Tying into our first post today about the start of the 2012 Chicago Cubs baseball season, I have in this post an excerpt from a new book I recently picked up at a local thrift store (Yes, another brand new bargain!). It is a collection of articles written by famed journalist and historian David Halberstam, who also wrote sports stories. Well-written sports stories, I am finding out, including on baseball. Everything They Had: Sports Writing from David Halberstam is the title of the book (Hyperion, New York: 2008). When I looked through the table of contents for his baseball articles “Baseball and the National Mythology” jumped out at me. It is a fine read, and from it I quote today. It will bring to mind some of the great baseball names from the past – and the myths that surround the history of this great game.
We are a nation given to our myths. Short on history, short on national ties, still seeking an American culture, hardly rooted to village or church or an American past, we find comfort, sustenance, and indeed continuity in our myths.
…Baseball is, I suspect, our most mythological of sports; it has the longest history, it is by its own proclamation our national pastime, and it harbors, I think, our greatest mythological figures. Babe Ruth, so American that Japanese trying to infiltrate our lines summoned his name. Ruthian, gargantuan in feat and taste, lover of little cripples and orphans, sidelined – boys will be boys – for eating too many hot dogs (not for social disease). Lou Gehrig, gamely playing day after day, carrying finally a dread disease, modest and humble to the end….Bob Feller, straight off the farm with farmboy virtues and a blazing fastball, all farmboys are pure and have blazing fastballs; Joe DiMaggio, the melting-pot candidate, the Fisherman’s Wharf boy, son of poor but simple stock, only in America could he rise to such fame, always a gentleman, DiMaggio has class, …nothing there about Joe being, well, a little surly from time to time and liking, well, sycophants around him; Joe never talked, because it was, well, beneath him, not because he had nothing to say. And of course, Mickey Mantle…, game Mickey, pure country boy (not so country that he didn’t understand it and later exploit it, opening upon his retirement, Mickey Mantle’s Country Cooking Restaurants), great power in an injury-ridden body; no telling how great he might have been, the mythologist likes to dream, to let the imaginations sweep, playing when mortals like you and me would be staying home from the office, gobbling aspirin, Mickey bandaged from head to foot, blood showing on the uniform, game to the end.