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