Walt Whitman called baseball “the American game,” and Babe Ruth said it was “the best game in the world.” Although football eventually edged past it as the country's most popular sport—41 percent of respondents chose football over 38 percent who chose baseball in a 1965 Harris survey —there's no denying that the sport is and has been an integral part of the lives of millions of Americans.
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1919 “Black Sox” Scandal
In 1919, World War I had just ended. Baseball owners anticipated a lackluster season thanks to an uncertain economy. Instead, Americans went to ballparks in droves, eager to recapture the spirit of America. According to the website 1919 Black Sox.com, attendance more than doubled that year, jumping 3.5 million over what it had been the year before. The Chicago White Sox had the best record in baseball and met the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. Americans expected a rout over the Reds. What they got instead was a scandal that would set the tone for the “anything goes” mood of the Roaring 20s, and that reverberated with changes made to baseball rules regarding gambling by its players for decades to come. Eight members of the White Sox made front page news when they allegedly threw the Series to collect on wagers, losing it in eight games.
In 1920, Boston traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. Well into the 21st century, the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is still one of the fiercest in sports, all stemming from this one transaction. Ruth energized the nation with his wit and antics, both off the field and on. He was exactly what Americans wanted at the time, and what the sport needed after the previous year's scandal. He was a working man's hero, having grown up on the streets of Baltimore. By 1930, he was earning more money per year than the president of the United States. As the nation fell into the Great Depression, Ruth kept spirits high. Americans still haven't forgotten that. According to the website Babe Ruth Central, many fans booed decades later when Roger Maris—followed by Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds—broke the Babe's various home run records. Ruth was still featured in television commercials in 2006, and fans still send gifts and tributes to the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum each year on his birthday.
Jackie Robinson once said that a life is only important for the impact it has on other lives. His gutsy entry into all-white Major League Baseball in 1947 not only broke a color barrier in baseball, but began forging desegregation all over America. New York Dodgers president Branch Rickey asked Robinson not only to become the first black man in baseball since 1889, but to hold his tongue and his fists, and handle the inevitable racial backlash with dignity. Robinson did just that. President Truman desegregated the military a year later. Seven years later, the Supreme Court desegregated public schools.
According to “USA Today,” the steroid era of the 2000s has convinced young athletes that unnatural size and strength is a player’s only ticket to college scholarships and the pros, while at the same time bringing condemnation by fans. A 2005 survey by the newspaper in conjunction with CNN and Gallup revealed that 82 percent of baseball fans thought players should be stripped of their records if they were achieved while using steroids.