If there is one constant in the world of baseball, from its invention in the 19th century to the present, it must be its inextricable link with beer. The connection is almost Pavlovian: When I watch a baseball game, my mouth tells me it wants a beer. (For someone who watches baseball professionally, this can raise quite the occupational hazard.) I’m not sure what about the game inspires such a yearning. Maybe it’s the spring air, the smell of cut grass, all that Ken Burns business. Maybe it’s the dirt and dust. Maybe it’s the fact that half the stadiums are named after brands of beer. Now that I think about it, it’s probably that.
The connection is no accident, as historian Edward Achorn makes clear in “The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America’s Game.” The book documents the creation of the American Association, a league of ballplayers ostensibly founded to rival the National League but in fact brought into existence almost entirely as a way to evade Puritan liquor laws in order to sell beer. That guy in the bleacher with the T-shirt that says baseball is his favorite beer delivery system? He’s more right than he knows.
The essential founder of the American Association was a man named Chris Von der Ahe, a German grocer and beer-hall owner who lived in St. Louis. He didn’t really understand baseball—though he did love the game—but desperately wanted a way to move product on Sunday afternoons. The National League, led by a persnickety Chicago moralist named William Hulbert, was renowned for banning Sunday baseball, limiting alcohol consumption, keeping ruffian players from its ranks and booting owners who didn’t get on board, even if they owned teams in major cities like New York and Philadelphia. Von der Ahe and his fellow American Association owners (many of whom were beer barons themselves) took advantage of this. Their league would be the ribald troublemaking alternative. … Read More