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Theodore Roosevelt and Baseball
"Football>Baseball"- Theodore Roosevelt(Probably)
If you listen to the podcast or follow along with some of my tweets, you may have noticed I am somewhat of a history nerd. In fact, I have been working on a Theodore Roosevelt book ever since writing my capstone on him and his relationship with Native Americans over his lifetime.
In my journey, I came across Ryan Swanson’s "The Strenuous Life: Theodore Roosevelt and the Making of the American Athlete.” Overall, it is a great read, but this is a baseball website so I will focus on that.
Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, was a man seemingly in constant motion. As an advocate for what he famously termed the "strenuous life," Roosevelt believed in hard work, masculine vigor, and a daring, adventurous spirit. He was an avid hunter, a boxer, and an equestrian—all activities that required physical stamina and courage. His philosophy encouraged Americans to engage in vigorous activity to fortify the body and build character. "Hit the line hard; don't foul and don't shirk, but hit the line hard!" he once remarked.
Yet, in the midst of his passion for intense physical endeavors, Roosevelt had a surprising apathy, even disdain, for baseball—America's pastime. During Roosevelt's presidency, baseball was emerging from its fledgling status to become a national institution. It was becoming a symbol of American values: democratic in its accessibility, requiring teamwork for success, and fostering a competitive spirit. Roosevelt, however, was far from impressed. He referred to baseball as a "mollycoddle game," one that he felt lacked the vigor and masculine energy he believed were essential to sports and, by extension, the character-building of men.
He also did not love the monetization of baseball. He once said, "When money comes in at the gate (specifically baseball games), sport flies out at the window." He, like many, felt that baseball was best kept as a local community game. Once money and specifically gambling, which TR was not a fan of, got involved he felt the game's beauty disappeared. But was this all just because he could not play the game himself? Twice, he referenced the game in regards to his son playing it.
"I like to see Quentin practicing baseball. It gives me hope that one of my boys will not take after his father in this respect, and will prove able to play the national game."
"Quentin really seems to be getting on pretty well with his baseball. In each of the last two games he made a base hit and a run."
It is important to note that he does call it the “national game.” If he truly hated it, he would be less likely to have that sentiment. He also seems to be happy that his son is playing and doing what he did not.
The irony of Roosevelt's stance lies in the fact that many elements of his "strenuous life" philosophy have found their way into the modern interpretation of baseball. Today’s athletes in the sport engage in rigorous training regimes, both physical and mental. Skill and strategy are highly prized, as is a form of resilience and mental grit that enables players to endure the long, 162-game season. These are traits that one would think Roosevelt would admire despite his stated feelings about the game.
In summary, Theodore Roosevelt’s relationship with baseball provides a nuanced lens through which to explore this larger-than-life figure. His ideals have left a lasting impact on many facets of American culture, including sports. Yet, his disdain for baseball, a sport so deeply intertwined with the American psyche, reflects the complexities and contradictions that make both the man and the sport such compelling subjects for study. Despite his personal feelings about baseball, the ethos of the "strenuous life" that Roosevelt championed has, in many ways, found a home in the very sport he disparaged, showcasing the ever-evolving relationship between American sports and national identity.
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