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Just as the English had cricket and the Germans their turnvereins (gymnastic clubs), a sporting newspaper declared as early as 1857 that Americans should have a “game that could be termed a ‘Native American Sport.’ ” A powerful confirmation of baseball as the sport to fill that need came in 1907 when a special commission appointed by A. Spalding, a sporting goods magnate who had formerly been a star pitcher and an executive with a baseball team, reported that baseball owed absolutely nothing to England and the children’s game of rounders.

Instead, the commission claimed that, to the best of its knowledge (a knowledge based on flimsy research and self-serving logic), baseball had been invented by In a country comprising a multiplicity of ethnic and religious groups, one without a monarchy, an aristocracy, or a long and mythic past, the experience of playing, watching, and talking about baseball games became one of the nation’s great common denominators.

In the winter, baseball fans participated in “hot stove leagues,” reminiscing about past games and greats and speculating about what the next season had to offer.

The World Series, inaugurated in 1903 and pitting the champions of the American and National Leagues in a postseason play-off, quickly took its place alongside the Fourth of July and Christmas as one of the most popular annual rites.

American colleges and universities even began to offer courses on baseball literature, and baseball films likewise proliferated.

In 1994 the Public Broadcasting System released , arguably the most monumental historical television documentary ever made.

The series was, said in 1911, “the very quintessence and consummation of the Most Perfect Thing in America.” Each fall it absorbed the entire nation. Bush, a baseball player during his years at Yale University, the foreign press struggled to translate the president’s routine use of baseball metaphors.

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They associated baseball, or at least the professional version of the game, with ne’er-do-wells, immigrants, the working class, drinking, gambling, and general rowdiness.

Conversely, these very qualities provided a foothold for the upward ascent of ethnic groups from the nation’s ghettos.

Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise.

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