Stickball and How it Changed Popular Culture Essay

Pages: 12 (3880 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Sports

Stickball: A Window Into America's Cultural Adolescence

America's National Pastime is the once deeply pure and widely beloved, and now often cynically regarded and business oriented business of baseball. Once a sport and a game, it is now very clearly dominated by a corporate identity, with enormous wage figures and heavy advertising stakes rendering baseball a crass shadow of its former self. Indeed, with the revelations of major steroid abuse in the sport across the last decade and a half, it is challenging to look on the sport as though its reputation has not been drastically tarnished. It has been, with the disillusioning impact of this realization that many of our most cherished heroes have for all intents and purposes cheated their collective way to the top of the record books, quite impossible to return to the pristine impressions of the ballgame that tie it into the trappings of classic America. This is a condition which causes us to retreat into memories of a game that we reflexively perceive as pure and unpenetrated by the loss innocence of its age. In order to do so, we reflect on what might be perceived as baseball on its most untainted stage; played with broom-handles and rubber balls in the alleyways, schoolyards and side-streets of urban America.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Essay on Stickball and How it Changed Popular Culture Assignment

If the 18th century was America's birth and the 19th century its youth, its 20th century adolesence would appropriately be colored by much tumult and change, with the massive influx of immigrant populations and the rapid evolution of its cities creating a diverse, rugged and competitive culture. For the Italian, Irish, Hispanic and Eastern European Jewish immigrants who carved their own communities out of the neighborhoods in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Newark, Stanford and Boston. These neighborhoods would be the fertile grounds upon which the democratic tradition of stickball would be germinated. Achieving its greatest popularity during the middle years of the 20th century -- by no coincidence during a time that the professional sport of baseball was also breaking new ground as a passion of urban sons and grandsons of immigration -- stickball would function as baseball's unruly and altogether more accessible little brother. Consisting largely of the same structure, centered on a pitcher, a batsman and, usually, a diamond of four bases, stickball would be retain an improvised characteristic that would make it specifically the province of those who hadn't the means or the location to play baseball in the form that had become a profession to its best competitors.

Ultimately, the connection between baseball and stickball, as this discussion will reveal, is inextricable. And this is not simply because the latter arises as an informal replication of baseball. Perhaps more importantly, stickball would formulate a parallel tradition executed in a mode generally experienced only by those living in cities and more often than not coming from economically disinclined families and neighborhoods. Thus, stickball would inherently be an economically accessible way of allowing poor city kids remain in close and active content with a game and a tradition that were increasingly being reserved only for those of the greatest ability and, especially by the late 20th century, of the most exorbitant earning capacity. Its accessibility is a distinction which both affiliates it with the urban landscape of the 1920s all the way through to the 1980s and which allows it to be preserved in such a warmly nostalgic light.

The game's name is derived from its most distinctive quality. The implement used by the batsman is almost emblematic of the game's poverty and its resultant ingenuity. The bat would typically be a salvaged piece of wood both longer and thinner than a bat. A broom-handle reflects about the ideal size and shape of a proper stickball stick and therefore, any object of similar proportion and texture will suffice. Often, the stick will be fixed with an industrial tape to promote better grip and to provide the object with some weight. (Wikipedia, 1) The Becarry (2007) source also adds that in northern parts of the East Coast such as Boston, a sawed-off hockey stick would be used in order to generate more swinging power. (Becarry, 1) In any event, the specific object is not overseen by any formal rules other than the agreement of participants.

To this very point, the informality of the game is one of its most important features. To this point, the rules are often extremely loose, varied and decided by consensus on the court. Additionally, there is no one accepted way to play stickball, with variations perhaps being as variable as regions and neighborhoods engaging in play. The two most popular forms of stickball are fast-pitch and slow pitch. According to our research, the former "type of play (seen in the picture to the right) is most commonly seen in schoolyards throughout, predominantly, Staten Island, NY, and to a lesser extent, Queens, NY and Jersey City, NJ." (Wikipedia, 1) In this form, the batter will stand in front of a brick wall with a chalk square drawn behind him. A pitcher will fast-pitch the ball, giving the batter an opportunity to swing. Strikes are determined either by a foul ball, a swing-and-a-miss or a non-swing in which the ball returns to the pitcher with a chalk mark from the backstop wall. (Wikipedia, 1) Slow pitch, by contrast, uses no such chalk marking and instead gives the batter an opportunity to swing at a bouncing underhand pitch. (Wikipedia, 1)

Variations are also quite extensive throughout either form of the game depending upon group consensus or, if a league exists, league rules. According to the Beccary (2007) source, there are specifications which are generally used in application to fast-pitch. He indicates that "in fast pitch, no bases are used. It works in the following way: if the ball is hit to the pitcher and he bobbles it, or if it is hit to the fielder and he bobbles it, it is a single. If the ball is hit over the fielder's head, it is a double. After this point, things vary depending on the playing area. If there is large fence at the end of the playing area, and the ball hits the fence, it is usually considered a triple." (Beccary, 1) This will differ in slow pitch, where bases may be used and where hits are scored only by reaching bases safely.

In either instance, another point upon which rules may vary will be the manner in which outs are recorded. Strike counts may be anywhere from one to three strikes as determined by a league or the assembled teams. In some games, a baserunner may be called out for being 'pegged' with the ball from afar instead of simply called on fly-balls and force-outs. (Wikipedia, 1) Whichever of these is used, a homerun is universally any ball which leaves the playing area in fair territory. Unique to the game's urban charm, balls that land on roofs, porches or other neighborhood structures are counted as homeruns.

This helps to highlight the truly important cultural distinction of stickball. That is, its distinctly urban qualities would help to create a game formulated in its way by limitations but ultimately manifesting as something special in its own right. Urban children living in immigrant enclaves during the early and middle of the 20th century were culturally fixated on baseball. Particularly for those whose parents had immigrated to the United States and who, as first generation Americans, desired to adopt aspects of the American culture in lieu of the countries their families had left behind, baseball would represent a very distinct element of this new culture that was itself just coming to an identity. By the middle of the century, heroes such as Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams had broken through into the popular consciousness, and thereafter figures with whom immigrant, urban or minority populations could particularly identify emerged such as Roberto Clemente (Hispanic), Jackie Robinson (African-American), Sandy Koufax (Jewish) and Roy Campanella (Italian and African-American). This would endear the sport to the hearts of the youth in many urban centers of the United States who could check baseball heroes as a reference point for the opportunities available to any group or ethnicity in the United States.

Within the context of the city however, this would come with its own distinct limitations, themselves a reflection of the immigrant experience as a whole. These ethnic groups arriving in America in search of work and opportunity gravitated toward the enclaves just outside of city centers, where immigrant children lacked grass, sandlots or other forgiving surfaces. The Beccary text makes an important note of this, emphasizing the correlation between stickball and the presence of asphalt. This article makes a connection between the presence of stickball in those environmental contexts where asphalt is prominent and a total absence of awareness as to this phenomenon where asphalt is rare. Elaborating further on how this feature has shaped the game, Beccary discusses the common use of rubber balls, 'pinkies,' or… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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