Baseball & American Life

Eighty-three years ago in Chicago the first All-Star Game between the American and National Leagues was held, the genius of Arch Ward, sports editor of the Chicago Tribune. The game was played July 6, 1933, at Comiskey Park on Chicago’s Southside, and a sellout crowd of 49,200 attended what would become a magic moment in baseball history.

The names of those who played that July day in the Windy City included some of the greatest names in baseball history – Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Carl Hubbell, Frankie Frisch, Bill Terry, Lefty Grove, Charlie Gehringer, Left Gomez, Gabby Hartnett, and Pepper Martin – all forever enshrined at Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. In addition, the legendary John McGraw of the New York Giants and Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics were the game’s managers.

No all-star game of any sport in our history began more auspiciously than baseball’s – and no other all-star game today equals its standing. Which is why baseball fans in San Diego are excited to welcome the 76th All-Star Game at Petco Park.

Ted Williams famously said, “I think without question the hardest single thing to do in sport is to hit a baseball.” No one who has played the game would disagree with Mr. Williams, the game’s greatest hitter, least of all me – having discovered the hard reality of attempting to join bat and ball beginning at age 10.

It was Jacques Barzun, a scholar who understood American life and culture as few others, famously said, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game.”

As my life has lengthened and my understanding broadened, baseball has taken on a special significance; not because I deem it necessarily greater than other sports, but because its roots run deep in the soil of America, as no other professional sport sprung up as early as baseball, which marks its beginnings to 1869. But until the rise of the NFL, 89-years later (the famous Giants/Colts OT game at Yankee Stadium in ‘58), baseball was far and away our dominant national game.

Our nation has evolved, so too baseball; but as America remains faithful to our Founders and values, so too baseball remains faithful to its founders and values – one and inseparable.

True, Bill James and sabermetrics ushered in a new way of seeing the game and a great many smart young men and women out of college chose baseball as careers over Wall Street and Silicon Valley, and they have had their effect – but the foul pole is still fair, three strikes is still out, and six-four-three is still a double play.

But of all professional sports, it is baseball that changed America, as the single greatest moment in the game’s history was the signing of Jackie Robinson, who became the first African-American to break the color barrier, and Branch Rickey’s signing of Jackie came before we knew the names of  either Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks; before the Civil Rights marches in the South or Brown v. the Board of Education; before Thurgood Marshall sat on the Supreme Court or President Truman desegregated the military.
April 15, 1947, the day Jackie Robinson’s debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers, remains a seminal moment in the epic history of our nation.

Our summers are highlighted by the 4th of July and baseball’s All-Star Game. The first celebrates our independence and the second our national pastime; it’s not that our establishment as a nation and baseball are equal, obviously, they’re not, but our independence and its attendant freedoms created an environment from which the game arose – and 147-years later remains for millions, as it does for me, a game we love and celebrate.

Happy 87th All-Star Game.