The new book “The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America’s Game” by Edward Achorn covers the rise of baseball in 1883.
Baseball had emerged relatively uncontested as America’s favorite team sport but was still tightly controlled and featured crowds similar to our Fort Wayne TinCaps on midweek nights. Among the greatest hindrances was the fact that it was banned on Sunday in the powerful National League. Most Americans worked six-day weeks, and night baseball was not yet a factor. Furthermore, games cost $1 admission. So unless you were a relatively wealthy white-collar worker who could take afternoons off, you probably didn’t see baseball games.
Not unrelated to this was the banning of beer sales during National League games. Cincinnati was a very successful market, but the growing German population there wanted baseball and beer. Wielerts tavern featured a large oval table as the base for Boss Cox of Cincinnati and his able sidekick August Herrman, who later moved on to own the Reds and become president of the National League.
A Cincinnati Enquirer columnist tried to explain to eastern owners that “we drink beer in Cincinnati as freely as you drink milk.” Because they would not suspend beer sales, Cincinnati was kicked out of the National League.
In St. Louis a man named Chris Von der Ahe, a tavern owner, decided to start a team and join Cincinnati in the new American Association even though he knew little about baseball. According to one reporter, the team now known as the St. Louis Cardinals began “when Von der Ahe began contemplating how his saloon business could exploit its proximity to the ballpark as he might have become interested in pretzels, peanuts or any other incitant to thirst and beer drinking.”
Von der Ahe cut prices in half, played on Sundays and served beer (and probably pretzels), and fans packed his new stadium with record crowds.
The book has numerous fascinating stories, including discussing the early African-American baseball players such as Bud Fowler, who recently had a street in Cooperstown named after him. Civil War Reconstruction ended around this time, racism took over and soon all black baseball players were banned until the historic summer of 1947. The new movie “42” is about the historic re-integration of the major leagues led by Jackie Robinson.
There is also a reference to the Fort Wayne Golden Eagles of the Northwestern League playing St. Louis. The Northwestern League was a third major league that soon folded. Earlier the first professional baseball game was played in Fort Wayne in 1871 by the Kekionga Baseball Club of Fort Wayne. Hard-drinking Bobby Matthews, who started that game for the Kekiongas, is prominently featured throughout this book.
“The Summer of Beer and Whiskey” is full of great stories and interesting tidbits of history. Author Achorn reviews history books for one of my favorite magazines, The Weekly Standard.