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Thursday, September 27, 2012
Geek obsession: Baseball literature
Why it’s daunting: When thinking about baseball, fans often quote writer-historian Jacques Barzun, from his 1954 essay collection God’s Country And Mine: “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and reality of the game.” Baseball may no longer be America’s pastime—that mantle has been passed in all but name to the financial juggernaut of football—but for American writers, no sport is as heavily romanticized. Baseball offers the patriotic symbiosis of a pastoral playground within an urban setting, where generations can come together and watch the purest corporate distillation of a game played, packaged, and televised from Little League up to the major leagues.
Baseball can be used to tell a specific version of American history over the past 150 years, with heavy mythologizing of Abner Doubleday, Civil War-era games among soldiers, segregation in the game, and the tight control owners held over players’ contracts until the players won the right to free agency in the 1970s. Stories about baseball tackle economic disparity, race relations, patriotism, religion, and the proverbial underdog, from 1888’s “Casey At The Bat” through Field Of Dreams to today. As for Barzun, he turned away from the game a few years ago, losing interest due to escalating commercialization and greed, yet another parallel to similar developments in other sectors of American economics and culture.
Though there are plenty of real-life stories about baseball encapsulated in books—Eight Men Out and Moneyball, to begin a list that could go on forever—this column provides an introduction to works of fiction set in the world of baseball, from the beginnings of the game to the modern era, from barnstorming to the majors.
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