Shouting at the Clouds
Goose Gossage recently went on a rant about kids nowadays. It is pretty standard stuff, with perhaps more profanity than is normal. (Or perhaps not. This could well be an artifact of reporting.)
You can read about it any number of places. Google on “Goose Gossage rant” and you will find any number of reports about it, and responses pushing back. As good places as any are here, here, and here.
Frankly, the only reason to actually read those is prurient interest. Much like slowing down to look at that car accident on the other side of the freeway, you are unlikely to see anything you haven’t seen before. The rant is all pretty standard stuff. It comes down to the complaint that people aren’t playing the game right anymore: not like back in my day! People have been making this complaint from time immemorial.
Just how old is “time immemorial” in this case? This is a fine excuse to put forth the earliest known complaint that they aren’t playing baseball right anymore. This is an except from the December 1, 1858 issue of The Happy Home and Parlor Magazine:
Ball-Playing has become an institution. It is no longer a healthful recreation in which persons of
sedentary habits engage for needful relaxation and exercise; but it is now an actual institution. Young men associate for this object, organize themselves into an association, with constitution and laws to control them, and then plunge into the amusement with a sort of “Young America” fanaticism. In almost every town throughout all this region there is one of these regularly formed and inaugurated ball-clubs, the members of which meet frequently to practice the art, for the sake of being able to worst some neighboring club whom they challenge, or by whom they are
challenged, to a hot contest. The matter has become a sort of mania, and on this account we speak of it. In itself a game at ball is an innocent and excellent recreation but when the sport is carried so far as it is at the present time, it becomes a public nuisance.
Our reasons for this conclusion are the following.
1. It has become a species of gambling. One club challenges another to a trial of their skill, and
sometimes the victorious party are to be treated by the vanquished, to a dinner or supper. What would be the difference if the two parties should institute cards and ten-pins for the ball?
2. On these occasions a large collection of people are usually present. There is no objection to crowds, provided they meet for a worthy object. But if the object be evil, or is not an elevated one, the gathering usually becomes more or less censurable. Is it a very elevating scene to witness — the trial of skill at ball-playing between two parties of young men? We think not. It is about the same as rope-dancing, and certain equestrian amusements, that some low-bred performers perpetrate through the country for money. Then there is betting on these occasions, as there was at one of which we have had a description, where two thousand people were assembled. There is much confusion, too, even where intoxicating drinks are not to be had, and more when they are carried clandestinely upon the grounds, as they have been in certain instances. There is eveil in all this, without any counterbalancing good.
3. Much profanity appears to be incidental to this way of playing ball. One club played for some weeks so near our studio, that every oath came right into the window like black, smoking cinders from the pit. A neighboring ball-club met them on their grounds several times, and then the swearing was awful. How young men could contrive to use so dexterously the worst words in the English language was really surprising. They would not have sworn more lustily if profanity had been necessary to propel the ball.
Some of this is straightforward. The writer heard a naughty word and is clutching his pearls, overcome by the vapors: a timeless classic. Some of it requires unpacking. Baseball has been around since colonial days, but early on it was a moderately obscure folk game. It was played on the schoolyard and on occasions such as holidays. This is the form the writer considers good clean fun. Things were different by the late 1850s. Players were forming clubs to meet regularly, and these clubs were challenging other clubs, and the two clubs cared who won, and onlookers were taking an interest. People were, in short, taking the game seriously. This was a great shift in American sporting culture, and this is what the writer is complaining about.
Mostly, though, what I think we should take from this is that as soon as baseball rose in cultural prominence to the point where people were writing about it, these writings included shouting at clouds at kids nowadays. Goose Gossage takes his place in a proud tradition spanning over a century and a half.