10 Baseball and the
Search for an American
WILLIAM J. MORGAN
In his fine book, Achieving Our Country, Richard Rorty opines that “the only version of national pride encouraged by American popular culture is a simpleminded militaristic chauvinism.”1 I think Rorty is wrong about this, and baseball is my reason for thinking so.
I say baseball because Americans have long claimed baseball as their national game, despite its unmistakable English pedigree, and because their designs on the game were from the very outset moral in character. In the eyes of many, then, baseball conjured up a moral image of America at its best—a nation of strivers moved not so much by greed and crass self-interest as by a larger vision of excellence, one obtained only by arduous effort, social cooperation, and an abiding sense of fair play. Baseball thus gave America a highly visible moral standard by which to measure itself, a standard much in evidence in the daily lives of its citizens as they gathered around the proverbial water cooler to discuss and debate the plays and decisions of yesterday's game.
But while few people question baseball's grip on our national consciousness—it must also be said that few deny that its hold on us has waned of late—some do question its moral
1 Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard
University Press, 1998), p. 4.