Bat, Ball & Bible chronicles the collision of moral and social forces in the argument over upholding New York State’s blue laws, meant to restrict social activities and maintain Sunday’s traditional standing as a day of religious observation. Baseball was at the center of this conflict, which led to upheaval in society at a time when New York, especially New York City, already was undergoing rapid changes.
From its inception, baseball, whether professional or amateur, was woven into the fabric of communities across the country and thus played an important social role. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, baseball and the Sunday observance question involved the clash of religious organizations, civil and lobbying groups, and local and state politics. The debate over Sunday observance intensified as other movements, such as temperance and the crusades against boxing and gambling, were beginning to gain momentum. Deep class, racial, religious, and ethnic divisions in New York’s social order contributed to the issue as well.
Bat, Ball & Bible is not solely about baseball; rather, it illuminates one of the earliest instances of a “culture war” whose effects are still being felt today. Reflecting a number of contemporary religious and cultural issues, the book has appeal far beyond baseball.
“Charles DeMotte’s Bat, Ball, & Bible significantly enlarges our understanding of the watershed battle between the national pastime and Sunday blue laws during the early decades of the last century. Deftly contextualizing the social and cultural divisions punctuating the debate over playing baseball on the Christian Sabbath, DeMotte brilliantly illuminates the grassroots struggle in New York State between traditional and emergent values.”—William M. Simons, professor of history, SUNY Oneonta, and director/editor, Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture
“Ball, Bat & Bible illuminates a whole era. The author not only provides a fascinating glimpse into an obscure area of baseball history, but also employs it to illuminate a particular period in American history itself, linking the blue laws of the past with World War I, Prohibition, and the general desperation to force the recreation into conformity with a stern Protestant ethos. Thank God it failed.”—George Grella, professor of English and film studies, University of Rochester
“Bat, Ball & Bible serves up a nuanced and expertly researched analysis of America’s pastime at the intersection of religion, politics, law, commerce, and culture during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. DeMotte adroitly situates titanic historical shifts and the play of countervailing social forces within the rich context of New York life, from the boroughs to the fields and parks of upstate communities.”—Mark Worrell, professor of sociology and anthropology, SUNY Cortland
"Bat, Ball and Bible is a richly detailed analysis of the Sunday baseball debate in New York State. Historians, baseball fans and sports fans in general will relish in DeMotte’s account of the transformation of rigid Sunday restrictions that touched the many levels of the sport. In our current world where work and play collide and box scores appear at our fingertips 24/7, DeMotte reminds us of a time when baseball had to fight its way into the shifting moral and social order of the day."—Lisa R. Neilson, professor of English, Marist College