Politics and Baseball



Instructor: Bill Nowlin

Course Number – 46.323

Number of Credit Hours: 3

Chat Time – All chats will take place Tuesday evening 9-10pm Eastern time.

Catalog Description: “Baseball and Politics” will offer an introductory but sophisticated look at the interaction between the world of baseball and the social and political structures which influence the sport.

Prerequisites: none

Baseball has evolved from a pastime to a multi-billion dollar international business, with some teams having payrolls that are greater than the gross national product of some of the smaller countries of today’s world. As such a significant industry, decisions made by and regarding professional sports franchises frequently have a significant impact on the communities where they are based. Increasingly, owners of sports franchises have looked to government policymakers for tax incentives, infrastructure improvements, and even outright subsidies.

Course readings will consider the history of the administration of the sport of baseball as a business and the various constituencies affected in one way or another as baseball expands both within North America and internationally: in particular the players, owners, taxpayers, and different social groupings such as racial, ethnic, or nationality ones.

To gain a broad overview, while at the same time coming to consider some of the issues which face the game today, we will begin by looking at the history of the administration of the sport largely through the office of the Commissioner. We will turn to a look at how practice over time can affect both a given player on an individual level, and the players as a collectivity – while at the same time studying more deeply the interaction of legislative and judicial bodies as it interacts with baseball in American society.

In the book A Well-Paid Slave, we will consider one particular player’s struggle to achieve the right of free agency. We will also look at a case study of one team’s positioning of itself within the world of urban politics, in The Diamond in the Bronx. In each case, we will look at how public policy and the wishes of individual players like Curt Flood or corporate giants like the New York Yankees have come up against questions of public policy.

The institutionalization of the sport – and the implementation of both the amateur draft and free agency – has developed a framework which tends to impel teams to seek players from other countries, resulting in almost half of today’s professional baseball players coming from poorer Caribbean countries. A look at Latinos in baseball through Prof. Burgos’s book acknowledges their more active role, and simultaneously encourages a deeper understanding of how this phenomenon has developed.

Lastly, we want to consider a provocative new study suggesting where the game is going and some of the imperatives which may push it into unexpected directions.


Every two weeks we will read a new book, for a total of five books. Each other week there will be a paper due. See below for information on grading policy and in the Week One overview material.

Required Books:

Burgos, Adrian Jr., Playing America’s Game: Baseball, Latinos, and the Color Line (University of California, 2007) – discusses Latinos and baseball over the last 125 years

Elias, Robert, The Empire Strikes Out: How Baseball Sold U.S. Foreign Policy and Promoted the American Way Abroad (The New Press, 2010) – possibly offering the broadest of all perspectives on the game and its place in the world

Snyder, Brad, A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood’s Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports (Plume paperback, 2007) – This study of Curt Flood’s struggle against the powers-that-be in baseball also provides the opportunity to delve more deeply into the antitrust questions of baseball as an authorized monopoly thanks to the Supreme Court rulings

Sullivan, Neil J., The Diamond in the Bronx: Yankee Stadium and the Politics of New York (Oxford University Press, 2008) – how the new Yankee Stadium was financed, a case study of sorts into the big business of baseball a little more behind the scenes but at the same time very much in the public arena

Zimbalist, Andrew, May the Best Team Win (Brookings Institution Press, 2003) – oversight and management of major-league baseball, looking at the role of baseball and public policy, both historically and into the early 21 century.

Recommended Reading and Viewing:


The Lost Son of Havana (A film by Jonathan Hock, presented by the Farrelly Brothers, 5-Hole Productions, 2009). A personal vignette showing pitcher Luis Tiant’s emotional return to Cuba, after an absence of more than 40 years. This, like the book on Alexis Quiroz listed below, helps give a more personal view of the impact of political and policy decisions on individuals in the game.


Marcano Guevara, Arturo J. and David P. Fidler, Stealing Lives: The Globalization of Baseball and the Tragic Story of Alexis Quiroz (Indiana University Press, 2002) – another book, perhaps read after the Tiant movie, which can broaden the discussion

Bryant, Howard, Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston (Beacon Press paper edition, 2003) – case study of one team’s attempts to grapple (or not) with matters of race

Lupica, Mike, Mad As Hell: How Sports Got Away from the Fans-And How We Get It Back (McGraw-Hill, 1997) – despite this being an “old” book, it may touch on enough of the issues, in more than one sport, and provide an entertaining way to stimulate the course right at the start. (Even though it’s out of print, there are a LOT of very inexpensive used copies on Amazon and elsewhere.)

NOTE: You may yourself have suggestions to share with the class regarding other books, videos, films, or articles that have captured your interest.


* All book reviews and answers to weekly questions are due Sunday by midnight Eastern time.

* Discussion closes each Sunday midnight as well.

* Weekly questions will be released Monday morning.

* All notes and lectures will be released on Monday.

* All chats will take place Tuesday evening 9-10pm.

Five 3- to 4-page book reviews will be required on the readings, every two weeks.

* May the Best Team Win: Baseball Economics and Public Policy

Due date for paper: February 6

* A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood’s Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports

Due date for paper: February 20

* The Diamond in the Bronx: Yankee Stadium and the Politics of New York

Due date for paper: March 6

* Playing America’s Game: Baseball, Latinos, and the Color Line

Due date for paper: March 20


* The Empire Strikes Out: How Baseball Sold U.S. Foreign Policy and Promoted the American Way Abroad

Due date for paper: April 10