The title is misleading: this post has nothing to do with the Kansas City Royals or the Pittsburgh Pirates.
I generally dislike when people say they “eat, sleep, and drink” their work. It is valid, however, when historians say it. I am in the middle of a research trip away from my family and friends that will run between one and two years. The amount of research I have to do, primarily archival research but also whatever secondary research I can squeeze in and organizational busywork in between, means that I do not have much time to go out, make friends, have fun, etc. I literally have dreams about my research, which range from wonderful dreams to absolute nightmares (what? This research is horrible. Someone already wrote your book last year. Also, a virus ate your hard drive. Also, nobody loves you). Sometimes the dreams are vivid and awesome (I have traveled back in time in my dreams… to do research. Luckily we do not smell our surroundings in our dreams).
One of the things that has kept me sane is baseball. I am a huge baseball fan; it is the only sport I follow. Most days involve coming home from the archive, pulling some German beer or Rhenish wine out of the fridge, and turning on mlb.tv to watch the previous day’s game. I am able to put my mind at ease and focus on something completely different for a time. The first thing I said when the Giants finished winning the World Series was “when do pitchers and catchers report?” Okay, it was the next day since I was sleeping when the game was played. And there was nobody around to hear me. But I said it. I promise.
One of the reasons so many fans are so incredibly passionate about baseball is the history. There are constantly questions of where a person, a team, a game, a series ranks in history. There are more books about baseball history in some form or another than probably all the other major American sports combined. They are better, too. There are myriad reasons for this. For one, baseball writing has always been lyrical. For another, since individual accomplishments are so much easier to recognize in baseball than other team sports, it is easy to become a passionate fan and follow the player’s career. For a third – and when discussing serious history, probably the most important – baseball is deeply embedded in the fabric of American social and cultural life. There is a reason the steroids scandal hit baseball so much harder than the NFL.
There is quite simply a stronger emotional attachment to baseball. Jackie Robinson’s arrival in the major leagues is still considered a pivotal moment in American racial history. It certainly gets mentioned more often than, say, the integration of the armed forces during World War Two. While there are some idioms and metaphors borrowed from basketball and football, there are many more from baseball. Americans have turned to baseball to ease their sufferings one national crisis after another. Some think we are too cynical to still fall for that, but does anybody not believe that the 2001 World Series did not help New York recover from 9/11 that much faster?
As the regular season wore down and the days off between playoff games, the failure to introduce instant replay, and Bud Selig’s response to the first two problems being wanting to add more playoff teams sapped my will to go on, I began thinking more about the parallels between how we think about and understand baseball and history.
This will be from a unique perspective, i.e. mine: a historian undertaking historical research and watching baseball. A historian’s thought on baseball analysis, you could say. I am not entirely certain how this will develop, but this will be a weekly series in which I will devote posts to the following:
- 1) Narratives in baseball and history: Part one, Part two, Part three
- 2) Theory and methodologies (e.g. advanced baseball statistics)
- 3) Causality
- 4) The Future (which, sadly, will not be about how we can turn Base Wars into a reality)
Some of these will almost certainly take more than one weekly post. That, or they will be really long. Welcome to a historian’s version of the baseball off-season.