- Past Time Revisited: Jules Tygiel Testimonial
I have been asked to add my thoughts on Jules Tygiel’s Past Time: Baseball as History, which appeared in publication in 2000. But I would be remiss in this essay if I did not preface those remarks with some about my own relationship with our friend and colleague.
My relationship with Jules was not a close one on a routine basis, but one of quality each time we crossed paths. His name first came to my attention prior to the release of Baseball’s Great Experiment when one of my graduate advisors, who had been a graduate peer of Jules while at University of California at Los Angeles, advised me to contact him at San Francisco State. Jules, a considerate and kind person, unbeknownst to me, attended my presentation when the North American Society for Sport History (NASSH) convened in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1984 and, afterwards, introduced himself already knowing of my work. Through the years, we exchanged pleasantries at NASSH, the Organization of American Historians (OAH), and other conferences. We enjoyed minor league baseball at Spartanburg, South Carolina and Stockton, California. We shared research ideas at the Library of Congress, participated in seminars, and rode the Metro system in Washington, D.C. Jules read my dissertation, my Viva Baseball! (1998) manuscript, had me over to his home, and came to mine. He loved his family, loved life, absolutely loved baseball, and loved being a scholar; and this was clearly reflected in Past Time: Baseball as History. [End Page 207]
First off, Jules had a lot to say, and he always said it well. Following Baseball’s Great Experiment, he authored and edited five books; this, along with countless numbers of scholarly articles, reviews, presentations, forewords, etc., was all the more remarkable given the heavy teaching load all of us in the California State University system endure. Moreover, his scholarship was diverse. Not satisfied with only writing on topics related to sport, Tygiel’s vitae included his work on the Los Angeles oil industry and, later, a biography on Ronald Reagan.
Connecting the dots was a practice that Tygiel relished. While researchers are trained in this area, every now and then we need to be reminded, as historian Steve Gietschier pointed out way back when NASSH convened in Albuquerque, that it is not enough simply to lay a historical canopy for a backdrop to the subject matter. In our transformation from researcher to writer, conveyers of history have to draw a relationship to the topic at hand. Jules was particularly good at doing this. He never overwhelmed readers with a litany of citations or sources just for the sake of doing so. He struck a good balance at what was immediately relevant with what might be instructive for further study. In other words, the teacher in him never abandoned the author. His narratives were both informative and instructive; and after setting down a book by Jules Tygiel, you not only knew much more about the topic, but why it needed to be addressed. This, in part, is why I found Past Time a vital teaching tool in my history graduate seminars.
In Past Time: Baseball as History, Tygiel argued that baseball “remains a powerful vehicle for exploring the American past.” But he also pointed out that, through the decades, the game’s fans have “dramatically” related to it in various manners. Baseball, he claimed, “reflected broader changes in society and maintained a special place in American culture.” To that end, the author begins the game’s historical path in the post-bellum period as Americans struggled, during the transitional period from agrarian to industrial environment, to find components for a national identity.1 Consequently, the game’s popularity served as an epicenter for those who carried a longing for a simpler past. Still others viewed it as a symbol for nationalistic virtues. Consequently, with some prodding from the press and baseball marketers, a “national pastime” emerged.
Though the author strove to downplay “the ethereal, rhapsodic celebration of baseball and its special essence,” the game did bear the trappings of what historian Seymour Lipset might describe as an “American Creed.”2...