Academic journal article Nine

Ahab in the Batter's Box

Academic journal article Nine

Ahab in the Batter's Box

Article excerpt

Certainly unlike any sport, perhaps even unlike any other corner of popular culture, baseball communicates in numbers. (1) We identify players not simply by name but by associated numbers--be they worn on a player's back or accumulated during the course of a game or career. It's not a matter of math but emotion. While the numbers 3, 4, and 5 mean the world to a New York Yankees fan, they will never add up to 6 for a St. Louis Cardinals fan. (2) When reviewing a season or career, the game pauses for significant round numbers, symbolic barriers of greatness--20 and 300, 50 and 500, 200 and 3,000. These round numbers may not be destinations, only mileposts on the path to greater, although admittedly not as beautiful, numbers--be they iconic (Joe DiMaggio and 56) or controversial (Barry Bonds and 762). They give us pause because, as humans, we must take notice.3 This paper explores one of baseball's great round numbers--4,000--thirty years later, and it also looks into what factors went into the virtual erasing of Pete Rose's 4,000th career hit and, in turn, tenure from Montreal Expos franchise history.

Reaching the all-time record was not inevitable. In 1984, an aging Rose was running on fumes; and as few teams were in the market for a sideshow, he was slipping through the cracks. If not for the Expos, he may not have played that season, which means, given less than three years of career left (only 312 career games for Rose remained), Cobb's record would have stood. Simply stated, Rose would not have achieved that mark without Montreal taking a chance on him--ultimately a failed one for the team. Despite that, little academic or journalistic discussion exists on that historic day or, larger still, Rose's brief but important tenure with the team. At a minimum, baseball should provide breadcrumbs for spotty memories to follow back in time. When we lose or disregard a piece, it degrades the overall story.

Members of the baseball community participate in many activities designed to actively remember and reconstruct the past. Players (3) jersey numbers are retired and "turn-back-the-clock" games are held. Teams honor highly revered players by erecting statues of them in or around ballparks. Players will often wear a patch on their uniform to publicly recognize and honor a teammate who has recently passed away. Like individuals in other institutionalized fields of cultural production, those who comprise the "baseball world" participate in rituals, subscribe to magazines and belong to organizations dedicated to the game's history. (4)

Expos lore is different from that of the Yankees or Dodgers, teams focused on a rich history of success, tradition, and larger-than-life superstars. The Expos' short history and, particularly, inglorious end have magnified every aspect of the organization's past. Just look to Marc Robitaille and Jacques Doucet's two-volume, 1,200-page history of the Expos, Il etait une fois les Expos, as an example of its history's exquisite excess. For comparison, a recently released four hundredth-anniversary edition of the King James Bible has only 1,510 pages.

Despite its baseball significance, Rose's tenure on Pierre de Coubertin Avenue was not only frequently ridiculed at the time by media--who chose to view it as a footnote, at best, and a management stunt, at worst--but it has been all but forgotten by historians today. "Who can forget that Pete Rose passed through Montreal in 1984 on his way to baseball notoriety?" wrote Danny Gallagher and Bill Young in their 300-page love letter to the organization, Remembering the Montreal Expos. (5)

My answer: seemingly everyone.

When discussion in this paper depends on primary sources, I center my case on the reporting of the Montreal Gazette and La Presse, between the months of January and August 1984, using news stories and opinion pieces (columns and cartoons) from the news and sports sections as well as photographs and page design--all of which combine to show how those in the moment saw Rose and his 4,000th hit. …

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