- The Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, 2009–2010 ed. by William M Simons
For three days each spring, the Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture brings leading scholars, researchers, and enthusiasts of the national pastime to the National Baseball Hall of Fame for a conference on the game and its links to American culture. Since 1997, McFarland has published the best scholarship presented at the symposium, and this worthwhile volume (the tenth) commemorates the 2009 and 2010 gatherings. [End Page 449] The anthology is divided into five parts; the first four contain fifteen essays organized around the broad topics of “Baseball as Culture,” “Constructing Baseball Heroes,” “Blacks in Baseball,” and “The Enterprise of Baseball.” A fifth part, “The Genesis and Legacy of Baseball Scholarship,” contains a single essay by Dorothy Seymour Mills, pioneer in the field of baseball history. A detailed introduction by the editor provides an excellent overview of the history and development of the symposium and highlights current trends in cultural baseball studies.
Collections of conference papers tend to be uneven in quality, and this one is no exception. Its strengths lie in its authors’ passion for their subject and the diverse perspectives they bring from a variety of disciplines. One of the best essays is “The Making of Charlie Hustle: Pete Rose and the American Dream, 1963–1985” by Todd F. McDorman. A professor of rhetoric, McDorman studies popular press coverage of Rose and finds that, over the course of his playing career, “the mythic figure of Charlie Hustle came to embody the sports hero in American culture” (141). Moreover, Rose himself, “not defined by his limitations but by his determination to overcome them,” became for many fans the embodiment of the “American Dream” (141). Further exploring the power of myth in baseball, in “The Little Lefty: Southpaw Perceptions and Reality,” mathematician and computer scientist Wayne Patterson considers the archetype of the short, crafty, left-handed pitcher and its potent effect on scouting. Patterson analyzes historical data to “demonstrate that, on the whole, left-handed pitchers are shorter than right-handed pitchers, and that this is because scouts perceive that short left-handed pitchers are desirable,” while their right-handed counterparts are not (92). Patterson’s lively, well-crafted essay demonstrates that his literary skills match his computational abilities. Unfortunately, not all of the collection’s other offerings match the high standard he sets.
Two excellent contributions from historians highlight the complex and convoluted nature of racial change inside the game and, by extension, the broader culture. In “A Calculus of Color: The Slow Integration of the American League, 1947–1959,” Robert Kuhn McGregor outlines the exceedingly slow and multidimensional process of desegregation within major league baseball’s junior circuit. Larry Doby’s 1947 debut with Cleveland started the process, but significant change remained over a decade away. Four seasons later, two other teams finally began featuring African Americans regularly and, as late as 1959, twelve seasons after Doby, three of the league’s eight clubs still fielded only a single black player. Moreover, American League owners further discriminated against American-born blacks by preferring to sign black players of Latin descent during this period. The national pastime’s complex interaction with race continued in the 1970s. In “‘The Plantation Owner’ and ‘Brother Vida Blue’: Charlie Finley, Vida Blue, and the Politics of Race in Oakland,” Ron Briley situates the 1972 contract dispute between team owner Finley and star black pitcher Blue within the context of the changing politics of the Black Panther Party and the city of Oakland. This very public feud, Briley contends, provides “strong evidence of the intersection between race, politics, power, and sports in American society,” and its results discredit any “attempts to burnish the microcosm of sport as the embodiment of meritocracy and the American Dream” (210).
Other interesting essays highlight an anthology whose strengths include a broad range of topics addressed. Readers no doubt will gravitate to subjects matching their interests. [End Page 450...