POLITICS APRIL 25, 1928
Not much less than a hundred years ago a certain baseball game played somewhere in these United States resulted in a score of 211 to 189. A great deal has happened to the great national pastime since then. It has, of course, become a highly efficient business, paying huge salaries, and earning enormous profits. It still lives--dollar for dollar, it is stronger than ever, in spite of several scandals, in spite of the commercialism that saddens local patriotism by swapping the players around as if they were second-hand automobiles. But it is no longer the big American sport. Others are coming along to challenge its supremacy, and the difference between these new sports and good old baseball is largely a difference of class.
Before the War, no general sporting periodical would have thought of omitting baseball from its columns. Today a certain luxurious monthly--so far as we know, the only all-round American sporting monthly--expressly printed on glossy paper, filled with learned articles and excellent pictures, is by choice completely silent on the subject of baseball. On the other hand, most newspapers give baseball an entire page or even more throughout the season. In the theater, you will notice that jokes about baseball are understood and laughed at in the balconies, but not downstairs. The downstairs crowd buys seats for $3.30 or more, the balconies pay half as much. Downstairs plays golf or tennis, and wouldn't understand a baseball joke, nor would the balconies appreciate humor about golf or tennis. Some years ago, when baseball was in favor with all classes, this would not have been the case. The line has been drawn. Baseball has become definitely a low-brow sport. The college-bred and those above a certain financial status don't play it, don't want to see it, and aren't interested in hearing about it.
Baseball was always to some extent a vicarious sport. At one time every American boy played it--it was often the only game he ever played. But as he grew up and went to work he stopped playing, and his part in the game was continued from a hot, enthusiastic seat in the grandstand. And, of course, today a vast majority of the huge mobs in the ballparks of big cities have hardly ever played the game at all. And for every man who goes to the game, there are ten who stay at home and read about it in the sporting columns. The motion of their eyes from left to right on a line of fine print is as near as they come to athletics.
Not so long ago the salesman, the minor "executive," the boss, the moderately well-to-do American professional or business man used to go to the ball game along with the clerks, office boys and employees. He doesn't any more. He isn't so keen about watching athletes--he would far rather be than see one. And so, instead of being a fan, as his father was, and knowing the batting average of Honus Wagner for ten years back, he wakes up with the daily dozen, does a little hand-ball at noon for the sake of his waist-line, or plays squash at the club, spends the week-end at golf, or, less frequently, at tennis, and is much more interested in and anxious to talk about his own indifferent score than that of any $10,000 public athlete.
His games are not popular with what might be called the wage-earning class, mainly because they are so expensive and require an automobile to travel to and away from. Membership in a golf-club costs at least fifty dollars a year, balls, of which he loses two or three every day, fifty to seventy-five cents, clubs, two, three or four dollars, and then there are caddies, clothes, the newest make of English shoes and the mutual hospitalities of the nineteenth hole. Tennis is somewhat less expensive, but both these games, and all the other sports of the prosperous or semi-prosperous college business man are way beyond the few bats and balls and gloves shared by nine players on a clover-field diamond with flour sacks for bases. Golf or tennis on such shabby terms would be unthinkable. The gentlemen's ball-team, meeting on Saturday afternoons with the roughnecks from the near-by mill-town, is a thing of the past. And a cleavage between two classes which is not visible in dress, speech or manners is clearly to be seen in sport.