Baseball and the American Character Term Paper

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Baseball and the American Character

The three essays on baseball, by Allen Guttman, Murray Ross and Michael Mandelbaum, are all well written and supply unique opinions and ideas about baseball and America that are interesting but quite different. In this paper the writer will take a position on the debate that is going on with these three writers.

Allen Guttman's Essay

Guttmann reviews the phases of the American experience to explain what is meant by "American exceptionalism," and in the process of presenting that information he gives the reader some names of writers who tried to describe. America. For example, the French journalist and author Alexis de Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America in the 19th century, and in that book he explains why Americans are different than Europeans. Americans didn't have any existing social order to deal with when they arrived in North America so they created one of their own and they believed they were the exception to all other cultures, and possibly better than other cultures, is what de Tocqueville was saying. America was "different" is one reason why writers talked about exceptionalism. Americans play sports and their games are like the wild west frontier, according to John R. Tunis, who said the frontier was "…a source of mobility, restlessness and change" and sports, which to me seems unlikely as a description of the games.

What is Guttman's main point about baseball? He believes baseball has seen its better days and he can't find a definite reason that it is still popular. Guttman uses four different things about baseball to try and discover why people have a "fascination" with baseball. Those four are nostalgia, the "ease of access," the "technological impetus," and the "folk heroes" like Babe Ruth. But he comes to the decision that those four attempts to explain baseball's popularity have a "defect," and that is none of them really answer the question he wants to answer. So Guttman tries to locate the reason for baseball's popularity by looking at "extremes of quantification" (the fact that there is no time limit on a game and the statistics keep fans interested). Also Guttman goes into baseball's pastoral feeling (springtime, outdoors, green grass), its secularism, its bureaucracy, and the "primitive…aspects. Whatever he tries to use to describe the reason for baseball being popular turns out to be wrong.

Murray Ross Essay

Ross uses "pastoral" to describe baseball, just as Guttman attempted to do. Ross also uses "drama" to describe the game because when you think about it there are characters, there are plots, there are heroes and always some action that is not predictable -- like literature. But Ross believes baseball is not the national pastime in America any longer for a very unusual reason. After WWII, which was fought for the right to "…live in a green world of tranquility and uninterrupted contentment," where "little things" matter. But given that world of tranquility is no longer seen as possible, the dream "…is no longer sufficient for our fantasies," Ross explains.

From that point in his essay, Ross explains why he thinks football is more popular; it is "the embodiment of a newer myth," Ross writes, and in that myth football is a place for heroes and baseball is still pastoral and so baseball is out of date. Ross claims baseball is a game where players are meant to be human (like Babe Ruth) but football is a game where men become "gods" (like Jim Brown).

The Ross essay was written several years ago because when he says "More and more, both baseball and football are being played indoors on rugs in multipurpose spaces," he is out of date. Football stadiums now are only for football, with maybe one exception, the Oakland Coliseum, where the Athletics play baseball and the Raiders play football. But Ross makes a very good point when he criticizes the big arenas that had both football and baseball. He writes that that situation was "regrettable" because the games are gone from their "…intangible but palpable mythic contexts"; they are no longer "set in nature" and so both football and baseball are becoming "demythologized" by being in big sterile facilities. But, that was in the past and today most baseball parks are just for baseball and they have real grass, not rugs.

Ross vs. Guttman: One reason that Murray Ross's essay is more effective is that he actually takes the time to compare football to baseball. He compares the viewing experience between the two -- and points out correctly that football is a perfect game for television "…because it offers a flat, perpetually moving foreground (wherever the ball is)." In football the eye "zeroes in" but in baseball the eye "opens up" to see where the ball will go next. Ross doesn't say that baseball is on its way out like Guttman believes. Ross points out that the American people are more wary of "constant unavoidable changes" and so baseball (with its "unfettered rural vision of ourselves") is not as popular. But the fact that Ross understands why more people are into football (especially pro-football) than baseball shows his intelligence on this topic. Guttman writes that because baseball is "timeless" (there is no clock) television sponsors and programmers are "frustrated" with baseball, but not so with football. That is a very weak argument, because television understands that baseball games can be short, or long, and it plans along those lines.

Michael Mandelbaum Essay

Mandelbaum opens his essay by showing all the ways baseball is different from football and basketball, using the time issue (no time limit in baseball) as a reason why baseball is "…leisurely and unhurried, like the world before the discipline of measured time, deadlines, schedules and wages paid by the hour." Baseball is more like "traditional life" Mandelbaum, which means it is like the way things used to be. "Traditional society" means the way things were before society got caught up in a faster way of doing things. Mandelbaum writes that the "traditional world" was not standardized -- and baseball fields are not standardized but football and baseball playing surfaces are all standard size. So Mandelbaum is saying that baseball really belongs to another time, when things were slower and less complicated.

"Traditional life," according to Mandelbaum's essay, was a time when people went hunting and fishing to get food. And he compares baseball to that traditional life because "mind and body" were both used to get those fish and kill those deer and rabbits -- and "mind and body" are far more important in baseball. Mind and body are important in baseball because it is more of a thinking man's game calling for patience and it requires the same hand-eye coordination to hit a ball as it does to shoot an arrow. By that comparison Mandelbaum is linking baseball skills to the skills of early man, who of course lived in a very pastoral world with none of the problems that modern people in big cities have to deal with.

Mandelbaum uses the phrases "traditional world" and "traditional life" often in his essay, and he explains that baseball requires the "emotional capacity to confront and accept failure" because a good hitter is only going to get hits three times out of ten. Those odds are like the odds that the weather and disease will effect one's life; when a batter has gone a long time without a hit, it is as hard to understand as to why the weather changes or why someone gets sick but someone in the same family does not get sick, Mandelbaum suggests.

It is clear from reading Mandelbaum's essay that he sees baseball as a game that brings a person back to his childhood. In the summer, the child was out of school and was "free of adult-imposed disciplines of school," and in baseball, which is played in the summer, all those memories of childhood can come back at every game a person attends. Mandelbaum goes on to explain that baseball players are personally responsible for everything that happens. He infers that baseball fans are not as apt to forgive an error as other fans of other sports are. In football there are 11 players and a lineman can make a mistake and let a defensive player through the line to hit the quarterback. The audience likely doesn't see the mistake made by the guard, but if a shortstop makes an error everyone in the ball park sees it. This is the gist of what he is saying.

In fact if a player makes an error that lets the winning run in and effect loses the game for his team, everyone knows who made the error and who is to blame. That adds a psychological aspect to the game because it can be cruel. It is a game that celebrates "individualism" (that is, each player has individual accomplishments that are more obvious than a football player or a basketball player), Mandelbaum writes. Mandelbaum believes that there…[continue]

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