- The Cambridge Companion to Baseball
In The Cambridge Companion to Baseball co-editor Leonard Cassuto asserts that “the story of baseball is, in an important way, the story of the interaction between the myth of the national pastime and the reality of the baseball business” (p. 2) and this book does an excellent job exploring the dynamics of that relationship. Through a variety of topics, the authors of this book examine the actuality of many of these myths and romanticized notions of baseball while situating it within its historical context and examining its impact upon society.
In a chapter on the Negro Leagues, Leslie Heaphy traces the development of leagues for those racially excluded from the Majors after the “gentlemen’s agreement” in the 1880s (p. 63). But rather than just a history of the Negro Leagues, Heaphy examines the impact black professional baseball had on local communities and businesses. Often lost in the discussion of the Negro Leagues is the effect they had off the diamond by providing an opportunity for the growth of black heroes, entertainment, and business ventures. While Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947 is rightly celebrated in baseball mythology, Heaphy’s chapter also asks the reader to examine the racial inequality that came before and after this event. Along those lines, we should also remember the history, managerial influence, and avenues for community pride that were lost as the Negro Leagues gradually closed during the 1950s. [End Page 166]
Richard Crepeau examines baseball’s relationship with war and patriotism throughout the history of the game. While baseball players have served in the military, the actual relationship of Major League Baseball (MLB) with the military has always been quite complex. Although few players volunteered during WWI, others “worked” at defense factories (these factories just happened to have company ballclubs) and certain stars like Babe Ruth and Joe Jackson were accused of being slackers, MLB made sure to promote the role it had played through post-war promotions for GIs and war memorials (p. 83). Likewise, while celebrating the fact that 90 percent of its players had volunteered, the league downplayed its efforts to exclude players from the draft and keep them from active duty during WWII (p. 87). Even today, baseball continues to celebrate its patriotic connections and its perceived importance to American character and strength as exemplified in the games played after 9/11. Even more parallels surely could be drawn with the recent announcement of the death of Osama bin Laden and the spontaneous outbreak of chants of “USA!” at Citizens Bank Park.
Upon finding an interesting topic while perusing one of the fifteen chapters, the reader will be pleased to find many “intertextual footnotes” guiding them to other chapters to learn more about a topic or examine it through another contextual lens. These footnotes help give the book a coherent feel, rather than it appearing like a collection of isolated articles. Instead, the reader comes away with a better understanding of how baseball literature and movies, globalization, and the material culture of the game are all integral and interconnected aspects of the sport. The book also contains a series of interchapters examining culturally significant, historical figures. These additions confirm Cassuto’s belief that the book can be read in a variety of ways. Although it follows a linear timeline with the first chapter detailing the origins of organized baseball and the last addressing the growth of the game and its relationship with mass media, each chapter could be read in any order with little disconnect.
The book also explores the world of baseball beyond the diamond and the borders of the United States. Explorations of baseball in Japan, Mexico, Latin America, and the Caribbean are found throughout, and baseball cards, ballparks, fans, and merchandise all are treated as essential aspects of baseball culture. Even fictional games are examined in chapters on baseball in literature and film, adding to the romanticism and complexity of the game. Cassuto acknowledges that the...