As American as Baseball?

[NOTE: Apparently, with the All-Star game looming, it’s time for a baseball post. Or I’m just copying my friend Greg, who recently wrote about baseball by way of TV and football.]

National Review just published summer reads from some of its writers, and this year they included Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, who writes for GetReligion.org, one of my favorite blogs. Sad to say, she writes about baseball as if America reigned supreme simply by virtue of invention. Sure, Abner Doubleday built the game, and we certainly put our hearts into it (or did before the modern, scandal-ridden era turned our minds toward other things). But times have changed; or have they?

Hemingway writes:

“Despite Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round the World” and the World Series, It’s funny that we refer to baseball in global terms considering almost every team that contends for it is in the United States (does Toronto still have a team?). But the game is popular beyond the U.S. Border, most notably in Latin America and Japan.”

Funny that the US performs so poorly at baseball on the world stage. Take the World Baseball Cup, for instance. The United States ranks a distant third in this competition, and when I say distant, it hardly does the gap justice. Cuba has won gold 25 out of 36 cups and 28 medals total. Venezuela is next, with just three golds and nine overall, and then the US with two golds and 13 overall. In other words, a much-maligned Communist dictatorship and a burgeoning one have managed to outdo the world’s greatest democracy at its own game. It’s laughable.

Now, you could say, “Sure, but the MLBPA won’t let the pros compete,” and you’d be right. But pros have only been able to compete since 1996. The last time the US won the gold was the year I was born: 1974.

But let me say again: We invented baseball, and we’ve only placed once in the last twenty years.

We’ve done no better in the Olympics, where baseball has only been a medal sport for 4 games. We did manage to win bronze in my native Atlanta, and gold in Sydney. Cuba won the other three golds (and silver in Sydney). (FYI, baseball and softball will not appear in the 2012 games.)

I wonder if this sad history is a commentary on the US’s fading star in general. I am not so Amerocentric (or ignorant) as to suggest that everything good has come from America. Still, the list of items/technologies invented in America in the last hundred years but perfected elsewhere is pretty long. Add to that the things we developed considerably (e.g., the automobile) then watched slip through our fingers, and the list becomes very long indeed. We’ve managed to export our culture with amazing success, but even that may ultimately be subsumed by a sort of syncretistic hodgepodge.

Hey, it happened to Rome.

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2 thoughts on “As American as Baseball?”

  1. I will add some more fodder for your argument with another game we invented – basketball. The NBA has been the most aggressive US professional league in exporting its product overseas. They have been relatively successful by a number of measures. One, NBA.com gets the majority of its traffic from outside the states. Two, they do a fair amount of merchandise business internationally. Third, and probably most importantly, they have an increasing number of international players that play in the NBA. This number has grown to nearly 100 players this past season. NBA GMs are starting to realize that upcoming international players have better fundamentals than US players do. They are more interested in learning the game than dunking and showing off. After the 1988 Olympic team of amateurs finished with the bronze medal we created the “Dream Team” to reclaim our world wide dominance. We did just that in ’92 and repeated in ’96. We won the gold again in ’00 but the competition was tighter. In ’04 we went 5-3 and dropped back to bronze with younger pros versus the seasoned vets.

  2. You both make great points about both American games (and to even put my opinion in with yours makes even my equal-opportunity side quiver in fear of being put in my place) BUT I will put my two cents in anyway. Baseball is still America’s game. Have you ever been to a Yankees game? A Redsox game? Heck, have you sat sideline of an Orioles game? These fans are loyalists. They believe in their team, win or lose, they love their team like they are family. (And if your my family, you are brought up to root for one team regardless of how they perform.) One could argue that it captures the American spirit, commericalism and all. It was a game played by immigrants. So why is it surprising that its best players would be from outside our borders? It was beloved before America became a superpower and will remain when we cease to be one. Forgive me for romanticizing the game. I doubt I clearly explained my opinions on the subject… it’s hard to minimize your thoughts so you don’t right an essay on “Baseball and the American Culture”.

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