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Baseball and Rhetorics of Purity

The National Pastime and American Identity During the War on Terror

Written by Michael L. Butterworth

Publication Year: 2010

Baseball has long been considered America’s “national pastime,” touted variously as a healthy diversion, a symbol of national unity, and a model of democratic inclusion. But, according to Michael Butterworth, such favorable rhetoric belies baseball’s complicity in the rhetorical construction of a world defined by good and evil. 

Baseball and Rhetorics of Purity is an investigation into the culture and mythology of baseball, a study of its limits and failures, and an invitation to remake the game in a more democratic way. It pays special attention to baseball’s role in the reconstruction of American identity after September 11, 2001. This study is framed by a discussion that links the development of baseball to the discourses of innocence and purity in 19th-century America. From there, it examines ritual performances at baseball games; a traveling museum exhibit sponsored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum; the recent debate about the use of performance-enhancing drugs; the return of Major League Baseball to Washington, D.C., in 2005; and the advent of the World Baseball Classic in 2006. 

Butterworth argues that by promoting myths of citizenship and purity, post-9/11 discourse concerning baseball ironically threatens the health of the democratic system and that baseball cannot be viewed as an innocent diversion or escape. Instead, Butterworth highlights how the game on the field reflects a more complex and diverse worldview, and makes a plea for the game’s recovery, both as a national pastime and as a site for celebrating the best of who we are and who we can be. 

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. vii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xi

This book has been nearly ten years in the making. It began with an idea I had about the performances of “God Bless America” that had become commonplace in baseball stadiums after September 11, 2001. In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks, these seemed to be appropriate expressions of grief and healing. Yet by the following baseball season, they ...

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Introduction: Rhetoric and the American Game

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pp. 1-28

The home run still seems as if it were yesterday. Sitting directly behind home plate in Miller Park’s upper deck, I watched Mark McGwire come to bat for St. Louis in the top half of the second inning. By this time, McGwire’s place in baseball history had been solidified as the man who conquered Roger Maris’s single-season home run...

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1. Ritual in the “Church of Baseball”: Performing Patriotism at the Ballpark

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pp. 29-50

October 12, 2003. The Chicago Cubs and Florida Marlins play in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. I sit among thousands of Cubs fans who have made the journey to south Florida in the hopes that their “loveable losers” might end a painful fifty-eight-year World...

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2. “Baseball as America”: Nostalgia and Public Memory through the National Pastime

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pp. 51-79

If a baseball park can serve as a site for the daily affirmation of faith in America, then it stands to reason that the “national pastime” would designate a sacred site for believers to pilgrimage in honor of the game. Accordingly, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum recognizes the game’s greatest figures and celebrates the American game as an embodiment of the American...

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3. Purifying the Body Politic: Steroids and the Rhetorical Cleansing of Baseball

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pp. 80-106

When Mark McGwire became eligible for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007, the subsequent vote by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) was largely interpreted as a referendum on Major League Baseball’s (MLB) “steroids era.” McGwire, who had vaulted to the heights of heroic adulation during his historic pursuit of baseball’s single-season home run record in 1998, had become the face of the perceived performance-enhancing drug crisis...

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4. Headed for Home: Bringing Baseball Back to the Nation’s Capital

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pp. 107-133

When baseball resumed play six days after the September 11, 2001, attacks, Washington, D.C. was not among the cities hosting a major league game or team. The April 2004 arrival of “Baseball as America” to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History gave tourists and district residents a glimpse of a game not otherwise...

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5. Making the World Safe for Baseball: American Mission and the World Baseball Classic

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pp. 134-157

For decades, Major League Baseball (MLB) opened each season in Cincinnati, the home of the game’s oldest professional franchise. Tradition dictated that the Reds would host the first game of the season and all other teams would begin play the following day. In the 1990s, MLB, in an effort to expand its broadcasting and marketing reach...

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Conclusion: Reconstituting the National Pastime

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pp. 158-174

On May 25, 2006, with British prime minister Tony Blair at his side, President George W. Bush acknowledged that he had made some mistakes during the war in Iraq. Specifically, he regretted using the phrase, “Bring it on,” to terrorists, and he termed the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib “the biggest mistake that’s happened so far.”1 In spite of these setbacks...


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pp. 175-213


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pp. 215-227


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pp. 229-233

E-ISBN-13: 9780817383978
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817317102

Page Count: 233
Publication Year: 2010