Research Description

Seth’s manuscript in progress is a study of the fan experience at Major League Baseball games during the twentieth century and what this tells us about changing understandings of urban space, inclusion, and the American body politic. He argues that baseball games were a purportedly inclusive space that were actually exclusive and divided, but that the exclusion and division was masked by rhetoric about the game that called it accessible to all and by the relative lack of explicit policies barring anyone. Instead, team owners built a system that was economically and socially stratified and increasingly physically removed from lower-class and non-white city residents. Ballparks’ tiers allowed owners to give wealthier fans the option of sitting in the seats closest to home plate where they would not have to interact with poorer fans who owners pushed to the cheaper seats further from the action. That masked exclusion gave middle- and upper-class fans a space that was comfortable and safe because it was anything but truly accessible to all Americans. He also argues that owners had to change the image of the ballpark and tinker with the exclusion there as fans’ tastes and their visions of what a city should look and feel like changed.

Throughout the twentieth century, newly-built ballparks relocated in response to how white middle- and upper-class Americans—the majority of fans in the park—felt about cities. At the beginning of the twentieth century, when urban centers were home to middle-class whites, ballparks were in cities. At mid-century, when middle-class whites moved out of cities and into the suburbs, ballparks moved to suburban-accessible locations. At the close of the twentieth century, when middle-class whites again found cities attractive—provided they were comfortable and safe—ballparks moved back to urban locations, albeit ones that could be carefully controlled and regulated to guarantee fans would be entertained. Each chapter in Seth’s manuscript is a case study of a different ballpark. The ballparks he examines, the Polo Grounds, Yankee Stadium, Dodger Stadium, the Astrodome, and Camden Yards, are simultaneously representative of the fan experience in their eras and important to understanding changes in that experience.

Seth’s next project is a study of the role of professional baseball in integrating American cities. It will examine how the end of segregated ballpark seating and the arrival of integrated teams impacted the integration of public accommodations. For example, the end of segregated seating in St. Louis and Vero Beach preceded the end of segregation in local restaurants and hotels but factored into their eventual integration. When the major leagues came to Baltimore and Houston, activists used the teams’ presence to push for integrated public accommodations. This research highlights the long-standing connection between sports and politics and the benefits of using sport to fight for equality.

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