When the United States began to recover from the terrible trauma of the Civil War in the 1860s, ’70s, and ’80s, the game of baseball provided a healing tonic for many Americans. Baseball (or base ball, as it was typically written) had been around in one form or another for several decades prior to the Civil War, but that national tragedy provided fertile soil for the sport to grow exponentially in popularity. Soldiers from both Northern and Southern armies played baseball, and they took it home with them when their military service ended. A mere four years after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, the first professional baseball team had formed in Cincinnati, and two years later, in 1871, the first professional baseball league had been (loosely) organized.
As baseball’s popularity skyrocketed, newspapers featured detailed accounts of games, box scores reduced each contest to a quick-and-easy statistical snapshot, and top ball players—or “ballists”—became the idols of boys everywhere (men, too, if they were honest). Enthusiastic devotees rose up from all walks of life, but guardians of polite society frowned upon them and referred to them as “cranks,” a decidedly pejorative term. Continue reading “Of Cranks, Bugs, and Fans”