Past Time: Baseball as History

Past Time: Baseball as History

Past Time: Baseball as History

Past Time: Baseball as History

Synopsis

Few writers know more about baseball's role in American life than Jules Tygiel. In Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy, Tygiel penned a classic work, a landmark book that towers above most writing about the sport. Now he ranges across the last century and a half in an intriguing look at baseball as history, and history as reflected in baseball. In Past Time, Tygiel gives us a seat behind home plate, where we catch the ongoing interplay of baseball and American society. We begin in New York in the 1850s, where pre-Civil War nationalism shaped the emergence of a "national pastime." We witness the true birth of modern baseball with the development of its elaborate statistics--the brainchild of English-born reformer, Henry Chadwick. Chadwick, Tygiel writes, created the sport's "historical essence" and even imparted a moral dimension to the game with his concepts of "errors" and "unearned" runs. Tygiel offers equally insightful looks at the role of rags-to-riches player-owners in the formation of the upstart American League and he describes the complex struggle to establish African-American baseball in a segregated world. He also examines baseball during the Great Depression (when Branch Rickey and Larry MacPhail saved the game by perfecting the farm system, night baseball, and radio broadcasts), the ironies of Bobby Thomson's immortal "shot heard 'round the world," the rapid relocation of franchises in the 1950s and 1960s, and the emergence of rotisserie leagues and fantasy camps in the 1980s. In Past Time, Jules Tygiel provides baseball history with a difference. Instead of a pitch-by-pitch account of great games, in this groundbreaking book, the field is American history and baseball itself is the star.

Excerpt

This is a collection of essays about American history. I say that lest this be mistaken for a book about baseball. This would be a natural misconception. Baseball, after all, appears in its title. Each of its chapters revolves around baseball. The purpose of this book, however, is not to examine developments or events in the sport, but rather changes occurring in American society. The narratives rarely venture onto the field but concern themselves more with the broader baseball experience: how fans received and processed their baseball information; how they witnessed the games; what baseball symbolized in different eras; and how each generation reinvented the national pastime to fit its own material reality and ideological perceptions.

Many historians will recognize the subtitle, Baseball as History, as a play on Warren Susman's seminal collection of essays, Culture as History. "Each age has its special words, its own vocabulary, its own set of meanings, its particular symbolic order," wrote Susman. "A careful study of the conventions, the unassuming everyday acts, the rhetorical devices in speech and song, the unconscious patterns of behavior, all help to uncover ... those fundamental assumptions that such cultures share."

Baseball, a constant in American life since the I850s, reveals much about these "fundamental assumptions." I do not subscribe to Jacques Barzun's unfortunate and oft-quoted adage, "Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball." Remarkably, people with a total ignorance of baseball have written many fine books on American society and culture. Nor do I wish to over-intellectualize the game, ascribing hypo-

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