Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Baseball will not "desecrate" Shockoe Bottom

Early in the debate over whether a new baseball stadium should be built, the pro-stadium side of the debate appeared to make a critical concession to the anti-stadium side of the debate. The anti-stadium protesters asserted vigorously that a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom would somehow "desecrate" some sort of "hallowed" ground that is supposed to exist where the proposed stadium would be built. This assertion needs to be challenged: baseball, whatever else it might do, will not "desecrate" any site where a stadium might be built.

Set aside for the moment that the center of Richmond's slave trade was not in the proposed stadium's footprint. Richmond's slave trading business was centered near the intersections of Franklin and Main Streets with 15th Street, some distance to the west of the proposed stadium. Even the most ardent opponents of the "desecrating" of Shockoe Bottom by baseball have only managed to identify a single slave trading site within the footprint of the proposed stadium: the slave jail of Goodwin & Templeman on 17th Street between Grace and Broad Streets.

As slave traders went, Goodwin & Templeman were fairly small time. Nothing remains above ground at the site of their slave jail, though one of their account books from 1849-1851 has survived. This site should definitely be subjected to a thorough archeological examination prior to construction, but it is highly unlikely that anything of significance will be found.

The larger question I want to address is this: is there anything about the game of baseball that is sacrilegious or likely in any way to "desecrate" the land where it is played? "Desecration" is a pretty strong word, and is typically associated with the destruction of a consecrated building, like a church or a synagogue. The Goodwin & Templeman site isn't a church or a synagogue—it's a parking lot. Is parking a car somewhere more or less of a "desecration" then playing baseball on a site? Right now I can take my car and go park on the site of Goodwin & Templeman, but you're going to tell me that I can't play baseball there?

What exactly is it about baseball that makes it so terrible? Baseball is America's national pastime. In fact, it is the national pastime of several nations. I wonder if opponents to a stadium in Shockoe Bottom ever stopped wonder how it was that baseball became the national pastime, because it's kind of an ironic story when you consider it.

Baseball became our national pastime during the American Civil War. Before the war it was a regional game played mostly in New York state and some surrounding areas. The Civil War moved large numbers of New York troops around the United States and mixed them with soldiers from other states. The game spread through the Union Army and was even adopted by Southerners.

Baseball was the game played by the men who put an end to slavery. About 365,000 Union soldiers died during the war from injuries received in battle and diseases in camp. That's something like 1.6 or 1.7 percent of the North's pre-war population. Can you imagine today a war that took a similar percentage toll on the United States' current population? It would be like losing a little bit more than five million Americans.

In his second inaugural, President Abraham Lincoln had this to say:
Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
The young men who fought and died to preserve the Union and rid it of slavery relaxed in their off time by playing baseball. It's how the game became our national pastime. Men from all over the United States were exposed to the game as an indirect consequence of the American Civil War. When they went home, or when they went west, they took the game with them.

Since the Civil War, baseball has become for many a kind of secular religion. In the movie Bull Durham, Walt Whitman is quoted, perhaps apocryphally, as having said:
"I see great things in baseball, It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism, tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set, repair those losses and be a blessing to us."
Baseball is our national pastime. A baseball game is regarded as a significant enough event to merit the playing of our national anthem. "Desecration"? No, I think not.
People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. Oh . . . people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.” -- W.P. Kinsella, Shoeless Joe


Phil Wilayto said...

I think the author of this piece misses the point. Yes, some Union soldiers played baseball. But more of them chewed tobacco. It would be more correct to say that the men who ended slavey (actually, it was the self-emanciaption of those who were held in slavery, but I understand we are not focusing on facts here) chewed tobacco. So I think that, instead of a baseball stadium, what Mr. H. Louis Salomonsky and his frontman Mayor Jones should be proposing is a big brass spittoon. I'm sure all the young Southern gentlemen with their little bow ties would love to stand around and spit on the vey spot where Solomon Northup was held. If criticized, they could explain that they were really spitting on the institution of slavery. That would make at least as much sense as the drivel represented by this article.

Staff said...

So, Mr. Wilayto, I take it you advocate razing a large section of downtown Richmond. The proposed stadium's foot print has a single verified slave site, under a parking lot. Just a few blocks to the south and west there are dozens of slave trading sites with buildings sitting on top of them. One of those buildings houses a strip club. We know that female slaves were often forced to strip before they were sold, so the presence of "Rouge" on a slave trading site is particularly egregious--yet you say nothing.

Your position on the proposed baseball is inconsistent with your actions towards every other slave trading site in Richmond, and it makes me think that your real motivation is just to stick it to the developers you seem to hate so much. The presence of a slave site on the foot print of the proposed stadium is clearly just a pretext.

The entire state of Virginia was a slave site. Slaves walked on every part of this state. Are you going to argue that we can't build anything anywhere? Your position is preposterous and your threat to wage a guerrilla war is terroristic.