When Baseball Went White


When Baseball Went White

Reconstruction, Reconciliation, and Dreams of a National Pastime

Ryan A. Swanson

272 pages
4 illustrations


June 2014


$34.95 Add to Cart

April 2020


$19.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

June 2014


$19.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

June 2014


$19.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

The story of Jackie Robinson valiantly breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947 is one that most Americans know. But less recognized is the fact that some seventy years earlier, following the Civil War, baseball was tenuously biracial and had the potential for a truly open game. How, then, did the game become so firmly segregated that it required a trailblazer like Robinson? The answer, Ryan A. Swanson suggests, has everything to do with the politics of “reconciliation” and a wish to avoid the issues of race that an integrated game necessarily raised.
The history of baseball during Reconstruction, as Swanson tells it, is a story of lost opportunities. Thomas Fitzgerald and Octavius Catto (a Philadelphia baseball tandem), for example, were poised to emerge as pioneers of integration in the 1860s. Instead, the desire to create a “national game”—professional and appealing to white Northerners and Southerners alike—trumped any movement toward civil rights. Focusing on Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Richmond—three cities with large African American populations and thriving baseball clubs—Swanson uncovers the origins of baseball’s segregation and the mechanics of its implementation. An important piece of sports history, his work also offers a better understanding of Reconstruction, race, and segregation in America.    


Author Bio

Ryan A. Swanson is an assistant professor and the director of the Lobo Scholars Program in the Honors College at the University of New Mexico.


"A boon to scholars of both the early development of baseball and race relations after the Civil War."—Library Journal

"When Baseball Went White is an intriguing, insightful, and provocative book that opens exciting possibilities for future researchers."—David Welky, Journal of Sport History

"Lively and engaging."—Dain Tepoel, Sport in American History

“Ryan Swanson's carefully researched and wonderfully nuanced study of baseball’s declining race relations during Reconstruction sheds considerable light on this oft-neglected topic. A must-read.”—Peter Morris, author of A Game of Inches and Level Playing Fields

“Deeply researched and well written, Ryan A. Swanson’s When Baseball Went White carefully examines ‘the mechanics of segregation’ that racially cleansed organized baseball during Reconstruction and in the process helped the game become our ‘national pastime,’ at the expense of civil rights and racial justice.  Swanson reveals, in fine detail, how a sport that would become a truly meaningful cultural practice and institution nevertheless became something less than it might have been.”—Daniel A. Nathan, president of the North American Society for Sport History and author of Saying It’s So: A Cultural History of the Black Sox Scandal

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Prominent Players and Clubs
Part 1. The War’s Over, 1865–67
1. Washington DC: A Game to Be Governed
2. Richmond: Make It a Southern Game
3. Philadelphia: Baseball’s Boomtown
Part 2. Sorting Out New Divisions, 1867–69
4. Philadelphia: Setting Precedent
5. Washington DC: Nationalizing Separation
6. Richmond: Calibrating a Response
Part 3. New Realities Entrenched, the 1870s
7. Philadelphia: Permanent Solutions
8. Richmond: The Final Tally
9. Washington DC: Professional Separation


2015 SABR Award

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