- The Empire Strikes Out: How Baseball Sold U.S. Foreign Policy and Promoted the American Way Abroad
The author, a political science professor at the University of San Francisco with eight other books to his credit, offers a synthesis of previous scholarship as well as his own considerable research (ninety-six pages of end notes) in his analysis of baseball's role in American foreign policy. Elias is indebted to and duly notes his reliance on the scholarship of many North American Society for Sport History members.
The chronological arrangement of the work follows the game from the Revolutionary War to current events. The first half of the book covers well-worn baseball history familiar to most sport historians, but Elias provides more provocative insights and analysis in the latter half of the book that addresses post-WWII events. Such a broad scope and hurried pace inevitably faces some pitfalls. Quotations are sometimes uncited, citations are not always paginated, and issues can lack adequate contextualization. For example, Elias covers Turner's frontier thesis, Josiah Strong on the American missionary movement, Brooks Adams on American expansionism, Alfred Mahan's naval strategy, Herbert Spencer on Social Darwinism, and U.S. efforts in Hawai'i and Nicaragua in one paragraph (p. 20). Likewise, baseball's ties, or those of its leading figures, to the government, the military, or diplomatic initiatives are sometimes tenuous, tentative, or overstated, such as President Woodrow Wilson's declaration that it was the United States destiny "to finance the world and rule it . . . [he] might have added, with baseball bats"(p. 57).
Despite the inclusion of much extraneous material, on the whole the book is interesting, entertaining, and compelling in its account and its analysis of politics, diplomacy, and globalization. The author argues convincingly relative to the game's historic ties to militarism, colonialism, and imperialism. Elias' accounts of the role of baseball in the Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutions and its social control uses by repressive governments in Korea, Taiwan, and China are noteworthy. The author is especially adroit in his treatment of the globalization efforts of Major League Baseball (MLB). He surmises that in the wake of 9/11, baseball has served as both an escape and a shelter (quite literally, with survival tactics posted in the ballpark) for fans, a stage for the propagation of conservative political doctrines as well as militaristic and nationalistic displays. Elias also points to MLB's unwillingness to share power with international baseball federations, the International Olympic Committee, or foreign leagues; its colonialist policies of extracting and disposing of cheap foreign labor trained in plantation-like baseball academies; and its dominant control and manipulation of the World Baseball Classic, along with its adherence to the bullying global politics of the Bush administration as contributing to a growing international disdain for the United States and the American game. Practitioners in Asia and the Caribbean have adopted, but also adapted, the game to their own cultural needs.
The book would serve as a worthwhile text for some sport history courses or supplemental reading for political science classes. The print and photograph selections provide a [End Page 459] graphic portrayal of baseball's ties to war and nationalism. Despite the deficiencies noted, the author has expanded the coverage, the analysis, and the interdisciplinary boundaries of baseball history in a book that should be added to personal, professional, and school libraries.