League and American Conflict in
Mark Winegardner’s The Veracruz Blues
Richard Slotkin defines myths as “stories, drawn from history, that have acquired through usage over several generations a symbolizing function that is central to the cultural functioning of a society that produces them” (16). Scholars have long identified a number of seminal myths in American culture: the myth of the American frontier, the myth of the American Adam, and the myth of the American dream among them. For Americans, the structures and rhythms of baseball have always been uniquely aligned with the spirit of American myth. According to David McGimpsey, Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti saw baseball as “the perfect meritocratic form where essentially virtuous Americans can assert their freedom in an irreplaceable expression of epluribus unum” (28). This belief is part of the lore of baseball. Struggling for the good of the team, but in individual contests, batter against pitcher, is viewed as the perfect statement of an egalitarian meritocracy. That this struggle traditionally takes place on a baseball field, a pastoral landscape that is not urban yet not an untouched natural landscape, engages the myth of the American frontier, another seminal myth of the United States.
Mark Winegardner, in his 1996 novel The Veracruz Blues, recognizes this relationship between baseball and American culture. In fact, the novel’s first sentence states that baseball and America “are of course mirror and lamp” (1). Baseball, in essence, reflects and further illuminates the patterns of American society. Myth, however, is more complex than it first appears. National myth is a construction of the dominant ideology; and while myth can have a unifying effect on disparate peoples, it can also work hegemonically, “affirming as good the distribution of authority and power that ideology rationalizes” (Slotkin 19).
Winegardner establishes the metaphoric relationship between baseball and American culture as a way of problematizing the ideological nature of American myth. His fictional account of the 1946 “raid” of the Major Leagues by Jorge Pasquel’s Mexican League brings issues of race and class to bear