Monday, June 17, 2013

Baseball And Beer

Former Deadspin editor Will Leitch wrote a book review of Edward Achorn's "The Summer of Beer and Whisky" in last weekend's WSJ (link insider only). I wasn't aware of the history of how beer got inextricably linked with baseball, so I found that part pretty interesting:

If there is one constant in the world of baseball, from its invention in the 19th century to the present, it must be its inextricable link with beer. The connection is almost Pavlovian: When I watch a baseball game, my mouth tells me it wants a beer. (For someone who watches baseball professionally, this can raise quite the occupational hazard.) I'm not sure what about the game inspires such a yearning. Maybe it's the spring air, the smell of cut grass, all that Ken Burns business. Maybe it's the dirt and dust. Maybe it's the fact that half the stadiums are named after brands of beer. Now that I think about it, it's probably that.

The connection is no accident, as historian Edward Achorn makes clear in "The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America's Game." The book documents the creation of the American Association, a league of ballplayers ostensibly founded to rival the National League but in fact brought into existence almost entirely as a way to evade Puritan liquor laws in order to sell beer. That guy in the bleacher with the T-shirt that says baseball is his favorite beer delivery system? He's more right than he knows.

The essential founder of the American Association was a man named Chris Von der Ahe, a German grocer and beer-hall owner who lived in St. Louis. He didn't really understand baseball—though he did love the game—but desperately wanted a way to move product on Sunday afternoons. The National League, led by a persnickety Chicago moralist named William Hulbert, was renowned for banning Sunday baseball, limiting alcohol consumption, keeping ruffian players from its ranks and booting owners who didn't get on board, even if they owned teams in major cities like New York and Philadelphia. Von der Ahe and his fellow American Association owners (many of whom were beer barons themselves) took advantage of this. Their league would be the ribald troublemaking alternative.

Needless to say, they succeeded, and the driving narrative of Mr. Achorn's book is the season of 1883 and its pennant chase among the Cincinnati Red Stockings, Philadelphia Athletics and Von der Ahe's Browns. The game, long thought dead in cities like St. Louis and Cincinnati, exploded that summer as thirsty fans poured in to see teams of scalleywags and miscreants. The author has a grand time running down all the troublemakers the league thrived with, from Lew Simmons (a former minstrel star) to the slick-fielding Arlie Latham, whose philandering was legendary. There was also a young Charlie Comiskey, who was actually respectable compared with his fellow players. The outcasts of the National League were right at home in the American Association, and while their wild behavior led to numerous incidents, it also created a style of baseball that was compulsively watchable.

Glad they worked out that beer-at-Sunday-baseball-games thing over a century ago. That would have sucked for Sunday day games nowadays.


Hideo Nomo said...

My dad got me the Kindle edition of this for my birthday. I need to crack into it.

(Can you "crack into" Kindle books?)

Franklin Stubbs said...

Hey! I like beer!

Dusty Baker said...

Rich! I wish I hadn't let my WSJ sub expire.

QuadSevens said...

Scalleywags and miscreants are the best type of athletes.