- The Politics of Baseball: Essays on the Pastime and Power at Home and Abroad
Baseball scholars like to say that the game reflects nearly every aspect of American culture. The same might be said for politics, and Ron Briley's The Politics of Baseball: Essays on the Pastime and Power at Home and Abroad brings the two—baseball and politics—together in a collection of essays whose range of topics supports the claim that the national pastime touches most, if not all, of American culture in some way or another. As editor, Briley evenly divides the sixteen essays into two sections, one on domestic politics and the other on international issues. The authors range from notable baseball scholars, such as Robert Elias, to several promising newcomers.
Part One, "Baseball and Domestic Politics," includes essays on three subjects of interest to Briley in his 2004 book, Class at Bat, Gender on Deck, Race in the Hole. Among the strongest of these is Scott Peterson's work on Lester Rodney, who was sports editor for the Daily Worker from 1936 until he was drafted into World War II. Drawing on primary research from the Daily Worker and New York Times for the 1937 baseball season, Peterson contrasts the rhetoric of [End Page 177] Rodney's reports and columns with those of two mainstream sportswriters, demonstrating that Rodney championed players' rights, agitated very early for the integration of the game, and thus provided a critical voice missing from the sports journalism of the day. Lisa Alexander's essay "Are We There Yet?" asks whether MLB is ready for an openly gay player. This topic is examined in a more complex and artful manner in Richard Greenberg's 2003 Tony-Award-winning play, Take Me Out; still, Alexander's expository effort adds insight, particularly on the question of possible media reaction. Michael J. Haupert's study, "Professional Baseball Wages in the Era of Integration," not only illuminates this topic but adds to the variety of methodology of the volume in its use of statistical regression analysis.
The remaining four essays in Part I address issues of race, religion, and particular politicians. John Tures tries to calculate whether having played in the majors helps candidates win elections. Though the essay is interesting, the statistical methodology here does not match the quality of Haupert's, especially when Tures tries to compare non-playing candidates with former players. While this essay covers a large group, Raymond Schuck's contribution attempts to show what, if anything, Bob Dole's 1996 election gaffe—referring to Hideo Nomo as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers—cost Dole on the campaign trail. Wendy Knickerbocker's piece on Billy Sunday revisits ground familiar to most baseball historians, but will be valuable to those with little knowledge of Sunday. Addressing religion, race relations, and team public relations, Joshua Fleer shows how these can coalesce for good as he elucidates the reasons Willie Horton, though not in the Hall of Fame, is enshrined with a statue in Comerica Park alongside the five Tigers in Cooperstown. "Sam Jethroe's Last Hit," at least for this reviewer, was one of the most interesting essays in the volume. N. Jeremi Duru, a law professor, revisits the 1995 lawsuit that Jethroe brought against MLB for denying his pension. Aside from the interesting story of Jethroe's post-retirement years, the lucid discussion of the judgment against him affords readers a legal perspective rarely seen in baseball scholarship.
Focusing on international matters, the second half of the volume opens with two essays on how baseball has been used to promote American interests abroad, each from a different perspective. Russ Crawford sees these efforts as nationalism in the service of imperialism, while Brian Price, a West Point grad and Army officer, believes baseball has "served as an Ambassador of democracy and American values" (154). While each essay provides a general overview of baseball as a tool for international relations, the next three focus on more narrow topics. Robert Elias examines...