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  • The Philosophy of Baseball
  • E. Ethelbert Miller (bio)
Infinite Baseball: Notes from a Philosopher at the Ballpark
Alva Noë
Oxford University Press
208 Pages; Cloth, $21.95

Over the years, baseball ballparks have changed. In some ways only Fenway Park in Boston still captures the smell of the traditional hotdog. Baseball is now a game consumed with the surreal fascination for analytics. Every pitch and swing returns to the dugout filled with data and meaning. However, at the top step of the dugout the author Alva Noë now appears. He is the philosopher fan whose book Infinite Baseball (about the size of a softball) provides interesting insight into various aspects of the game. He understands the playing field is special and offers this explanation in his preface,

What happens in baseball is less a matter of the material facts on the ground than it is a matter of who did what—that is, who is to be credited with this or that action. To play baseball is always to be absorbed in the task of figuring out how to apportion praise and blame. Baseball's concerns are, in this sense, forensic or juridical.

Noë early in his book acknowledges the importance of scorekeeping in baseball, but his own writing delves much deeper. The discipline of philosophy requires one to ask the big questions. Noë wants one to study the game of baseball, not simply watch it. He wants one to reflect and think, not simply cheer; to reflect is to become philosophical.

Of the thirty-two short essays in Infinite Baseball the first one is about the topic everyone has been talking about the last few years. "Do we need to speed up baseball?" According to Noë, the history of baseball is the history of rule changes. No one can argue against this. The contemporary alarm seems to echo from the concern that young people today find the game boring. Speeding it up is viewed as making the game more attractive to a new fan base. Noë offers a different and perhaps a more insightful explanation: "The rule changes now contemplated are of an entirely different kind. They aren't designed to improve the game but, rather to improve the product."

If baseball is turned into just another business, our nation will suffer. The "idea" of baseball will be lost. Noë prefers for the game of baseball to continue to be slow. Let the game just happen. Reading Infinite Baseball, one respects and even admires Noë's intellectual innocence. When he compares a baseball game to a good conversation or long friendship one can applaud the game's eternal pace.

In the essay "In Praise of Being Bored," he is found embracing a philosophy of wellness: "I say, God save us from today's ramped-up, multiinterrupted, selfie-consumed, fast-paced world! We need to slow down. We need to turn off. We need to unplug."

Some baseball fans will find it ironic that attempts to speed the game up actually have been slowed because of instant replay. Noë was a naysayer when it was first introduced, but now he writes in support of it. His honesty on this issue illustrates the openness of his mind and his ability to continue to see things from a thoughtful position. Noë's thinking about the game retains a degree of fluidity. This complements the structure of the book and the effectiveness of the short essay form which he uses.

From 2010-2017, Noë's "shorts" were a combination of balls and strikes written for a National Public Radio website. There are a few essays that could be viewed as passed balls. They are opinions by Noë that catch the reader's attention but fail to hold it beyond the turning of the page. "The Problem with Baseball on TV" is one of them.

Alva Noë's book encourages the reader to buy a ticket to a game. Baseball should be a shared experience. Noë writes about how people at baseball games primarily talk about baseball. He mentions how baseball folks are "endlessly engaged in evaluating plays and in developing theories—even mathematical and...


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