Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Maybe One Day I Will Get To Teach a Course Like This

Chris Beneke on why he teaches baseball history. A taste:

So what particular things do college-level students of baseball history actually need to think about? Well, they should grapple with all the implications of Jackie Robinson’s 1947 arrival as the first African-American player in the modern major leagues and the 1956 decision to uproot the Dodgers from their languishing Brooklyn home and deposit them in the glistening, automobile-centric environs of Los Angeles. They should also be able to explain the significance of the 1975 “Seitz decision” that transformed a labor system premised on depriving its chief employees of nearly every shred of autonomy into a system that bestowed vast treasures on free agents who had the audacity to play a game for a living.

Part of what makes baseball so appealing as a tool for teaching American history is the happy coincidence of professional baseball history with the chronology of the modern survey course. Baseball was already considered the “National Game” in the 1860s, by which time its regnant metaphors such as “fair play” were beginning to saturate American life. As Jim Crow took hold and segregation hardened at the tail end of 19th century, the major leagues imposed their own unofficial bans on African-American players. The “Latinization” of baseball over the last two decades, and the secondary impact on the Dominican Republic in particular, also tracks neatly with larger changes in American society.