The Answer is Baseball

answerisbaseballThe Answer Is Baseball is a nonfiction book, and my only book published by major press. There’s a delicious irony in that the book is about the ephemeral subject of looking for the best baseball trivia question. The writing isn’t ephemeral, or the method of looking for questions at the intersection of history, wit and American culture, but some of the information is. The method: “Who is the first Native American to play major league baseball?” This leads not only to the tragic story of Louis Sockalexis, who drank himself out of baseball after showing unGodly ability, but to the closing of the frontier in the 1890s, the rise of terrible slums in big cities and the baseball park as an enclosed frontier, the image of the Native American in the American consciousness. (Why could a Native American play in 1897 but not a black man?). A really good question has it all. The spider web of who we are, what we were, what we will be.

The Answer Is Baseball was well reviewed and for years people wrote me about it, sometimes asking why I didn’t write a sequel. “The answer is” that book was a love letter based on thirty years of rooting, talk, remembering and dreaming. I don’t feel that way about baseball now. The best part was the covenant between past and present – the records, numbers, ghosts of the great, the continuity between Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and now. The palimpsest of tradition.

All this was obscured in the 1990s – the Enhanced Era – when steroids and human growth hormone and God-knows-what else, plus better sports medicine and strength training, broke the covenant. 70 home runs? 73 home runs? Sammy Sosa hitting 60 three times and not leading the league? This isn’t right. Roger Maris still holds the single season home run record for me (And my writing about it is my best). Hank Aaron, as dignified, brave and fine a gentleman as we are likely to see, is the all-time home run record holder. I don’t care how many anyone else hits, or the lies they tell about it.

I still watch. I love the Red Sox miracle of 2004. But as my baseball god, the legendary NYU professor Bob Gurland said, “Maybe we’ve seen the best of it.”

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