The rebirth of the national pastime after World War II.May 6, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 32 • By COLIN FLEMING
In an American sports world where football is king, the notion of baseball as our country’s national pastime is a quaint one, a sort of nostalgic throwback to a bygone era, like westerns in the 1940s or heroic literature in the century after the Crusades.
Ungoverned by time, with seemingly little urgency to get anything done with haste, baseball is often run down as boring, a sport one turns to when one can’t pass muster on the hardwood or gridiron. A certain foreknowledge factors into baseball’s appeal as well; much hangs in knowing the difference between a 2-1 and 3-1 count, and woe to the observer who doesn’t grasp the salubrious effects of a well-timed hit and run over an ill--chosen moment to attempt a double steal. In short: One needs to know one’s stuff, to a degree, with baseball.
Baseball’s great advantage over its team sports brethren, however, is how readily it lends itself to a timelessness that, while borne in memory, has a knack for becoming perpetually of the present as well. With baseball, the past is ever moving forward in a kind of literary consciousness, a Proustian force that would have given Jay Gatsby pause with how readily memory is able to become something active and influential.
As a result, baseball literature thrives. Abetting the cause is the sport’s ability to dovetail with past iterations of a very American consciousness. In the case of The Victory Season, that consciousness is an especially restive one: that of a country, newly victorious in war, faced with fresh battles of an entirely more insular nature—a nation divided by housing shortages, labor strife, train strikes, rampant black markets, and racism. The consensual salve? Baseball. Back from its war-years malaise, and with its core cadre of stars reassembled after their service, baseball was arguably never more palliative than it was in 1946. What the country needed was some epic baseball theater, and, thankfully, the game delivered.
Robert Weintraub charts the military careers of star hurlers and back-up second sackers, and it is almost incredible to believe that players could so quickly shift their perspective from not getting taken out on the double play to taking out the sniper on a hill—but so it goes, again and again. There are all kinds of gradations of military service, and we see them all—from erstwhile ball-players flying bombing missions to bridge-based engineer work, with occasional time on the side for sandlot games in makeshift fields littered with rocks.
The meat of Weintraub’s narrative, once we get back home, is the National League pennant race. But his thesis—that the 1946 season mattered more than most, with an importance that transcended sport—succeeds on the backs of three men: Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals, Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox, and Jackie Robinson—the man who would break baseball’s color barrier in 1947—of the (minor league) Montreal Royals.
If you think you know Robinson’s story, and you’ve seen his retired number hanging from the outfield façade of your local ballpark, you might want to double-check your sense of what Robinson achieved against Weintraub’s account. Robinson is tested again and again. His racist manager hates him—at first, that is—and while racism is hardly melted away with each base Robinson swipes (his specialty being repeated thefts of home), it is beaten back a little, at least, through a kind of hard-won, grudging respect. Robinson’s manager, Clay Hopper, watches as a friend of his, former major league pitcher Paul Derringer, fires a fastball at Robinson’s head on two successive at-bats—leading, on both occasions, to Robinson picking himself up and drilling a couple of hits. Weintraub’s laconic reporting of the aftermath has a novelistic touch: “After the game, Derringer approached Hopper. ‘He’ll do,’ was all he said.”
Robinson’s story here is as much a testament to marriage as it is to the civil rights movement or the human capacity to endure. As Weintraub states, Rachel Robinson was every bit the hero her husband was, and while one can’t say with any certainty that Robinson would not have succeeded without her, there’s little doubt that the challenge would have been more formidable were he on his own.
Stan Musial, 1920-2013.Feb 4, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 20 • By GARY SCHMITT
If you lived in the decade following World War II in the American Southwest or a goodly portion of the South and were a baseball fan, there is a good chance you were a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. And if you were a Cardinals fan during this period, you almost certainly thought that Stan “the Man” Musial was the era’s greatest player—and you would have been right.
2:24 PM, Oct 22, 2012 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
What to watch tonight? There is the debate, of course, upon which hangs the fate of the nation if not the world. That's important. And, then, there is the seventh game of the National League playoffs, with the winner going to the World Series. And, on Monday Night Football we have the Chicago Bears vs. the Detroit Lions, a tough divisional match-up.
9:45 PM, Oct 17, 2012 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
When The Decline and Fall of the American Republic is written centuries hence, the date October 17, 2012, will occupy a prominent place in the narrative. On this day, a playoff game between the Yankees and the Tigers in Detroit was called not because of rain, but because of ... the threat of rain. Just as today's "liberalism has become hardly more than a trembling in the presence of illiberalism," so, in Obama's America, Major League Baseball cancels games not because of rain but because of trembling in the presence of the threat of rain.
Brian Doyle: The Yankees’ 1978 World Series hero and Zionist baseball pioneer3:31 PM, Oct 16, 2012 • By LEE SMITH
It couldn’t look darker for the Yankees with the American League Championship Series on the line. Down two games to none, they head into Detroit tonight to face stopper Justin Verlander (17-8 record in the regular season and a 2.64 ERA). The Tigers’ ace breezed through the Oakland A’s in the first round of the playoffs, striking out 22 over the course of his two wins with an ERA of 0.56. Worse yet, the Yankees are without their best player, Derek Jeter (.316 BA, 15 HRs, 58 RBIs), who broke his left ankle Saturday night ranging for a grounder up the middle.
11:07 PM, Oct 11, 2012 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Joe Biden was aggressive, condescending, and shamelessly demagogic. Paul Ryan was earnest, youthful, and perhaps a bit over-scripted. The upshot was a vice presidential debate that was occasionally entertaining for partisans on both sides, but was mostly unenlightening. Ultimately, I suspect, it will prove inconsequential. It's hard to believe it will change any votes, or give either side momentum.
4:09 PM, Oct 3, 2012 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Teddy Roosevelt finally won the Presidents Race at the Washington Nationals' final game of the regular season Wednesday. Previously, Teddy (rather, a costumed version of the 26th president) had never won since the Nationals first came to D.C. in 2005. But in the middle of the fourth inning, the Republican from New York beat out fellow presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln for his first victory in over 7 years.
Memories of Strat-O-Matic baseball Sep 3, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 47 • By ALAN DAVISON and JOSEPH BOTTUM
He kept a diary—a friend, a boy we knew when we were young, all those years ago—and at the end of most entries he would assign himself a line from a baseball box score, defining each day as though it were part of some classic pennant race against . . . well, who knows? The general malevolence of the universe, maybe, or the daunting future and his own adolescent doubts, glaring down at him from the pitcher’s mound.
10:06 AM, Jul 11, 2012 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
Despite its Luddite tendencies, The Scrapbook is sufficiently au courant to be aware that many of its readers are no longer packing canvas bags of paperbacks for their summer vacations but loading up their e-readers of choice.
5:30 PM, Jul 10, 2012 • By LEE SMITH
During Major League Baseball’s All-Star game Home Run Derby last night, hometown Kansas City fans booed Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano with such gusto one could be forgiven for supposing there’s still a lively rivalry between the New York and Kansas City franchises—like there was back in the 70s and 80s. Or maybe after almost 29 years Royals fans just haven’t forgotten the pine-tar incident.