When was the last time you chatted with Marvin Miller one day, and Bob Feller the next? In the midst of spending three days talking baseball with dozens of the most intense, articulate, and knowledgeable fans you’ve ever met?
With your discussions covering dozens of topics, including:
- The Irish and Jim Crow Baseball
- The New York Yankees, 1915-1937
- National Crises, the National Anthem, and the National Pastime
- Zane Grey, Cy Young, and Images of the American West
- Jews and Baseball: A Love Story
And on the second evening, gathering with the group to play a game of Town Ball, with a keg of ice cold beer on the sidelines?
Oh, and all of it taking place in and around the National Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, New York?
What’s that? You say it’s been awhile since the last time you spent three days like that? Yeah, I bet it has. How long, actually? You say you’ve never spent three days like that? Yeah. That would be a pretty special three days, wouldn’t it.
Well, guess what: it was a pretty special three days. I spent those three days during the week before last, Wednesday, June 2nd, through Friday, June 4th, at the Sixteenth Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture.
Do you like baseball? If so, you might want to attend one of these things sometime. You might, but then again, you might not. This isn’t the kind of thing for just any casual baseball fan. This is pretty intense.
But do you love baseball? I don’t mean, do you just like it a lot. I don’t just mean, are you a serious fan. I mean this: do you love baseball? I mean, really love it?
If so, then I strongly urge you to attend one of these things sometime. You will be in for three days of eating, sleeping, and breathing baseball history and culture. At the Hall of Fame. You know, in other words: three days of sheer bliss.
Please understand that the Cooperstown event is a full-blown academic symposium. Nearly all of the presenters are university professors (although they do allow civilians such as yours truly to infiltrate). Serious scholarship is being presented and debated. But the atmosphere is anything but dry or stuffy, and, of course, if you’re as hardcore a baseball geek as I am, serious scholarship on the subject of baseball is where your stream of consciousness wallows, anyway.
You don’t have to present a paper to attend; plenty of folks are just there to listen. But (this will shock you) I wasn’t content to do that. What did I present, you ask? Well, the title of my paper was “Modes of Play, Codes of Honor: The Morality of Baseball Tactics.”
It’s a concept I’ve been kicking around in my head for several years. The gist of it is this: the choices that people exercise in everyday life can be understood on multiple levels. There’s the primary, explicit, conscious level, of course, but there’s also the often less explicit, subconscious level, in which we tend to exhibit our conformity to prevailing cultural and ethical norms. Changing prevalence over time in tactical choices exercised in baseball games (bunting, stealing, replacing pitchers, etc.) may thus serve as a window into changing norms of cultural interpretations of honor and morality.
Sound a bit hefty? Yeah, it really is. The feedback I got at the Symposium was quite positive, but most of it included the observation that this is a pretty dense, complex concept: summing it up in a 25-minute presentation was challenging, and squeezing it all into the 25-page-limit article that the Symposium’s published proceedings allows would be tricky as well. Several folks suggested that the only way to really do it justice would be as a book-length inquiry.
I’m inclined to agree, which is both gratifying and frustrating. I’m really not prepared at this point in my life to focus my writing energies on a full-blown book – at least not that book. So I’m deciding that for now I’m just going to put this idea back into the vault.
Another annual gathering that I’ve greatly enjoyed for the past five years is the Nine Conference, which takes place each March in Tucson, Arizona. This is also a several-day event (usually Thursday evening through Sunday morning) that includes presentation and discussion of numerous papers, a Friday night banquet with a keynote speaker (recently including Jules Tygiel, Sam Regalado, Leonard Koppett, Andrew Zimbalist, and Eliot Asinof), and – perhaps best of all – afternoon “field research” in which we all go out to watch Spring Training games.
This delightful affair is conducted in conjunction with the publication Nine: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture. As with the Cooperstown Symposium, if you’re just a garden-variety baseball fan, well, this thing might not be for you. I mean, do you really want to spend the better part of four springtime days in sunny Tucson, doing nothing but talking baseball with unusually smart fans all day long, taking in some Cactus League action, and perhaps enjoying a cool libation now and again? This isn’t just for everyone. But if you’re a true heavy-duty baseball lover, I can candidly tell you that it’s difficult to imagine a better way to spend a few days. If I were you I’d check it out.
Matthew and Aaron, my editors here at THT, graciously allowed me to take a month’s sabbatical from contributing here so that I could focus on preparing my Cooperstown presentation. I sincerely thank them for that.
On the plane ride back from New York, I pulled out my laptop and compiled a list of the article ideas I’ve been mulling over. When I got to 20, I stopped, figuring that was probably enough to keep me busy for a while.
I’m back now, and you can expect again to hear from me weekly in this space. (This week’s contribution is “Bobo at Dusk.”) Baseball is one of those subjects that, the more you think about it and talk about it, the more things there seem to be to think about and talk about. And write about.
References & Resources
I’m happy to share a copy of my PowerPoint presentation materials of “Modes of Play, Codes of Honor: The Morality of Baseball Tactics.” Just email me and I’ll send it to you.