I could never focus on the history alone, though, my childishness prevents it. I guess that is probably why I like the history of baseball so much. The Mills Commission just made it up! It's been fun to read the true origins of the game and the people who really shaped the game into the predecessor of what we have now. There was an important Will Wheaton who was not an actor on Star Trek, just so you know.
As for academic history, it can get very silly sometimes, too. Some fields, especially, can get so theoretical and so narrow in focus, they're not of much use to anyone. If you're trying to do academic history as a profession, you need to read a whole ****-load of books to master a few fields, do comprehensive research, and form an original argument, but that's not all history should be. It may be increasingly less true of historians, but I'd like to think that most of us really enjoy the past and take pleasure in describing it and relating it to people as much as we do advancing a particular argument.
I find the history of baseball interesting, too, but sometimes legend is more fun, and in a sense, more important, even when we know it's not true.
I'll check on the Keegan chapter. He was one of the reasons I got the book. I have read his book on WWII twice.
For the baseball thing, I just have a problem with the lie being so prevalent that the point that the current commissioner answers the question from a kid with the lie. As usual, baseball as a whole refuses to be honest with itself. When our version of baseball became prominent in the 1840s in New York, Philadelphia and Massachusetts; there was an inherent need to separate ourselves from British. Even though the game came from British style games, the want to make the sport sound like it was truly American after the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 became the primary theme. Picking a Union Leader from the Civil War as an inventor was natural.
I appreciate the aspects of the timing and why the Mills Commission did what they did in 1906, but I just feel that there is nothing wrong with being honest about the past and that the country has gotten to a point where the story does not need any spin at all. The stories behind the true inventors with the Knickerbocker Club in New York and how their rules eventually won out despite the fact that Massachusetts rules of the game were more popular into the 1860s are even more fascinating than the lies spewed forth. I just can't help myself when I hate hearing the lies over and over again even when they are honorable, patriotic and romantic in nature.
I guess the parallels between my opinions on how baseball would serve itself well to change and the simple pastoral nature of the history and attitudes is obvious. Again, a hybrid of the false truths we know along with the actual history could be just as satisfying as the modern game becoming a hybrid of technology, entertainment and romantic pastoral roots. After all, the real history of baseball includes the opposite polarities of being a gentlemen's sport rife with cheating, gambling and dirt. What's wrong with embracing it all?
In my opinion, the fact that anyone can make the argument that baseball can be a microchasm of so many aspects of life is what makes it so great.
Last edited by Polishguy00; 04-04-2012 at 10:21 AM.
If you're interested in twentieth-century warfare and like Keegan, I really, really recommend his First World War. It's a subject that appeals to me much more than World War II, and Keegan's European introspection would make clear to you why. We Yanks give short-shrift to World War I because it wasn't really an American war--something I remember droning on about before on this site--but if nothing else, it's superb writing and gives you a sense of what was lost in the conflict. The introduction is heartbreaking; it gives me chills.
If you want to take the plunge into a more 'academic' history, his book, The Face of Battle, is absolutely mind-blowing. His first section, on the nature of battle itself, still amazes me almost ten years after I read it for the first time.
Regarding your comments about baseball, I think you've got a lot of it right. When I said legend is sometimes more fun and more important, I guess I should add that I'm very interested in how people conceive of the world around them. A lot of my work has dealt with trying to sort of re-construct the thought-world of the past. For instance, I'm fascinated by the idea of imperial decline. Not exactly the process of it in military or political terms, but how people perceive decline, and how that is reflected culturally, artistically, socially. Does it become a self-fulfilling prophecy? There certainly seems to be a sense in the United States today that it's all slipped away--as people felt in England in the 1930s, in Austria-Hungary in the 1890s, in Spain in the 1630s--and does that, sort of become reality for us, regardless of the facts of the matter? Unlike a lot of academics, I happen to believe in truth. Someone like Edward Gibbon, who you mentioned earlier, is instructive here. Writing in the 1770s and '80s, why is he preoccupied with the Decline and Fall? Is he afraid England's position as a world power is precarious? Should he have been? Empires do fall. It can ruin your life. They lose one empire and start to gain another in his lifetime. People are subject to their surroundings, but they also help create them--though not all of us do in equal ways.
In the same way, something like a legend--that baseball was created by Abner Doubleday in 1836 or whatever--that people buy into and replicate, can tell you so much about how they view the world and their place in it. So, what are the people who still believe in or cite the Mills Commission's story holding on to, and maybe compare that to what you think they have to gain by embracing the 'true' history. Baseball, for me, is always going to be about nights spent with my dad at Jacobs Field in the 1990s. It will always be there, whether baseball was an urban or a pastoral game, whether it's an Anglo-American agglomeration or a purely American invention. I almost refuse to think of the game itself in any other terms. There's little league, there's pony league, and there are those Indians teams from the '90s and my family. I grew up with the story of Abner Doubleday--and I remember saying to my father, when we were visiting Gettysburg, that if that was the same Doubleday, he certainly got around--but it's incidental. Perhaps not so for a lot of others. Perhaps it would be an admission that baseball, that America, is not what they thought it was. Major League Baseball, at least, is certainly a lot more than Abner Doubleday or summer nights in Cleveland.
Sorry for the lecture. I hope this doesn't sound too off-putting and lame and post-modern (because, God, I do hate the post-modernists). Happy Opening Day, everybody.
I never mind your writing. I'm a dork. I have seven different books that I am reading right now.
My best friend has a Masters in History (I forget which focus) and he also is a WWI guy. I am going to have to check out Keegan's book. I may even already have it. I have to check. It may be next to the 15" thick "History of Modern Warfare" that saw it's own battle when my puppy wanted to devour knowledge one day (the book is a tough cookie, she only got through a bit of the hard cover).
Your story and the positive memories with which baseball is intertwined is exactly what I was referring to above. As a former player, I have memories of the cool water over my head while catching during a mid-summer doubleheader. I also think of the smell of the glove, the sounds, the jokes in the dugout, the little things that often go unnoticed. See, baseball is a completely difference experience for me. People ask how I can watch the game on TV and I tell them that I am trying to think what "they" are thinking. Basically, I am a sucker for escapism and I like that I always can think of the nice memories of when I was a kid.
I hope you have published writing soon. I'll certainly read, no matter the subject.
I was never taught a thing about that war at school. Had vague ideas, but reading that book taught me a lot. And one of the things about history books like that one is that people who read them come away as cynics whenever any politician uses the word "patriotism."
Tens of millions of young men died in that war for nothing more than a chance to set up the next war.
(Stepping off soap box).
“I’ve always been a big fan of Norv Turner. I think he gets it. I think he does an outstanding job.” — Pat Shurmur
100% Pruitt. Bunch of the snakes, the lot of them. WWI was horrific, ghastly, a crime against everything decent. The callous disregard for life was unconscionable. Every general involved should be burning in hell, were one to exist. I was exposed to a fair bit of The Great War (what a joke of a name), the War To End All Wars, in my schooling. It produced one of my favorite poems.
DULCE ET DECORUM EST
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!--An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
I was Googling to refresh my memory and I saw an interesting note: the 17th century In Western Europe was a time when religious differences between states became less important as society became more secular and science began to flourish. Is that a part of your studying? I think those kinds of social changes are very interesting.