A People's History of Baseball

A special Labor Day weekend book excerpt
Share |
A People's History of Baseball

Courtesy of University of Illinois Press

Mitchell Nathanson's A People's History of Baseball is a rewarding detour from the usual sepia dad-whispering of diamond history. Nathanson, a legal scholar, looks at what he calls "counter-stories" from baseball's past and present to see how the simple myths of the game often mask power struggles and politics. After digging the excerpt, we have a bonus Q&A with Nathanson for your Labor Day embiggenment. Here's an excerpt from Chapter Five: "Wait Till Next Year" and the Denial of History.

Despite reality, which necessarily must conclude that underdogs have a less than equal chance of emerging victorious (if they did not, they would be favorites), many Americans somehow believe otherwise. This delusion allows us to preach high-mindedly but to remain disengaged from the struggle—for in our minds the downtrodden will emerge victorious on their own, without the need of aid. This mindset is consistent with American actions, as opposed to the verbal gymnastics used to nevertheless equate “American” values with support for the truly disadvantaged. In sports, the American penchant of rooting for the underdog really has more to do with rooting for the favorite in the mind’s eye—reality be damned. In life, traditional American attitudes toward disadvantaged groups (ones defined by an absence of the type of “looming success” that pervades the American definition of “underdog”) show little sympathy or empathy for actual victims of social injustice—Native and African Americans, immigrants, and women, to name but a few such groups. All of the perceived “American” values somehow fall by the wayside in the face of true disadvantage. It is therefore not surprising that the American definition of “underdog” does not extend far beyond the sports arena. In an athletic contest, we can sit passively in the stands holding firm to our stated beliefs without concern that we will be called upon to act on them. Once the game ends, however, and our beliefs have consequences, we are more likely to shy away from them.

In the end, it is not the underdog after all that Americans cherish. It is instead the optimism to believe that the underdog will win despite reasonable, concrete evidence to the contrary. Returning to the Australians for a moment, it becomes clear that besides a shared attraction to the term, Americans and Australians actually have very little in common when it comes to the national ethos supporting underdogs. Perhaps Americans are unique when it comes to our support for underdogs, but not in the way we normally assume. What may be unique about us (or at least unusual) is not our affection for the term but our delusion fueled by unwarranted optimism that underdogs will emerge victorious more often than not, even though by definition, they will not. It is this unwarranted optimism that, as it turns out, opens the door for what we would otherwise conclude are some very “un-American” behaviors by those claiming precisely the opposite allegiance.

For more than a century, unwarranted, irrational optimism has been seen by some of its critics and most ardent supporters alike as a diversionary device used to great effect to preserve the status quo and fend off change: the heroic stories of underdogs (from Horatio Alger’s tales onward) being fodder used to present the facade of overcoming even the most dire of situations, which in the process diverts attention from the world as it actually exists. With each underdog that emerges victorious, the focus remains on the extraordinary individual who accomplished the feat rather than on the situation that created the imbalance that necessitated the superhuman acts to surmount it. The psychologist and philosopher William James, although considered a “hero” of what would come to be known as the “positive thinking movement,” recognized as much a century ago when he noted that unfettered optimism and happiness presented potential dangers, given that they require “blindness and insensibility to opposing facts.” Although James did not conclude that such happiness was itself a sickness (indeed he believed it to be the socially desired state), the historian Donald Meyer noted that it led to a vulnerability to sickness if the achievement of a state of perpetual bliss became one’s overarching priority. In this way, the shutting out of opposing information and facts was, in James’s view, “wait ’til next year” and the denial of history under certain conditions “quasi-pathological”—although in his view this was not necessarily a bad thing. Several decades later Roth, a critic of the movement, would sound a similar, although more desolate, theme in The Great American Novel when his protagonist considered the magical pull of the word “America” and all it connotes: “America? … [W]hat’s America to you? Or to me? Or to those tens of thousands up in the stands? It’s just a word they use to keep your nose to the grindstone and your toes to the line. America is the opiate of the people …”

Sports, particularly baseball as well as the popular depiction of baseball as America, have helped to grease the wheels of the status quo through tales of triumphant underdogs to the point where that seventy-five-yearold Cubs fan could believe from the stands at Wrigley that this, irrespective of the last hundred, was the year his Cubbies were finally going to put it all together. This mindset, “quasi-pathological” at a minimum, is at its essence quintessentially American. Although the unquestioning devotion, the “blindness and insensibility to opposing facts,” ironically increases the likelihood of this fan’s perpetual misery (after all, there is little incentive for real change to occur if hope and optimism remain regardless of results), he is supportive nevertheless, for to abandon hope is contrary to the national character.

As it turns out, it is by design that this fan, along with countless others, feels this way and continues to look for roses—at the ballpark and, more importantly and with greater consequences, elsewhere—where there are only thorns. For as Americans we are the product of decades’ worth of rhetoric aimed directly at us with the goal of encouraging us to resign ourselves to the status quo and ignore our feelings of unease over our own place within the existing social structure; to give in and accept our fate rather than challenge a social and economic hierarchy where the overwhelming majority of wealth, power, and benefits reside with an ever-shrinking few. This rhetoric is evidenced within the baseball creed and has its roots in the societal upheaval caused by the rapid industrialization of America during the last half of the nineteenth century. The positive thinking movement would find a natural ally in baseball very early on as it attempted to calm the fears of those who had the means, numbers, and ability to overthrow the status quo if something was not done quickly.

Copyright 2012 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Used with permission of the University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be reprinted, photocopied, posted online or distributed in any way without the written permission of the copyright holder.


Share |

Comments

I am always searching online for articles that can help me. There is obviously a lot to know about this. I think you made some good points in Features also. Keep working, great job ! towels for salons and spa

I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.audio engine

Easily, the article is actually the best topic on this registry related issue. I fit in with your conclusions and will eagerly look forward to your next updates. Just saying thanks will not just be sufficient, for the fantasti c lucidity in your writing. I will instantly grab your rss feed to stay informed of any updates.kettlebell workout

I ‘d mention that most of us visitors are really endowed to exist in a fabulous place with very many wonderful individuals with very helpful things. Satılık müzik seti

Such a very useful article. Very interesting to read this article.I would like to thank you for the efforts you had made for writing this awesome article. Improve Your Vertical Jumping

The web site is lovingly serviced and saved as much as date. So it should be, thanks for sharing this with us. re max emlak

I love your blog, I recommend to all people who love this kind of post to visit this site, I recommend it.release date

I want you to thank for your time of this wonderful read!!! I definately enjoy every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff of your blog a must read blog!!!!Diagnostic Services

This is the best revenue sharing program out today but it’s important that you join the right team if you want to see the kind of success that you deserve.
The reason why you are searching for Digital Ads Pay online is because this program is literally BLOWING UP!!!!!!! and maybe someone told you to check it out.
By linking up with the right team and sponsor, you can see results that you never thought were possible.
I have been working online for the past 5 months now and know exactly what it takes to be successful in this type of company.
By joining my team I will reveal to you the exact strategies I use to make consistent money online and how DAPS could really supplement your current income.
How would an extra $100, $300, $500, $1,000 a month help you and your family out?????????'
It’s my mission to help as many people succeed with DAPS as I possibly can.Easy Money
But I am looking for people who are willing to learn, take massive action and never give up.
But it’s important that you act quick as this offer will not be available for long…
I highly recommend signing up right now.
Digital Ads Pays is a company that is here to stay and will help change the lives of so many people.By being a part of my team, you will see exactly how we will take DAPS to the very top!

What a really awesome post this is. Truly, one of the best posts I've ever witnessed to see in my whole life. Wow, just keep it up.usaa home and auto insurance

I don’t have the time at the moment to fully read your site but I have bookmarked it and also add your RSS feeds. I will be back in a day or two. thanks for a great site.inventory management program

Through this post, I know that your good knowledge in playing with all the pieces was very helpful. I notify that this is the first place where I find issues I've been searching for. You have a clever yet attractive way of writing.Cutting Boards

I was just browsing through the internet looking for some information and came across your blog. I am impressed by the information that you have on this blog. It shows how well you understand this subject. Bookmarked this page, will come back for more.http://travelagencies-aus.com

Easily, the article is actually the best topic on this registry related issue. I fit in with your conclusions and will eagerly look forward to your next updates. Just saying thanks will not just be sufficient, for the fantasti c lucidity in your writing. I will instantly grab your rss feed to stay informed of any updates.http://thedirectoryofdentists.com

I am always searching online for articles that can help me. There is obviously a lot to know about this. I think you made some good points in Features also. Keep working, great job ! לימוזינה לחתונה

This really is this kind of a awesome resource that you're offering and you give it away for totally free. I take pleasure in seeing sites that realize the value of supplying a prime resource for absolutely free. I truly loved reading your post.pdf review

Excellent Blog! I would like to thank for the efforts you have made in writing this post. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. I wanted to thank you for this websites! Thanks for sharing. Great websites! https://www.rebelmouse.com

I have express a few of the articles on your website now, and I really like your style of blogging. I added it to my favorite’s blog site list and will be checking back soon…samsung galaxy s6 manual

I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. In fact your creative writing abilities has inspired me to start my own BlogEngine blog now. Really the blogging is spreading its wings rapidly. Your write up is a fine example of it.penis bible free

Thank you so much for providing an experience and take on something I never thought I would find anywhere else.klicken Sie auf diesen Link

wow, great, I was wondering how to cure acne naturally. and found your site by google, learned a lot, now i’m a bit clear. I’ve bookmark your site and also add rss. keep us updated.local sign companies

Truly, this article is really one of the very best in the history of articles. I am a antique ’Article’ collector and I sometimes read some new articles if I find them interesting. And I found this one pretty fascinating and it should go into my collection. Very good work!cbse 12th results 2015

Great tips and very easy to understand. This will definitely be very useful for me when I get a chance to start my blog.listen african radio

This is also a very good post which I really enjoyed reading. It is not every day that I have the possibility to see something like this.. best energy saving product

First You got a great blog .I will be interested in more similar topics. i see you got really very useful topics, i will be always checking your blog thanks. cambogia garcinia dr oz

Three are usually cheap Ralph Lauren available for sale each and every time you wish to buy. They're produced by the very best degree developers who will be distinguished for your polo dress creating. You'll find polo Ron Lauren inside exclusive array which include particular classes for men, women.teaterdating.com

I was very pleased to find this site.I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.optifine hd 1.8.4

Two full thumbs up for this magneficent article of yours. I've really enjoyed reading this article today and I think this might be one of the best article that I've read yet. Please, keep this work going on in the same quality.Irctc Login

Truly, this article is really one of the very best in the history of articles. I am a antique ’Article’ collector and I sometimes read some new articles if I find them interesting. And I found this one pretty fascinating and it should go into my collection. Very good work! Doctor rating

Regular visits listed here are the easiest method to appreciate your energy, which is why why I am going to the website everyday, searching for new, interesting info. Many, thank you!hcg diet reviews

The worst part of it was that the software only worked intermittantly and the data wasn’t accurate. You obviously can’t confront anyone about what you have discovered if the information isn’t right.Cleaning services Sydney

I have express a few of the articles on your website now, and I really like your style of blogging. I added it to my favorite’s blog site list and will be checking back soon…http://www.rebelmouse.com

This is my first time i visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the leisure here! Keep up the good work. I have been meaning to write something like this on my website and you have given me an idea.graphic design services Chicago

After reading your article I was amazed. I know that you explain it very well. And I hope that other readers will also experience how I feel after reading your article. I feel very grateful that I read this. It is very helpful and very informative and I really learned a lot from it. mold removal toronto cost

I found Hubwit as a transparent s ite, a social hub which is a conglomerate of Buyers and Sellers who are ready to offer online digital consultancy at decent cost.mold removal

I most likely appreciating each and every bit of it. It is an incredible site and decent impart. I need to much obliged. Great employment! You all do an incredible blog, and have some extraordinary substance. Keep doing awesome.the best nerf guns

Thanks for the nice blog. It was very useful for me. I'm happy I found this blog. Thank you for sharing with us,I too always learn something new from your post.visit choleslorevealed.com for high cholesterol problems

A very awesome blog post. We are really grateful for your blog post. combat, law enforcement You will find a lot of approaches after visiting your post. I was exactly searching for. Thanks for such post and please keep it up. Great work.smoothies for diabetics

Great tips and very easy to understand. This will definitely be very useful for me when I get a chance to start my blog.Honeyfund Registry

This is also a very good post which I really enjoyed reading. It is not every day that I have the possibility to see something like this.. Witch Hazel For Acne

Truly, this article is really one of the very best in the history of articles. I am a antique ’Article’ collector and I sometimes read some new articles if I find them interesting. And I found this one pretty fascinating and it should go into my collection. Very good work!gfas v2 download

Three are usually cheap Ralph Lauren available for sale each and every time you wish to buy. They're produced by the very best degree developers who will be distinguished for your polo dress creating. You'll find polo Ron Lauren inside exclusive array which include particular classes for men, women.cheap swimming pool for sale

Writing with style and getting good compliments on the article is quite hard, to be honest.But you've done it so calmly and with so cool feeling and you've nailed the job. This article is possessed with style and I am giving good compliment. Best!txb 2.0 pdf

Oh my goodness! Awesome article dude! Thank you, However I am encountering issues with your RSS. I don’t understand why I am unable to join it. Is there anybody getting identical RSS issues? Anyone that knows the answer can you kindly respond? Thanks!!https://techcorner101.wordpress.com/

I want you to thank for your time of this wonderful read!!! I definately enjoy every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff of your blog a must read blog!!!!the terrace ec in punggol

electronic cigarette Hi! This notify couldn't be written some advance! Lesson this enter prompts me of my previous bedroom join! He always kept chatting about this. I pleasure front this usher to him. Fairly indisputable he volition own a propitious understand.

Once I thought about things like: why such information is for free here? Because when you write a book then at least on selling a book you get a percentage. Thank you and good luck on informing people more about it…make money online

So luck to come across your excellent blog. Your blog brings me a great deal of fun.. Good luck with the site.gratis-Download