In June of 1870, The Harrisburg Topic editorialized that Americans were the “least practical” people in the world. Why? Because they are the “easiest led away in admiration of affairs that have ‘nothing in them,’ that are meretricious, silly, even foolish.“ What was leading them away was baseball.
“We are led to these remarks by the returning of base ball fever…If a number of genteel idlers organize a base ball club, and engage with other clubs in rivalries which have no meaning, it is expected that business should be at once suspended, that the telegraph and the newspapers should yield all their facilities to spread before the public a result which does not prove anything.
“The best baseball players in the world are men who never did an honest day’s labor in their lives, yet such fellows will fry what little brains they have, in the heat of a summer solstice, competing with bat and ball for a superiority which does not add a feature to society’s good, physical powers of usefulness or moral dignity. But it is fashionable. That’s enough.
”The men or man who does an honest day’s work, where genius and art and mechanism contribute to the wealth and glory of the land, are not made half as reputable by the telegraph and the press as is a baseball club.”
The Topic did acknowledge that there was one thing as bad as baseball—the playing of croquet.
“We frequently see young ladies displaying great muscular force in a game of croquet, who would swoon at the base invitation to sweep a parlor carpet or prepare the vegetables for dinner.”
Not only was the interest in baseball “a ridiculous display of petty vanities “on the part of the public, but it was enabled by the nation’s newspapers who the paper said should be focused on “intelligence of a more useful character than that of reports of baseball contests.”
And, said the paper, the greatest evil was the “criminal features” of baseball.
“Whenever a great game is played, the sporting men and gamblers make it the means of plying their trade, until base ball clubs are used by gamblers to rob the public, one club allowing the other to be victorious, that the gamblers may be enabled to fleece their victims. Part of the money goes for paying expenses of the clubs in drinking and gluttony.
‘It is also a fact that sometimes those who are called expert players are the mere hirelings of rich men, who use them to win or lose a game as their interests may demand. From this, it will at once be seen that what is called our national sport is only a degradation—a gamester’s pursuit—outraging athletic exercise and insulting to the good manners of intelligent people.”
The Harrisburg Topic went out of business two months after the anti-baseball diatribe.