Play Ball! The Rise of Baseball as America’s Pastime

Rated 4 out of 5 by from Impressive but Missing Something Important Thorough research and great delivery insofar as it went. However, failure to discuss or even mention more recent gambling and PED use scandals in such a comprehensive course seems like a wish to whitewash or forget about them. I believe that most of your viewers and listeners would find it more interesting and important to talk about Pete Rose and Barry Bonds than Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver.
Date published: 2020-10-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too few baseball artifacts; too many spoken facts I watched this course as part of my GreatCoursesPlus subscription. While the material is presented with genuine car and enthusiasm, there is too much talk and not enough photo/video of Baseball Hall of Fame artifacts. More lectures should have been set up using artifacts, the way the gold baseballs from the Eckford Club were used in lecture 3. WIthout the artifacts, the course could be more appropriate as an audio podcast. And I would love to see a lecture about different scorecards and the history of keeping score. So this course feel a little short of my expectations.
Date published: 2020-09-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing history My mother and I have watched a number of Great Courses together and enjoyed them all, but this one hit the ball out of the park. My mom is 93 and remembers listening to games on the radio with her dad. This brought back many memories. The amount of research was phenomenal. (Just look at the list of photo credits.) Not only did we learn more about our beloved game, but we learned so much history as well. Transportation, advertising, racism, and much more of American and world history came alive. I hope that someday I will be able to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, and when I do I will have so much more to look for and appreciate.
Date published: 2020-09-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive review of baseball's formative years As an Englishman looking in from the outside on 'America's National Pastime' I was able to view this course in a different light to those who have grown up with baseball as a significant element of their culture. I thought that Mr Markusen did a great job producing a serious and thorough study of the sport's development during its formative years which met the academic standards expected of the Great Courses. Personally I was glad it was like this and not 'dumbed down' or presented in a popular culture manner and I did not find it any less interesting because of this. If you want colourful, biographical accounts of the game's personalities of this era, they can surely be found elsewhere from less academically-focused outlets.
Date published: 2020-09-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not much baseball Redundant material throughout the lectures. Once is enough. Never got around to much baseball.
Date published: 2020-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Play Ball! The Rise of Baseball..... I enjoyed this series of lectures immensely. Bruce Markusen does a great job of bringing to life baseball's "dark ages," especially those decades immediately following the Civil War. I suppose I am like so many other baseball fans. While my knowledge of the sport includes those times before my birth, it generally only goes back as far as Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Cy Young and the like, but "organized" baseball in America has approximately six decades of history that precede them. It is rather enjoyable to be transported back to a time when my beloved, but pathetic Pittsburgh Pirates were actually a championship caliber team. Mr. Markusen, using the resources of Cooperstown, shines a bright light on that period of baseball, and shows how the events of that period helped baseball become a national mania by the year 1920. I would take issue with only two of the lectures in the series. They would be the lectures on black and women in baseball. I know that the whole aim of the series was to tell the story of baseball up until the year 1920, but I think those two lectures would have been better served if Mr. Markusen would have included a little post-1920 history. I would have like to have heard more about organized Black baseball (of which my knowledge is fairly superficial) and women's professional baseball (of which my knowledge consists of the movie "A League of Their Own," and the factoid that one-time Montreal Expos utility player Casey Candaele's mother played professional baseball from the era of that movie.), both of which enjoy their heights of popularity post-1920. But, truthfully, that complaint is nothing more than nitpicking. These lectures are not only very enlightening, but extremely entertaining, as Mr. Markusen brings this long ago time in baseball to life for the 21st century fan. The only condition that I would put on my recommendation is that one would probably have to be at least a casual baseball fan to appreciate the course material, but if you are, by all means purchase and enjoy.
Date published: 2020-08-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Play Ball! This is one of the most "fact packed" series of lessons that I have in my collection. I have to listen carefully as there is so much information (well presented). What is most impressive is the story of how the game evolved with and intersected with our own American history and how it influenced our culture and in some cases words that we use.
Date published: 2020-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from high quality exactly what I wanted. great gift for my son. The only problem I had was it took forever to get to me and unfortunately it arrived too late, almost took 3 weeks.
Date published: 2020-07-29
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Play Ball! The Rise of Baseball as America’s Pastime
Course Trailer
Ground Rules: Baseball before Babe Ruth
1: Ground Rules: Baseball before Babe Ruth

The year 1920 is considered a pivotal year in baseball, when a sense of uniformity in the game was finally achieved. But what about the decades before? Travel back to the years before 1920—a time when changes in the game were rapid, dramatic, and often surprising.

29 min
Early Bat and Ball Games
2: Early Bat and Ball Games

Take a look back at the very beginnings of baseball and discover how and why the early version of the game evolved in the middle of the 19th century. Learn how early clubs like the Gothams and the Knickerbockers helped repurpose a familiar child’s game so it could be played by urban adults.

30 min
The Era of Amateur Baseball Clubs
3: The Era of Amateur Baseball Clubs

Explore the rise of amateur baseball clubs in the United States. The tour starts with Brooklyn’s Eckford Club, whose outings primarily served as refreshing countryside excursions. Then, go back still further to follow the rise of the Knickerbocker Club of New York City and the significance of their 1845 decision to write down the rules of the game.

32 min
The Dawn of Professional Baseball
4: The Dawn of Professional Baseball

In this lecture, learn how the game of baseball moved toward professionalism—and what made professionalization so polarizing. Central to this lecture is future Hall of Famer Harry Wright, who helped pave the way for professional baseball’s success by assembling a talented group of players (and touting their refinement and decorum).

32 min
Baseball’s Many Leagues and Associations
5: Baseball’s Many Leagues and Associations

Learn how, after a tumultuous three decades, baseball finally found a formula for 20th-century success: leagues and associations. Topics include the transformations of minor leagues into major ones, the competitive relationships between leagues, and the national agreement of 1883 that paved the way for what became known as “organized baseball.”

32 min
How Baseball Created the World Series
6: How Baseball Created the World Series

One effective way to increase public confidence in the outcome of competitive baseball? Offer a valuable prize to the winners. Chart the turbulent evolution of the post-season series: a story filled with controversy, sabotage, peace agreements, and injuries, culminating in the first World Series between the Boston Americans and the National League Pirates.

32 min
Baseball Grows by Hitting the Road
7: Baseball Grows by Hitting the Road

In the second half of the 19th century, advancing technology offered greater access to faraway places, which opened new avenues for baseball. From national to world tours, take a closer look at how baseball’s popularity continued to spread, and how men like Jimmy Ryan and Albert Goodwill Spalding helped set it all in motion.

30 min
Sacred Ground: Baseball’s Early Ballparks
8: Sacred Ground: Baseball’s Early Ballparks

In this lecture, survey the history of ballparks from the Elysian Fields in Hoboken to Wrigley Field to Fenway Park and beyond. You’ll learn how ballparks were defined by their surroundings, the rise of “infields” and “outfields,” the idiosyncratic dimensions and sizes of 19th-century ballparks, the state-of-the-art architectural elements of 20th-century ballparks, and more.

32 min
The Development of Baseball’s Rules
9: The Development of Baseball’s Rules

Here, Mr. Markusen helps you make sense of the litany of rule changes that took place in the 75 years between 1845 (when the Knickerbocker Club of New York City framed the first written rules) and 1920 (when it became customary to replace the baseball on a regular basis).

29 min
The Evolution of Protective Equipment
10: The Evolution of Protective Equipment

Face masks, chest protectors, catcher’s mitts, fielder’s gloves—explore how protective equipment became more and more a part of baseball (after much tinkering and adjusting). Also, consider complaints by “old-time” baseball fans that the proliferation of protective equipment robbed the sport of two crucial elements: skill and courage.

31 min
The Role of Women in Baseball’s Early Days
11: The Role of Women in Baseball’s Early Days

First, examine the role of women in baseball as spectators whose presence was expected to prevent coarse behavior by male fans. Then, explore how colleges like Vassar allowed a select number of 19th-century women to play baseball without scorn. Finally, consider the changes that the “new woman” brought, both in the stands and on the field.

30 min
Black Baseball before the Negro Leagues
12: Black Baseball before the Negro Leagues

After Emancipation, hopes of baseball becoming a vista of racial harmony were quickly checked. Explore the intersection of baseball and race, from the success of Minor League Baseball players like Frank Grant and George Stovey to the Negro Leagues, which became one of the largest industries to be predominantly owned and operated by African Americans.

32 min
Prejudice and Diversity in Early Baseball
13: Prejudice and Diversity in Early Baseball

Turn to another form of injustice in baseball: a prejudice against minority groups that contradicted the idea of the baseball diamond as a beacon of equality. Investigate the setbacks and triumphs of Irish Americans, Jewish players, Native Americans, and those with physical handicaps as they fought (and continue to fight) for inclusion.

30 min
Baseball Grows through the Press
14: Baseball Grows through the Press

How did early newspaper editors cover baseball games and decide what, exactly, to write about? What makes Henry Chadwick such a monumental figure in early baseball writing? How did the introduction of the box score help baseball reporters with their jobs? How did post-game access to players change the nature of reporting?

31 min
Baseball Becomes a Game of Numbers
15: Baseball Becomes a Game of Numbers

Most baseball fans take batting averages for granted. But there was a time when statistics were new enough to baseball that they were considered glamorous. Explore everything from how early spectators tracked scores to the professional problems with emphasizing stats to how these numbers began to appear on baseball cards.

31 min
Baseball: A Game for the Fans
16: Baseball: A Game for the Fans

Mr. Markusen reveals how baseball grew to become the national pastime it is today. You’ll learn about the origins of both “fans” and “cranks”; the increased emphasis on baseball as a wholesome family experience; and the magic ability of souvenirs, keepsakes, and autographs to preserve the ballpark experience.

31 min
Baseball and Our Common Culture
17: Baseball and Our Common Culture

In this lecture, learn to better appreciate baseball’s longstanding ties to American culture. Get the story behind baseball’s connection to poetry and fiction (“Casey at the Bat”), music (“Take Me Out to the Ballgame”), food (CRACKER JACK®), collectibles (baseball cards), and even language (terms such as “bush league” and “home run”).

30 min
The Business behind the National Pastime
18: The Business behind the National Pastime

There’s a business side to baseball that goes back to the amateur clubs of the game’s earliest years. In this lecture on the economics of America’s pastime, explore early resentment about paying for tickets; the rise of advertising and promotions to increase fan allegiance; and the emergence of brand-empowering logos, colors, and nicknames.

33 min
Players, Owners, and the Reserve Clause
19: Players, Owners, and the Reserve Clause

The reserve clause (or the “five-man rule”) played a crucial role in every labor war that took place during the first half-century of professional baseball, and was standard practice until the 1970s. Trace the events that would lead to a fight against the right of teams to reserve players—a struggle to which today’s big leaguers are indebted.

30 min
American Politics and Early Baseball
20: American Politics and Early Baseball

For over a century, U.S. presidents have regularly rung in the new baseball year by throwing out the first pitch on Opening Day. From President Taft (the first to throw a pitch) to President Eisenhower (who initially underestimated the game’s cultural importance), learn about the relationship between presidents and baseball.

29 min
Baseball’s Rituals and Traditions
21: Baseball’s Rituals and Traditions

Why do fielders throw the ball “around the horn” after a strikeout? Why do fans perform “the wave”? When did the “seventh-inning stretch” become a thing? Why do managers wear uniforms? Uncover the roots of these and other rituals and traditions, and the powerful roles they play in baseball.

28 min
The Impact of War on Baseball
22: The Impact of War on Baseball

Examine how World War I encroached upon the comparatively tranquil national pastime. You’ll discover the talents of baseball-playing military companies, including one group of “Buffalo soldiers,” as well as a growing emphasis on physical fitness on the field and patriotism in the stands (exemplified by the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner”).

30 min
Scandals and Deception on the Diamond
23: Scandals and Deception on the Diamond

The 1919 Black Sox scandal (often thought of as “baseball’s original sin”) marked a turning point in how Americans thought about the right way to play baseball. Join the debate over the complexity of this and other baseball scandals, and the moral quandaries of both deception and the appearance of deception.

30 min
How Changing Baseballs Changed the Game
24: How Changing Baseballs Changed the Game

Today, we take for granted the idea that every ball used during a game is essentially identical, but this wasn’t so prior to 1920. In this final lecture, explore early variations of baseballs (including the “lemon peel ball”), the evolution of batting orders and the foul strike rule, and more.

33 min
Bruce Markusen

I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that in many respects, baseball and America grew up together.


National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

About Bruce Markusen

Bruce Markusen is the Manager of Digital and Outreach Learning in the education department at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, in Cooperstown, New York, where he teaches students through virtual field trip technology. He has also worked in the Hall of Fame’s research and programming departments, and he was formerly a teacher at The Farmers’ Museum and the Fenimore Art Museum. Mr. Markusen has extensive media experience as both a broadcaster and writer, and in addition to his educational role, he narrates many of the Hall of Fame’s video productions, including biographies of numerous Hall of Fame members.


Prior to working at the Hall of Fame, Mr. Markusen hosted a nightly sports talk show for more than eight years in Utica, New York. He took calls from listeners, interviewed athletes and coaches, and contributed to prerecorded programs. Additionally, Mr. Markusen has served as a consultant for the Smithsonian Institution’s online and traveling exhibits on Roberto Clemente.


As a historian of baseball, Mr. Markusen has written several books about the sport, including A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, which earned the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) as 1998’s best book of baseball history. He has also written biographies of Roberto Clemente, Ted Williams, and Orlando Cepeda, as well as a compilation of short stories about the New York Mets.


Mr. Markusen has received the Cliff Kachline Award, given out by SABR’s Utica-Cooperstown Chapter to an individual whose contributions to SABR and baseball reflect the achievements and qualities of SABR founding member and long-time Cooperstown resident Cliff Kachline. He has also received the McFarland-SABR Baseball Research Award for his article, “The First All-Black Lineup,” about the historic lineup employed by the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 1, 1971.

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