Baseball and Boxing from Pre-modern to Modern

Baseball and boxing make up a very large portion of the American sports culture, and for more than 100 years have developed into the professional, nationwide and international games that we can see on television today. In the 1870’s baseball started to be acknowledged as America’s national sport, however boxing enjoyed a similar popularity and both of these sports have changed from small-time amateur pastimes into televised, professional league sports that bring in millions of dollars each year and pay their athletes considerable amounts of money to keep on playing.

While both baseball and boxing may now, and always have, attracted a different sort of crowd, they have both nevertheless developed along very similar lines. In 1869 the Cincinnati Red Stockings were formed; the team was the very first professional baseball team and it went undefeated that first year after being challenged by many amateur teams (Goldstein, 1989, p. 70).

Over the subsequent years (more than a century) since the inception of the National League and the American League, two factors of the game have changed significantly: the integration of ethnic minorities into the major Leagues and the fact the game itself has become less violent than it was in its earlier years. In the 1890’s, the segregation of black and white baseball teams began, following an initial period of integration that was very short-lived (White, 1995, p. 140). The Negro Leagues incorporated several different non-white leagues into one general ‘outsider’ structure of teams that were comprised predominantly of black players.

Other ethnic minorities would have been relegated to these leagues instead of joining the National or American Leagues, which were solely comprised of white, male players. In 1945, after a huge push from many people within professional baseball that echoed the sentiments of an anti-racist American population, black baseball player Jackie Robinson was signed to the Montreal Royals and in a few short years the Negro Leagues would disband due to full integration. The early baseball players were not only taking part in a segregationist sport, they were also playing the game with much more violence than they are today.

They tried harder to steal bases and to score runs than experts feel today’s players do; where once it was not uncommon for runners to physically interject when the basemen tried to catch a throw, now base runners will simply run to their base and let the field and basemen do their jobs. It is fair to say that the game has mellowed. Boxing has exhibited great similarity to the development of baseball in America, albeit an entirely different sport. Where baseball is a team game dependent on specific rules of play, boxing emerged as a sport totally dependent on the strength and will of one man to simply overpower another in a direct fist-fight.

Bare-knuckle boxing is the ancestor of today’s boxing, a sport that is blatantly violent however in comparison to some of the fights that took place in the 19th century. Boxing in its infancy was carried to America by British settlers and has forever secured a place in the hearts of many sport enthusiasts in modern day. This is another sport that has become decidedly less violent and which has also seen its participators overcome the segregation that was rampant in early American society (Gorn, 1986, p. 128).

In place of very strict guidelines where whites and blacks must not engage each other in sport, like in the baseball leagues, it was more common for mixed fighting to occur in boxing. The crowds could be massive at any event, and often the pitting of a white champion against a black one would draw even more attention to the point where thousands of would-be spectators were turned away. This was a sport in which black athletes could really carve a niche for themselves and, while constantly facing discrimination like any other minority at the time, a boxer could literally fight his way out of racial oppression.

Bare-knuckle boxing is not extinct, however professional boxers are required to wear gloves that will not only protect their hands but their opponents as well. The sport is not as bloody and less of its participants will leave the ring with broken bones, however there can be no doubt that boxing is still a very primal, violent sport. Superficially speaking, it bears no resemblance to baseball, however these are two American sports that have evolved with a change in racial tensions and equality issues and with modern concerns over health and safety.

Both have tamed considerably and allow minorities to play professionally. Reference List Goldstein, W. J. (1989). Playing for Keeps: A History of Early Baseball. New York: Cornell University. Gorn, E. J. (1986). The Manly Art: Bare-Knuckle Prize Fighting in America. New York: Cornell University. White, S. and Malloy, J. (compiler) (1995). Sol White’s History of Colored Base Ball, with Other Documents on the Early Black Game 1886

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