Posted by: Namar | September 23, 2011

Jacques Barzun: Capitalism changed America’s pastime

In one of his thought-provoking books, writer/historian Jacques Barzun argued with passion against the arrogant materialism that became so pervasive by the turn of the century… the 19th century.  He found baseball as one of the last vestiges of the American‘s puritan origins. It was a cultural declaration of independence.

“That baseball fitly expresses the powers of the nation’s mind and body is a merit separate from the glory of being the most active, agile, varied, articulate, and brainy of all group games. It is of and for our century… The idea of baseball is a team, an outfit, a section, a gang, a union, a cell, a commando squad–in short, a twentieth century setup of opposite numbers.

Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game — and do it by watching first some high school or small-town teams.”  —God‘s Country and Mine (1954)

Jacques Barzun

The scholar Jacques Barzun has commented, favorably and not, on baseball.

In the decades that followed, baseball has undergone significant changes, most of them economically driven. A ‘game’ that evolved into a sport has become a business, forcing much, if not most of what made it great to the bench, or cut from the team altogether.

But in 2009, Barzun realigned his views regarding the drastic economic changes that have transformed baseball.

“The commercialization is beyond anything that was ever thought of, the overvaluing, really, of the game itself. It’s out of proportion to the place an entertainment ought to have.

“Other things are similarly commercialized and out of proportion, but for baseball, which is so intimately connected with the nation’s spirit and tradition, it’s a disaster.

“Baseball is the most complex sport and the least physical. It doesn’t depend on butting and bashing. It calls for lightning judgment and response at every moment of play, together with accuracy of eye and power of arm and leg for hitting, running, and throwing. And it is a wonderfully cooperative game in which the continually changing conditions bring on a variety of rules and opportunities.

“Those features seemed to me, when I made the statement in 1954, to mirror the character of our individual behavior, our social and business relations, and our sense of organization generally. We have fallen away from this standard to an appalling degree—we blunder repeatedly, “the honest mistake” regularly accounts for the predictable error. We utter stupidly offensive words, followed by apologies. Our legislatures dither and act too late. Industry and corporations are outsourcing because it’s more fun for CEOs to buy and sell companies than run them. It’s only a matter of time till baseball bats are stamped “Made in China.” Anyhow, allegiance to a team is no longer possible; the free-player system scrambles the lot, and the salaries paid introduce an element of disgust in what used to be the joy of being a fan.”

Alas, baseball, along with America, has changed. Hand-in-hand they have marched together onward, evolving into a new breed of what each once was. Perhaps better, perhaps worse, but each unlikely to ever return to its former embodiment, despite any and all protestations by even its most vehement supporters.


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