the first professional team (the Cincinnati Red Stockings) and league were founded within a decade. Though the game has evolved with time and demands, below are a few resources highlighting this history and a few major events. Feel free to visit the timeline below for a quick overview of some significant dates.


1839: Baseball invented

1861: Civil War begins

1876: National League est

1889: Players' League est

1900: American League est

1903: First World Series

1917: Start of World War I

1919: Black Sox Scandal

1929: Start of the Great Depression

1936: First Hall of Fame Inductions

General Histories

Babicz, Martin C. and Zeiler, Thomas W. (2017). National pastime : U.S. history through baseball. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

A solid introduction both to baseball history and its potential relationship to American history more generally, this work traces the evolution of the game through major movements. It explores the interplay between industrialization and leisure, the effects of wartimes on play, and other prominent topics elaborated on within this section.

Halfon, Mark S. (2014) Tales from the Deadball Era: Ty Cobb, Home Run Baker, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and the Wildest Times in Baseball History. Potomac Books.

The deadball ear refers to the style of play used from 1901 – 1920. These decades were cast with major players and plagued with graft and gambling. Building on the previous decades of the sport, Tales from the deadball era follows the rise of the baseball leagues and some of its enduring legacies.

Nathanson, Mitchell. (2015). A People’s History of Baseball. University of Illinois Press.

Departing from the traditional baseball narrative, Nathanson exposes the underbelly of America’s favorite game. He retells major events from baseball history from the perspective of power over play. Although a popular and unifying sport, Nathanson points to the social and financial inequalities it sparked. This is evident in the unequal power of team owners, the racial inequality between players, and the failure of the players' union.

Specific Times

Alexander, Charles C. (2011) Turbulent seasons : baseball in 1890-1891. Southern Methodist University Press.

Breaking in to a few specific time frames, this work examines baseball relatively early in its history. As baseball was still young, this era follows some of its early establishments and stumbles. Particularly notable is its depiction of the growing pains between the two major leagues of baseball: the National League and the American Association. With both franchises struggling for dominance, the subsequent attempt at a players’ union, the season of the 1890s build the foundation of baseball going in to the next century.

Asinof, Eliot. (2011) Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series. Holt Paperbacks.

An exhaustive analysis of the eight players behind one of baseball’s biggest scandals. Asinof explores the factors which contributed for the Chicago White Sox players throwing the 1919 World Series. Asinof looks at the players and their grievances prior to the Series, the gamblers who bought their lose, and the subsequent trial which shook the United States and its pastime.

Surdam, David George and Haupert, Michael J. (2018). The Age of Ruth and Landis: The Economics of Baseball during the Roaring Twenties. University of Nebraska Press.

The Age of Ruth and Landis explores baseball in the 1920s, diving in to study the economics of Major League teams and players following World War I. Surdam and Haupert devote a considerable amount of the book to detailing the context of baseball. The charm of the book lies in its economic focus as it endeavors to merge the people and the profit of baseball in the 1920s.

Resources Consulted

Timeline. PBS. Retrieved April 23, 2020.

Babicz, Martin C. and Zeiler, Thomas W. (2017). National pastime : U.S. history through baseball. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Surdam, David George and Haupert, Michael J. (2018). The Age of Ruth and Landis: The Economics of Baseball during the Roaring Twenties. University of Nebraska Press.