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

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Play Ball!!! I started watching the classes this past month. I've been to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. I may have to go back because I've learned a lot of early history of baseball I wasn't familiar with. The detail of the early years is fun to hear about. Amazing how the game developed and progressed to what it is today. I also live in Cincinnati, so Reds baseball history means much to us.
Date published: 2020-07-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Informative and enjoyable I used to hate baseball as a young man and I remember being dragged to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by my dad. Fast forward to today and now I am a fan of baseball. I felt this was a good and more of an exciting course than some of their other history ones. I find learning about the history of baseball in the late 19th and early 20th century the more fascinating aspects of the history. It is a time when it feels like the game is just coming into its own, much like the young America itself. I would have liked it if the lecturer totted out more historical artifacts like Dr. Kurin did in his Smithsonian course on American History. I find that when teachers show us the history and not just tell us about it, it makes history more fascinating to learn. It is great to now have a course on sports history and I hope to see more.
Date published: 2020-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Play Ball! The Rise of baseball as America's pasti Excellent and very educational video. Would recommend to anyone.
Date published: 2020-05-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Very disappointed. I am 78 and have been a baseball and baseball history fan for about 65 years. When I saw the announcement of this new course I was very excited. But after watching eight or ten lectures I put it aside, very disappointed. I think the course is far too broad, scattered, a little vague and not at all about the players and games of those early years. I would have liked to hear about some of the great games and rivalries, the feats and personalaities of the great players. In addition, the presentation is just strange, with the lecturer looking away from the camera for much of the time. Disconcerting, to say the least. I want to take this opportunity to say how much I dislike the format of recent years, in which the lecturer paces around a room decorated with themes from the course. Many of the presenters cannot handle this gracefully and the whole style is arbitrary, awkward and distracting. I much preferred the old classroom setting. Back to this course, I cannot recommend it at all.
Date published: 2020-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome The lecturer is very articulate. I disagree with the reviews that characterize him as boring. My expectation from the Great Courses is that the lecturers are professorial and not mass-market entertainers. The history of the early game in its ascendancy is fascinating.
Date published: 2020-01-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Educational Good course, only wish more graphics could have been incorporated. Topics jumped around quite a bit, could have been more chronological.
Date published: 2020-01-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Deep Journey into History This course delves way into the history, even the pre-history, of baseball long before it was the sport as we know it today. Along the way, a fascinating glimpse into the industrial age of American society and sportsmanship. When you love history and are willing to glimpse back...way back, you won't take modern baseball as granted, but instead see the passion and prejudices that had to first evolve to give us what we have today.
Date published: 2020-01-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from enjoyed it very much added some new and interesting information for me. Well done
Date published: 2020-01-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Bought for my grandson I bought this as a present for my grandson who is a big fan of major league baseball. He watched a couple lectures and lost interest. He was disappointed there was not more on individual players. So, my idea of a great present turned out to be not so much.
Date published: 2020-01-06
Rated 1 out of 5 by from not good on video --possibly better on audio alone
Date published: 2019-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Play Ball! The Rise of Baseball as America's Pasti The course was much better than I expected. I was pleasantly surprised.
Date published: 2019-12-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Interesting Wow! If Baseball is of any interest to you, Get this DVD. You will learn things that will amaze you.
Date published: 2019-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great work!!! Awesome course!!! So glad I bought it. It is worth every penny.
Date published: 2019-12-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Targeted me perfectly I'm only 3 lectures in and I'm so happy I got into this. I can watch when I have time and I can go back and watch again. This is really cool.
Date published: 2019-11-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I'm disappointed !! I received a lot of detailed information ( a lot not needed). But I expected more (visuals, interviews, change of setting, etc); had to fight through the boredom .My biggest problem was the poor camera work throughout the entire presentation, why this wasn't corrected at some point. Can't see myself viewing again.
Date published: 2019-11-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Play Ball Big baseball fan who has visited the Baseball Hall of Fame within the past year. DVD has considerable information that I was not aware of. Viewing could be more interesting as it is primarily the instructor simply talking with little interest to view. On part 5 of my DVD it began hanging up and skipping.
Date published: 2019-11-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Baseball Very good information but would like more graphics
Date published: 2019-11-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Play Ball Does Not Hit It Out Of The Park I was rather disappointed in this course. The lecturer has zero personality and his delivery is wide of the plate. Frankly, I found him boring. I could not help but compare it to the great Ken Burns documentary and your course is clearly a second division offering.
Date published: 2019-11-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A master! Humbled by my lack of knowledge. Great information for baseball lovers. Even talked my wife into visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Date published: 2019-10-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great history lessons. I learned a lot about the history of the game. I found that I had to only do one DVD at a time, otherwise too much information.
Date published: 2019-10-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just what I wanted! I haven’t finished the course yet, but I’ve seen enough to know that it exceeds my expectations. Filled with information for baseball fans of all ages.
Date published: 2019-09-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Top notch! Would be a great gift for any fan! Bravo!
Date published: 2019-09-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing! I was truly excited when I saw this new course offered. The fact that it was taught by a person at The Baseball Hall of Fame was great. I expected the course to cover baseball from it origins to modern day, or at least through the 1950's. I found the course to go over material in the beginning of baseball in different ways which was confusing. I also hopped that the course would include some tour of the Hall of Fame which it did not, unless you were interested is some very old baseballs from the nineteenth century. If you are interested in the beginnings of baseball and that is all this, is the course for you. I feel this could have been properly covered in four to six lectures tops. I feel this was a waste of my time. (I am deciding whether I will return this course or not).
Date published: 2019-09-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too Many Foul Balls I have been a baseball fan since I was 9 years old in 1947. I won't say which team but I will say it is one of the teams with rivalry between two teams dating back to the 1920s. Dare I mention "The Babe" To be true, there is a great deal of material about the growth and development of Baseball. However I found the presntation lacking. Yes, we have is an obviously well informed speaker. It appeared to me that he was too well practiced in reading the material from some source not apparent to the viewer. Thus it was simply boring to just see his face just reading to me. There was little emotion or enthusiasm. The course bounced around quite a bit. The names of the lectures were not in synch the the file names so I found myself expecting to be viewing one topic only to be shown a different topic. Early in the course we were told that baseball grew out of many ball and stick games played throughout the country. I would liked to see an explanation of a few of them. I would have like to see rules developed in a single lecture. I would have prefrred a scructure based around topics completely explored before moving on to another topic. I would not recommend this to anyone with little or no familiarity with the game but would recommend it to someone that is an established fan. I think the best attribute of the course is the price - a deal one cannot refuse.
Date published: 2019-09-21
Date published: 2019-08-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Play ball I’ve always been a big baseball fan. It’s still America’s pastime. Baseball is much like life. It lasts a short span of time for some and it is perpetual for others. There are no four quarters, or periods. This lesson tells us of the beginnings of baseball and how it began . The critical course and evolution determines the degree of what we’re viewing today.
Date published: 2019-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Stuff Bought this last week. Been a baseball fan for 65 years. Finally learned how the game developed, where many terms came from, and reviewed many of the early great players. Next Course: How bout a thorough explanation of the rules. Many are so vague and/or subjective that they are very hard to understand. Another Course: 1920 to last expansion to 30 teams.
Date published: 2019-08-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Deficient Director So far I've viewed only the first three programs. The director is to be chastised for his continuing side views of the speaker. In my choral directing and teaching of math and computing, eye contact with my charges is emphasized as of paramount importance. It is a shame that such (so far) interesting material is undermined by this directorial shortcoming.
Date published: 2019-08-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Poor video quality Awful video quality, poor choice for narrator, didn’t know it had permanent closed captioning. BORING
Date published: 2019-08-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Good material, poor presentation There's no other way to put it -- the lectures are boring.
Date published: 2019-08-07
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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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