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Archive for 3 noviembre 2015

The 1915 World Series and the Rise of the Modern American Sports Fan

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We´re History  November 3, 2015
Boston Royal Rooters return to Boston, 1903 World Series

Boston Royal Rooters return to Boston, 1903 World Series. (Photo: Boston Public Library)

One hundred years ago, the Boston Red Sox beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1915 World Series. The victory occurred in the midst of a dominant run for Boston’s baseball teams, which won five championships between 1912 and 1918. This success even brought national recognition to the city’s most vociferous baseball fans, a group that called themselves the Royal Rooters. Both these teams and the Rooters have been the subject of numerous books, documentaries, and even songs, but their involvement in the 1915 World Series in particular has generated little interest from sportswriters or historians.

The lack of attention paid to the 1915 Series may be due to the dominant pitching and limited offense that was typical of baseball’s “dead-ball” era. Yet if events on the field represented their time, what happened off the field was new. Record crowds and celebrity guests indicated professional baseball’s increasingly respectable status in the nation’s northern cities, and a public battle over accommodations for the Rooters revealed that their cheering had become more than just a leisure activity. For these mostly prosperous and ambitious men, it had become a means of gaining political and economic influence.

The Royal Rooters had been accompanying Boston’s professional baseball teams on crucial late and postseason road trips since 1897. It appears they were the first group of fans in the United States to display this level of devotion, and their journeys to Baltimore that year, to Pittsburgh in 1903, and to New York in 1904 received substantial coverage in the Boston media and the sporting press. Much of the coverage focused on the Rooters’ gambling and rowdy behavior, an editorial decision that reinforced the idea that professional baseball, both on and off the field, was the realm of men who drank, gambled, and fought. This justly earned reputation made ballparks disreputable places that genteel women and children attended infrequently.

The Rooters’ behavior in many ways affirmed this tradition, even as several of them brought wives and daughters on these trips. Yet for the group’s leaders, fandom also reflected a belief that public allegiance to professional baseball in Boston could have political, economic, and social value. Connections existed between professional baseball and urban politics prior to the existence of the Rooters, but earlier politicians tended to avoid publicizing their sporting affiliations. In contrast, when Royal Rooter John F. Fitzgerald, a former U.S. Congressman and future Mayor of Boston, attempted to buy the Americans (soon to be known as the Red Sox) in 1904, he did so largely to keep his name in the paper between elections. When the Huntington Avenue Grounds opened in 1901 to house the newly formed Americans, Rooter Michael T. McGreevey moved his Third Base Saloon next to the park and fervently publicized his association with the team for the next two decades. McGreevey advertised on the park’s outfield walls, and made sure he appeared in published photographs with Red Sox players and management at spring training in Arkansas and California, at the 1912 groundbreaking for Fenway Park, and at World Series games throughout the 1910s. This strategy helped to facilitate McGreevey’s rise from poor laborer to prominent business owner, a path that John Keenan and Charley Lavis – the two men who led the Rooters during the 1915 World Series – also traveled.

When the Red Sox launched Boston’s decade of preeminence in professional baseball by reaching the 1912 World Series, the Rooters’ devotion to the team transformed from a regional into a national story. Their fandom received coverage in newspapers from the Tampa Morning Tribune to the Idaho Statesman, even prior to the near-riot that occurred before Game 7 of the Series when the Red Sox neglected to reserve the group’s usual seats.

The response to that fracas further reflects the influence that the Rooters’ popularity had gained them within baseball’s power structure. Although some observers have marked this moment as the beginning of the Rooters’ decline, the Boston press widely criticized the team for this incident. Moreover, American League President Ban Johnson immediately pronounced his admiration for the Rooters, and in 1913 the Boston Herald suggested that the subsequent departure of owner James McAleer and team treasurer Robert McRoy was a “direct result” of the episode. When the Boston Braves won their World Series championship in 1914, the Rooters once again traveled along, cheering the team and remaining a popular story in newspapers across the country.

By 1915, other politicians had begun to realize the value of publicly associating themselves with major league baseball. For example, James Michael Curley, Fitzgerald’s successor as mayor and chief political rival, had never displayed a previous interest in baseball but began pronouncing his support for the Red Sox that year. More nationally significant was the appearance of President Woodrow Wilson and his new fiancée, Edith Bolling Galt at Game 1 of the 1915 World Series. This occasion marked not only the first time a sitting President attended a World Series game, but also Wilson’s first public appearance with Galt. The fact that the president and his advisors perceived this game as an appropriate setting for presenting his betrothed to the American people just eighteen months after his wife’s death indicated professional baseball’s growing status as a reputable, family-friendly pastime.

So too did the 1915 World Series’ unprecedented popularity. In Boston, where Fenway Park was only three years old, the Red Sox borrowed newly opened Braves Field for their home games because they correctly anticipated fans would fill its larger seating capacity. Game 3 set a new major league baseball attendance record with 42,300 people packed into the stands, and Game 4 nearly matched that total with 41,096 spectators. Boston newspapers crowed over this achievement, and their simultaneous cautioning that readers should leave extra time to get to the park and anticipate challenges in navigating the crowds indicates that such attendance numbers were newsworthy.

Even before the Series started, the Rooters were at the center of another controversy that affirmed the game’s booming popularity would not endanger their status as professional baseball’s preeminent fans. Since 1897, opposing teams or league presidents had always reserved a block of tickets for them, but this time Phillies president William Baker refused to extend this courtesy, offering only scattered seats instead. In response, Red Sox owner Joseph Lannin pronounced that he would refuse to let the Red Sox play if the Rooters did not get their customary accommodations. Both executives’ proclamations were public relations gambits, and the Series was never in jeopardy, but the fact that the league commissioners stepped in to provide the Rooters’ tickets indicates their continuing influence within the baseball hierarchy.

These trailblazers continued to enjoy their celebrity role for a few more years; they attended the 1916 and 1918 World Series with the Red Sox, and even received tickets from the league for the 1917 Series despite the fact that neither Boston team reached the championship contest. After 1918, though, the Rooters largely disappeared from prominence, a decline that probably resulted from a combination of Prohibition and the collapse of both Boston baseball teams during the 1920s.

Baseball’s popularity continued to grow through much of the twentieth century, and in some ways the Rooters’ impact was temporary. It seems that no subsequent groups of fans in other cities emerged to parlay their hometown professional team’s success into personal improvements in their social and economic status. On the other hand, while the explicit material benefits of fandom dissipated after World War I, the “dead-ball era” was when the practice of rooting for professional baseball began to enter the cultural mainstream. Thus for those who wonder why today, as Jerry Seinfeld famously said, we “root for laundry” when we cheer for our favorite professional teams, perhaps we should consider whether our practice originates at least in part from our great-grandfathers’ efforts to improve their financial and social standing.

About the Author

Paul Ringel

Paul Ringel is Associate Professor of History at High Point University. He is the author of Commercializing Childhood: Children’s Magazines, Urban Gentility, and the ideal of the American Child, 1823-1918 (2015). He is also the Director of the William Penn Project, a service learning initiative through which students explore the history of High Point’s African-American high school during the Jim Crow era. His current research project is an exploration of the Royal Rooters, a group of celebrity baseball fans in early twentieth-century Boston.

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A Somewhat Forgotten President: The Legacy of James K. Polk

James K. Polk

James K. Polk.(Photo: Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons)

James K. Polk was not a man given to frivolity on his birthday. When he turned fifty-three on November 2, 1848, the eleventh president of the United States reflected gloomily in his diary. “I am solemnly impressed with the vanity and emptiness of worldly honours and worldly enjoyments,” he wrote, “and of the wisdom of preparing for a future estate.” After brooding over his waning time on earth and on the impending end of his term in office, Polk noted that he had spent the day, as he had spent so many others, “busily occupied in my office.”

Much as Polk ignored the occasion in favor of carrying out his administrative duties, most Americans will neglect to observe the 220th anniversary of Polk’s birth this week. There will be no presidential speeches in his honor, no parades, and no celebratory dinners, because in the popular imagination Polk has largely faded from memory. Indeed, Polk’s fame has faded to such an extent that only 17% Americans recently asked to rank past presidents based on “memorability” could even identify Polk as a president, let alone describe what he accomplished in his term in office. This placed Polk’s “memorability” somewhere between James Garfield and Warren G. Harding, two presidents most famous for dying while in office. Unlike those presidents, however, Polk left behind a slew of legislative accomplishments and a deeply fraught and complicated legacy.

In 1844, James Polk, then a little-known congressman from Tennessee, somewhat surprisingly won the nomination of the Democratic Party, and promised that given the divisions within the party and his relatively young age of forty-nine, he would only serve a single term in the White House if elected. Upon winning a closely contested national election against Whig candidate Henry Clay, Polk became the youngest man to hold the office of the presidency to that point in American history. But Polk’s relative youth and inexperience did not prevent him from fulfilling his presidential goals. He settled a festering boundary dispute with Great Britain over the Oregon Territory, secured passage of the Walker Tariff that amounted to a major reform, and helped establish the independent treasury system that lasted into the twentieth century. Polk’s most enduring accomplishment, however, was the waging of war against Mexico and signing the stunning treaty that marked its conclusion.

When running for office, Polk had pledged to annex Texas – which had broken away from Mexico nearly a decade before – to the United States at the earliest possible moment. His attempt to bring Texas into the Union promptly led to a boundary dispute with Mexico, a conflict that escalated into warfare when Polk ordered American troops into the disputed region. Polk then demonstrated himself an aggressive commander-in-chief, ordering a full-scale invasion of Mexico that ultimately led to the capture of Mexico City and demanding at the conclusion of the war more than a mere boundary adjustment. In February of 1848, the United States effectively imposed upon Mexico the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which added an additional 525,000 square miles to the United States and stripped Mexico of nearly half of its territory. Between this acquisition and the territory added by resolving the dispute over the Oregon Territory, Polk added over one million square miles to the United States, more than any other single president before or since.

Despite reforming the tariff and the treasury and expanding the nation’s reach to the Pacific Ocean, Polk’s legacy is hardly an unambiguous triumph. Surely one reason that Polk has faded from the popular historical memory is that Americans tend to downplay events from our past that do not reflect the nation in the most positive light. We often forget the imperialist impulse that helped produce the war with Mexico, the fact that the growth of the United States into a continental power came directly at the expense of other nations, and that it was immigrants pouring into the Mexico from the United States rather than the reverse that caused the borders to shift and triggered a war. Simply put, Polk’s legacy can be difficult to assess because unlike a Washington, a Lincoln, or a Roosevelt, the chief accomplishment of his administration is one that cannot be remembered without acknowledging important moral questions.

Perhaps the most realistic way to remember James Polk on the 220th anniversary of his birth is to see him as representative of the tumultuous decade of the 1840s. Polk has sometimes been portrayed, both in his time and since, as a Machiavellian manipulator who engineered the Mexican-American War to cement his own place in history. But throughout his term in office, Polk remained constrained and limited by the powers granted to him. It is hard to blame Polk for the Mexican-American war, or for the blatant land grab at its conclusion, without noting that the American people voted for him in 1844, asked for the annexation of Texas, and generally supported the war when it erupted. We might fault Polk for using whatever means he deemed necessary to achieve the goals that he set for himself from the very beginning of his term, but he himself simply believed that he was carrying out the will of the American people. Whatever one believes about Polk, however, he deserves at the very least to be remembered. Arguably, no one-term president ever accomplished as much as he did.

About the Author

Daniel Burge

Daniel Burge is a PhD candidate at the University of Alabama. He holds a master’s degree from University of Maryland, Baltimore County and is currently working on his dissertation, which examines opposition to manifest destiny and the ways in which the opponents of manifest destiny appealed to the American public, beginning in the Oregon Debate of 1846 and ending in the attempt to annex Santo Domingo (1872). He is interested in opposition to imperialism, broadly defined, and especially how individuals utilized humor to offset and counteract the arguments of the imperialists.

 

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