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Baseball and American Character

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American Exceptionalism

Guttmann (1978, p.1) contends to Marxist and Weberian rejection views regarding American exceptionalism. They reject the notion brought about by many historians that America is an exception when it comes to shifting from tradition to modernity, and add that the idea of America being unique faded many decades ago. The notion of America’s peculiarity has not been exempted in sports.  Though many sports’ authors have indicated that American sports are unique, Guttmann disagrees. He asserts that American sports are modern sports and same as any other sport of the modern age. American sports are similar to other modern sports worldwide, but in the United States they vary locally.

Ross (1971, p.8), disagrees with Guttmann’s idea of American exceptionalism. He explains that baseball and football are popular games which are unique only to America. But their execution differences make Americans choose the one they watch. Ross continues by asserting that American sports contain myths which are shown to spectators and make them belong to the mythical world brought about by both games and its players.

Mandelbaum (2004, p.12) notes that baseball, in addition to other team sports, is an American sport. Just like the traditional routines, which were transferred from one generation to another with very few or no changes, baseball has maintained most of its early approaches including rules and techniques.  


Many sports’ writers showed and commented that baseball is surely American. It has fitted well in American culture and is deeply rooted in Americans’ thinking and style. According to Guttmann (1978, p.3), it is a game played in the open space, which many people, including players and spectators can access. He adds that large number of participants experienced in baseball is accredited to the American culture, not the cheap price of baseballs. Its popularity has also been elevated with the advent of new technology, which has enabled easy transportation and viewing.

While historians say that baseball’s nostalgia effect enabled it to gain popularity and be engrained in America, Guttmann disagrees. He contends that folk heroes alone are not able to distinguish baseball from other sports (p.4), arguing that even boxing has many ‘big’ names such as Gentlemen Jim Corbett, but this has not made it accepted nationally. According to him, baseball heroes benefitted more than they popularized the game. He argues that the nostalgia mostly affects games that are tied to youths. Since baseball can be played even by people who are at forties, the effect of nostalgia as a result of heroes in baseball is overruled. Yet, the game’s unique attraction makes people nostalgic.

The pastoral nature of baseball can be traced back from its origin. Though it was developed in town and known to be played by town dwellers, it extended in small towns and in remote villages. The environment in which it is played is cool, i.e. in the open air, when the weather is warm, the sun bright, and on top of natural grass. This means that it is normally played in summer when family members, including students, are available at home.  

Baseball is a religious sport; it “begins in the spring and can draw upon whatever traces of primitive religion remain in modern man” (Guttmann, 1978, p.5). In this regard, Guttmann sites the work of an early historian, Robert W. Henderson, where he shows that baseball originated from historical rites which were presided over by ancient kings.   

Baseball has no specific or scheduled time of play. It is played for as long as the strongest win. Another aspect of pastoral nature of the game is that it is not polarized. It consists of imaginary circles that players follow while rounding the bases. Players move in circles as they move around the four bases. It is quite unique to note that the four bases correspond to the four seasons in a year. The modernization or removal of pastoral element of baseball may be the cause of its recent decline. Baseball is nowadays played under roofs with carpets and lights replacing the natural grass and sunlight respectively.

Ross (1971, p.8) disagrees with Guttmann’s argument that baseball is nostalgic and agrees with the point that baseball is a pastoral sport. Since baseball was old-fashioned from the start and has maintained the trend, i.e. it has not changed most of its techniques and rules, it makes both players and spectators remember the past whenever they hear, see, or play it.  Baseball creates a harmonious environment where every stakeholder can enjoy it. Its execution is normally organized and rarely violated, and the field and players are normally seen to relate to each other. The game is organized with players seen as if having dialogue with the field. The furthest corners of the pitch normally entail numerous activities including origination of most plays.

According to Ross (1971, p.12), baseball, in addition to its rules, has a circular pitch which makes both players and spectators feel that they can manage it by themselves. Baseball is timeless; unlike football or basketball, baseball players play until the strongest wins. This excludes it from the world of struggle and tough action expressed in other sports. As a result, fans concentrate more on the styles of the game rather than the outcome. Actions in the baseball are ritualized and every little movement counted. This makes participants remember the past, where little things counted a lot. Baseball narrows the gap between players and spectators. It shows spectators that they can also play perfectly when they practice hard.  

According to Ross (1971, p.11), baseball has been commercialized. Instead of being played in the open space with sunlight and green grass, baseball is nowadays played indoors in fields equipped with carpets, electric light, and electric fans. This enables it to be played even at nights and hinder fans from performing their usual rituals. Many players play for commercial purposes and some even dispute over salaries and allowances.

Mandelbaum (2004, p.12) agrees with both Ross and Guttmann that baseball is a pastoral sport. He compares the flow of baseball seasons to traditional agricultural seasons. The game’s season starts at the beginning of spring, continues through summer, and ends in the fall. During the rest of the season, the fields contain no spectators and few training players. The game takes place in open standardized spaces similar to traditional agricultural fields, known as parks. This means that the parks have similar structures with very few differences in their layouts. Baseball for example, has fields of the same sizes, but may differ in the distances between bases or distance between home plate and the middle of the mound of the pitcher.

Since baseball’s scores greatly depend on the force of throws, pitchers cannot be perfect in a whole league season, though they can dominate a single game. Since baseball is normally played during the summer seasons, it enables people to participate in it, hence, making them remember their childhood and, unlike football and basketball, is an individual game. Its scores are usually tabulated with every individual efforts documented. Therefore, baseball makes players put a lot of effort as players are judged with their contributions.


While Guttmann (1978, p.1) describes baseball as modern, Ross (1971, p.8) and Mandelbaum (2004, p.12) disagree with him and describe it as a traditional game. Guttmann disagrees with the view of many authors of sports articles that American sports are unique, and asserts that American sports are modern sports and are similar to other sports of the modern age, includng baseball.

Ross explains that baseball began in America and is deeply rooted with American culture, adding that it has been “old-fashioned” since its inception (p.8).  Just like in traditional life where even the slightest things counted a lot, baseball has maintained the tradition; every move in baseball, no matter how small it may be, counts.

Mandelbaum compares baseball to tradition. He says that baseball’s rules and techniques originate from the traditional world. Just like the way people in the traditional society lived, baseball has no essence of time. It is played until the strongest team wins, though it cannot be played forever. Baseball followed the natural revolution of the earth. During first periods of its invention, it was normally played during the day and ended at sunset. It followed the ways people worked traditionally.

Just like the traditional life of agriculture, baseball was played in open fields covered by grass, and named parks which resembled the traditional name of fields. It was not uniformly organized, proved complicated, therefore, attracted attention of spectators. Just as the modern sports use modern equipment, baseball utilized equipment made from traditional handmade materials – bats made from wood, gloves made from skin, and baseball made from “cork, woolen yarn, and cowhide” (Mandelbaum 2004, p.14).

The mode and techniques of playing also distinguishes baseball as a traditional sport. Like traditional hunting practice, baseball players require patience and local knowledge. Players normally have four to five chances of batting in a game. Therefore, they are required to remain attentive for a long time in order to execute successful bats. Players have to record the moves of all their opponents in a game to enable them to effectively tackle opponent team while playing.

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