“In a 1963 New York Times article, Hank Sauer, an all-star outfielder in the ’50s, declared, ‘Any guy who ever says anything bad about Stan Musial has to have something wrong with him.’ Rather than boosting Musial’s post-career popularity, this sort of attitude, no matter how well intentioned, effectively turned Musial into a cardboard cutout, a bygone era’s one-dimensional paragon of constancy, stability, community fealty, and humility, devoid of the temperamental shadings that humanize public figures. A 2007 profile in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch earnestly dubbed him ‘baseball’s Galahad.’”
To most Americans, there is something inexplicably foreign about cricket. On the surface, it is pretty similar to baseball, at least compared to just about any other sport: bats and balls and runs and innings—like baseball, cricket is heaven for statisticians. But perhaps the similarities throw us off: we watch a few minutes, expecting it to be perfectly analogous and comprehensible, and are irreparably jarred by the differences. (The funniest example of our perceptions of cricket might be a sketch that, despite coming from the Dutch comedy show ‘Jiskefet’, is entitled ‘What playing cricket looks like to Americans’ on YouTube, and involves a giant chessboard, a freestanding set of swinging doors, and commentary full of gibberish.) Halfway through the nineteenth century, baseball and cricket were on equal footing here—if anything, cricket was the more popular of the two—but during and after the Civil War, baseball’s ‘national pastime’ narrative was constructed and spread. Baseball was supposedly more egalitarian—it could be played in any open space, rather than cricket’s proscribed pitches—and its promoters sold the game on a national level as a uniquely American sport. Cricket stayed local, largely in the big cities of the Northeast, and faded from the American consciousness.
From The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach:
For Schwartz this formed the paradox at the heart of baseball, or football, or any other sport. You loved it because you considered it an art: an apparently pointless affair, undertaken by people with a special aptitude, which sidestepped attempts to paraphrase its value yet somehow seemed to communicate something true or even crucial about The Human Condition. The Human Condition being, basically, that we’re alive and have access to beauty, can even erratically create it, but will someday be dead and will not.
Baseball was an art, but to excel at it you had to become a machine. It didn’t matter how beautifully you performed sometimes, what you did on your best day, how many spectacular plays you made. You weren’t a painter or a writer—you didn’t work in private and discard your mistakes, and it wasn’t just your masterpieces that counted. What mattered, as for any machine, was repeatability. Moments of inspiration were nothing compared to elimination of error. The scouts cared little for Henry’s superhuman grace; insofar as they cared they were suckered-in aesthetes and shitty scouts. Can you perform on demand, like a car, a furnace, a gun? Can you make that throw one hundred times out of a hundred? If it can’t be a hundred, it had better be ninety-nine.
…Baseball, in its quiet way, was an extravagantly harrowing game. Football, basketball, hockey, lacrosse—these were melee sports. You could make yourself useful by hustling and scrapping more than the other guy. You could redeem yourself through sheer desire.
But baseball was different. Schwartz thought of it as Homeric—not a scrum but a series of isolated contests. Batter versus pitcher, fielder versus ball. You couldn’t storm around, snorting and slapping people, the way Schwartz did while playing football. You stood and waited and tried to still your mind. When your moment came, you had to be ready, because if you fucked up, everyone would know whose fault it was. What other sport not only kept a stat as cruel as the error but posted it on the scoreboard for everyone to see?
Tuesday New Release Day
NEW! Edugyan on music, race, love and loyalty; D’Agata on truth, veracity, and storytelling; Manguso’s elegy for a friend; Ullman with a psychological thriller; Hebert on defining oneself against the backdrop of revolution; a release date for Shadid’s final memoir; and, for all you baseball fans, the 2012 Baseball Prospectus!