The book I: “The Politics of Baseball: Essays on the Pasttime and Power at Home and Abroad”
The author: Edited by Ron Briley
The vital stats: McFarland, 256 pages, $39.95
Find it: On Amazon.com (linked here)
The book II: “The Empire Strikes Out: How Baseball Sold U.S. Foreign Policy and Promoted the American Way Abroad”
The author: Robert Elias
The vital stats: The New Press, 448 pages, $27.95
Find it: On Amazon.com (linked here)
The pitch: Steve Garvey (R-Calif.) hasn’t happened, and probably won’t any time soon. But there was a time when it seemed almost part of his All-American destiny.
Scandals in his personal life with childs out of wedlock essentially derailed any kind of political pursuit for the former Dodgers All-Star first baseman, but there was no doubt that a life in public service was one of his career goals when he retired in the late ’80s.
Maybe if he were to read the first chapter in the Briley-edited “The Politics of Baseball,” a piece entitled “Baseball and Ballots: Players and Politicians” by John A. Tures, Garvey might reconsider.
Tures points out that, after crunching the numbers, “baseball players do much better on Election Day than a random sample of politicians with no connection to the sport.” And there’s room — the number of baseball-turned-politicians are on the decline, despite the most recent successes of former Texas Rangers owner George H.W. Bush (the 43rd president) and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning (senator from Kentucky).
Briley, a long-time history teacher at a prep school in Albuquerque, has amassed 16 essays that, while sometimes stuffy, have the right stuff for brain stimulation while delving into sometimes taboo subjects like race relations, reserve clauses, international relations and patroitism. In his introduction, Briley adds in his intro that these should “encourage further research on baseball and fundamental questions on power and authority.”
The works that jumped out here:
== Scott D. Peterson looks at how the work of Lester Rodney, working for the Communist paper The Daily Worker in 1937, compared to the main-stream writing of his day and created eventual change, especially with integration, because he was able to write from a position of something as an outsider. (It should also inspire finding the 2003 bio on Rodney by Irwin Silber “Press Box Red.”)
== Raymond Schuck’s piece about how former presidental candidate Bob Dole’s reference during the 1996 election to Hideo Nomo’s no-hitter for the “Brooklyn Dodgers” was spun either as a sign that he was out-of-touch with today’s game and that he was trying to go back to the good-old-days.
== N. Jeremi Duru recounts “Sam Jethroe’s Last Hit,” which should inspire some historian to write an entire book about this former African-American player for the Boston Red Sox.
== Michael L. Buterworth points out in “Major League Baseball, Welcome Back Veterans, and the Rhetoric of ‘Support the Troops’” how baseball was part of the agenda for leverage to push the so-called War on Terror.
== And Robert Elias, exploring how baseball in Nicaraguan was once part of the American dream, points out that the Dodgers’ Vicente Padilla is one of just two MLB players from that country.
Meanwhile, Elias, a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco who teaches a course on “Law, Politics and the National Pasttime,” focuses more on how baseball and international relations work together in his book that also promotes deep thought.
Exporting “The American Way” is the focus of Elias’ research on a game that imports its baseballs from Haiti, it uniforms from China and many of its players now from Japan.
Bud Selig’s unbridled support for the World Baseball Classic is just part of the global marketing plan for the MLB, a philosophy that probably began with the O’Malley family’s ownership of the Dodgers in setting up baseball academies all over the world — and finding a way to profit from it.
Some have compared Elias’ work to the 2004 book by Franklin Foer called “How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization,” as it questions whether baseball’s role around the world can be positive. It might be easy if it’s not an Olympic sport, even though the Americans were not as dominant in its own pasttime.
How it goes down in the scorebook: The line Kevin Costner, as Crash Davis, delivers in “Bull Durham” about how ground balls are democratic and strike outs are facist is good for a laugh, but there’s always something more to it than just a throw-away line. Both these books show that there’s no statue of limitations on trying to look at the big picture here. Is baseball more a meritocracy than a socialist organization? Does the commissioner look out too much for the power brokers and not enough for the phesants? Keep the debate alive, and if you can get Thomas Hobbes and Roy Hobbs in the same paragraph, all the more clever.
== By Briley:
= “Class at Bat, Gender on Deck and Race in the Hole: A Line-Up of Essays on Twentieth Century Culture and America’s Game” from 2003 (linked here), 19 essays that focus on major league baseball as it reflected the changing American culture from about 1945 to about 1980.
== By Elias:
= “The Deadly Tools of Ignorance” from 2005 (linked here), a novel about Debs Kafka, a San Francisco Giants pitcher trying to figure out who killed a former colleague and now is after his teammate.