This Day in Baseball History: May 4th, 1919

Jesus loves baseball.

On May 4th, 1919:

The Brooklyn Dodgers play the Boston Braves on Sunday.

This might seem a bit odd to us. Sundays are the big game of the week. Our parents used to see their one game of the week on a Sunday afternoon broadcast. We watch the Sunday Night Game of the Week on ESPN. Teams wouldn’t think about having a Sunday off because it is one of the big draws of the week because it’s one of the few days off that most people have. Sunday baseball is a key part of baseball, but it wasn’t always.

The issue centered squarely over the idea of the Sabbath. Sundays are supposed to be a day of rest in the Christian tradition, but was baseball work? If not, it was still an active sport (surely not resting), but does that count? Around 5 years previous to the 1919 game, there was finally an answer. For now, it was allowed (implying it wasn’t earlier), mainly because it instilled “morals” in the young men, but this came with restrictions. A game was decided to be okay, but earning money would have to be deemed as work. Therefore, baseball could be played, but no admission could be charged. Not to be tricked, the New York Police had further rules. Programs could be sold, but if they were more expensive than normal or were obligatory upon “free” admission, arrests were to be made. No one was getting tricked. This was serious.

Three years later, the New York legislature was back at it. Mr. Smith gave his opinion when he observed, “We tolerate such things as Coney Island and Rockaway Beach, but when it comes to allowing an innocent game of baseball on Sunday then there is such a howl.” By this time, there were open businesses on Sunday, and people were asking why baseball, America’s pastime, was not included in the list. Again, you’ll note the word “innocent” in reference to baseball. As long as it was morally upright, it was okay. I find it funny that drinking, gambling, and fights are still a big part of the game at this point.

The following year, the debate intensified. Prohibition was nearing, and who exemplified the opposite of that more than the Germans? Okay, maybe the Irish, but they were okay by this point in US history. Germans, on the other hand, were not. Fleeing from Germany from an oppressive government and the war, Germans were immigrating in bunches, and as is want to happen in US history, US citizens responded with a fair amount of hatred. Charles Richards called it the “Germanization of the American Sunday”. Luckily, those like Francis McQuade eventually ruled the day. He asked, “Can you conceive of a law which would make your son a criminal just because he batted a baseball in an open lot on a Sunday afternoon?” Indeed, the women couldn’t, and though they fought for prohibition, they also fought for Sunday baseball. Why? Because the game taught their boys morals. The Sunday Baseball Law would be put into effect for the next season.

We sometimes forget how intertwined baseball can be with politics, religion, and society, but this is a nice reminder of how all of this is connected.

Trivia Time
Ebbets Field, where the game was played, was sparsely crowded, fairly crowded, filled, or standing room only?

Yesterday’s Answer –> 3 done 3 times. Each time, an error had to happen, but on July 1, 1962 in a game between the Indians and White Sox, two errors were committed and four could have happened in a wild bottom of the fifth.


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