How José Bautista’s bat flip saved baseball

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“A certain set of values”

At the time MLB was founded, around the turn of the 20th century, the United States was in the process of taking up a new position of prominence on the global stage. As Europe’s traditional powers declined, the US extended its sphere of influence over Latin American countries like Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, as well as far-off locales like Hawaii and the Philippines.

As this took place, the game of baseball became an explicit and intentional tool for Americanizing foreign populations within new US territories, “more than merely entertainment,” as writer and historian Roberto José Andrade Franco put it, rather, a method to impose “a certain set of values” laid down by the United States’ prevailing WASP culture. This was doubly true back at home, where baseball was used to assimilate new immigrants to the US into the same standards.

In either case, baseball was intended to teach a set of values designated by the dominant American culture at the time. From the very beginning, the idea of ‘the right way to play the game’ was constructed as a tool of assimilation, an explicit way to push a narrow view of social order as defined by a 19th-century power structure.

Through the history of Major League Baseball, this idea persisted, through integration and unionization, through Reggie Jackson’s mustache and Ken Griffey Jr.’s backwards cap; even as the United States itself changed around the game, with shifting demographics and news ways of thinking increasingly challenging arbitrary traditions, baseball remained resolutely tied to an ever more distant past.