Tuesday 10 May 2016

Baseball : Where Memory Gathers

"Baseball, because of its continuity over the space of America and the time of America, is a place where memory gathers." (Donald Hall)

Apart from the two years that the Toronto Blue Jays won the Major League championship, I have not been a baseball fan.  However, in recent years, I have discovered a handful of picture books which not only bring baseball, but history, to life (Jackie's Gift, All Star!  Honus Wagner and the Most Famous Baseball Card Ever, Campy:  The Story of Roy Campanella, Willie and the All Stars).  I have realized that the two are interchangeable.  As Donald Hall explains:  "Baseball, because of its continuity over the space of America and the time of America, is a place where memory gathers." (http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/baseball/)

Ebbets Field circa 1912 courtesy http://www.oldnycphotos.com/bbm311.html.

Back in 1909, Charles Hercules Ebbetts bought an old garbage dump called Pigtown.  Three years later he constructed a ball park, Ebbetts Field, the future home of the Trolley Dodgers.  The team had been named for its loyal fans who dodged trolleys on Brooklyn's busy streets.  As Walt Whitman explained, the sport had permeated the city:  "In our sundown of perambulators of late, through the outer parts of Brooklyn, we have observed several parties of youngsters, playing base, a certain game of ball...Let us go forth awhile and get better air in our lungs.  Let us leave our close rooms...The game of ball is glorious." (http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/baseball/)

As Ken Burns says, "baseball is a powerful metaphor for America".  The changes that the Brooklyn Dodgers have undergone are indicative of the changes the nation has undergone.  Burns points out that baseball touches on:  race, immigration, labor and management, pop culture and advertising, heroes and villains.  

Firstly, let's talk about immigration.  "In the 1930's and 1940's, Brooklyn was a melting pot of immigrants trying to make a buck." (https://books.google.ca/books?isbn=0595314287)  
Roy Campanella, the son of an Italian immigrant, played for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  His father used to pedal fruits and vegetables out of his truck.

Baseball is also the history of race.  Number 42, Jackie Robinson, broke the colour barrier when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 (http://alinefromlinda.blogspot.ca/2013/04/april-15.html).

Former Brooklyn manager Leo Durocher was suspended in 1947 for "association with known gamblers" after being involved in a rigged crap game.

The Brooklyn Dodgers produced its share of heroes including Roy Campanella, who after suffering a terrible car accident, was paralyzed and wheel chair ridden for the rest of his life.  He never gave up, however, and continued to lead a productive life off of the baseball field.

The Brooklyn Dodgers' history culminated with the winning of the World Series in 1955.  However, the joy for Brooklynites was shortlived for the team moved to Los Angeles only two years later.

It's hard to believe the influence that baseball has had on pop culture.  The Glossary of English Idioms Derived from Baseball (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossary_of_English-language_idioms_derived_from_baseball) includes dozens of expressions such as:

  • Play ball!
  • grand slam
  • ballpark figure
  • to knock it out of the park\batting a thousand
  • you're in the big leagues now
  • charley horse (1887)
  • cover one's bases
  • throw someone a curveball
  • extra innings
  • grandstanding
  • step up to the plate

Ken Burns Baseball series proves that baseball truly is "America's pastime".  Comprised of nine "innings", the series includes photographs, drawings, paintings, lithographs and newsreels.  Just as the Civil War series has the "Ashokan Farewell", the Baseball series has "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" a song dating back to 1908.

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