Warren Goldstein argues that baseball is as much a game of emotions, especially those associated with childhood, as it is a game of facts and figures. One central thesis is that a well-developed history of the game must account for the emotional trajectory as well as provide concrete evidence of the players’s and teams’s achievements contained in the statistics. His goal in Playing for Keeps, as laid out in the Prologue, is to give the reader just such a history, but concentrating on “two decades remembered by no one” because those decades set the stage for the next century of the game’s development.
Those two decades were the 1850s–1870s. Another important part of Goldstein’s argument baseball changed from a “club-based fraternal pastime” primarily concerned with local loyalties to a “substantial commercial undertaking” in which management, income from the “gate,” and the expense of salaries paid to players are all important, standard features.
The thesis could be concerned more generally with his argument about the equal importance of emotion and fact, or it could address his emphasis on those two decades. As he offers ample evidence about both topics, it will be straightforward to find corresponding examples. For instance, the topic of Chapter 2 is “excitement and self-control.” The author looks at the “desired but dangerous” factor of putting on an exciting game but at the same time ensuring that emotions did not run too high for both players and fans. Serious differences of opinion often led to rowdiness. Goldstein convincingly shows that the fact that so many cases occurred led to the formalization of the position of “umpire”—another step in the commercialization and professionalization that he profiles throughout the book.