The rebirth of the national pastime after World War II.May 6, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 32 • By COLIN FLEMING
In an American sports world where football is king, the notion of baseball as our country’s national pastime is a quaint one, a sort of nostalgic throwback to a bygone era, like westerns in the 1940s or heroic literature in the century after the Crusades.
Ungoverned by time, with seemingly little urgency to get anything done with haste, baseball is often run down as boring, a sport one turns to when one can’t pass muster on the hardwood or gridiron. A certain foreknowledge factors into baseball’s appeal as well; much hangs in knowing the difference between a 2-1 and 3-1 count, and woe to the observer who doesn’t grasp the salubrious effects of a well-timed hit and run over an ill--chosen moment to attempt a double steal. In short: One needs to know one’s stuff, to a degree, with baseball.
Baseball’s great advantage over its team sports brethren, however, is how readily it lends itself to a timelessness that, while borne in memory, has a knack for becoming perpetually of the present as well. With baseball, the past is ever moving forward in a kind of literary consciousness, a Proustian force that would have given Jay Gatsby pause with how readily memory is able to become something active and influential.
As a result, baseball literature thrives. Abetting the cause is the sport’s ability to dovetail with past iterations of a very American consciousness. In the case of The Victory Season, that consciousness is an especially restive one: that of a country, newly victorious in war, faced with fresh battles of an entirely more insular nature—a nation divided by housing shortages, labor strife, train strikes, rampant black markets, and racism. The consensual salve? Baseball. Back from its war-years malaise, and with its core cadre of stars reassembled after their service, baseball was arguably never more palliative than it was in 1946. What the country needed was some epic baseball theater, and, thankfully, the game delivered.
Robert Weintraub charts the military careers of star hurlers and back-up second sackers, and it is almost incredible to believe that players could so quickly shift their perspective from not getting taken out on the double play to taking out the sniper on a hill—but so it goes, again and again. There are all kinds of gradations of military service, and we see them all—from erstwhile ball-players flying bombing missions to bridge-based engineer work, with occasional time on the side for sandlot games in makeshift fields littered with rocks.
The meat of Weintraub’s narrative, once we get back home, is the National League pennant race. But his thesis—that the 1946 season mattered more than most, with an importance that transcended sport—succeeds on the backs of three men: Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals, Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox, and Jackie Robinson—the man who would break baseball’s color barrier in 1947—of the (minor league) Montreal Royals.
If you think you know Robinson’s story, and you’ve seen his retired number hanging from the outfield façade of your local ballpark, you might want to double-check your sense of what Robinson achieved against Weintraub’s account. Robinson is tested again and again. His racist manager hates him—at first, that is—and while racism is hardly melted away with each base Robinson swipes (his specialty being repeated thefts of home), it is beaten back a little, at least, through a kind of hard-won, grudging respect. Robinson’s manager, Clay Hopper, watches as a friend of his, former major league pitcher Paul Derringer, fires a fastball at Robinson’s head on two successive at-bats—leading, on both occasions, to Robinson picking himself up and drilling a couple of hits. Weintraub’s laconic reporting of the aftermath has a novelistic touch: “After the game, Derringer approached Hopper. ‘He’ll do,’ was all he said.”
Robinson’s story here is as much a testament to marriage as it is to the civil rights movement or the human capacity to endure. As Weintraub states, Rachel Robinson was every bit the hero her husband was, and while one can’t say with any certainty that Robinson would not have succeeded without her, there’s little doubt that the challenge would have been more formidable were he on his own.
8:00 AM, Nov 1, 2012 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
From December 1941 to August 1945, the United States of America joined the other Allied powers and fought against the Axis powers in Europe and the Pacific, during the greatest and most destructive war in all of human history.
8:08 AM, May 11, 2012 • By LIAM JULIAN
“Joan Miró: The Ladder of Escape” is at the National Gallery of Art through August 12. The conceit of the exhibit is that Miró was no sequestered surrealist but an artist readily engaged with politics and society—“an artist of his times,” as a wall caption puts it. Visitors reading that caption might well wonder how Miró could be anything but of his “times,” for they surely were interesting ones.
A haunted vision of a people in extremis. Feb 20, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 22 • By SUSANNE KLINGENSTEIN
The great tragedy of Yiddish literature is that, at the very moment when it was blossoming into modernity in all genres, its writers, audience, and cultural matrix were completely destroyed by the double knockout punch of German and Soviet anti-Semitism.
The old story: European politician gets in trouble, helps the Jews.Feb 13, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 21 • By SAM SCHULMAN
World War II was a close-run thing.Oct 10, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 04 • By AARON MACLEAN
Harry Butcher, an aide to General Eisenhower throughout his time as supreme commander in Europe, and gossipy diarist par excellence, reports the following remarks made by the mild-mannered Kansan on July 10, 1944:
World War Two and economic growthSep 12, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 48 • By ARTHUR HERMAN
As Washington waits for President Obama’s plan on how to revive the economy and pull us out of our 9 percent unemployment rut, a growing chorus on the left is calling for us to go to war—or at least the economic equivalent of war.
8:18 AM, Jul 26, 2011 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
How refreshing it is to see the actual lawmaking process finally proceeding — in the light of day — as the secretive closed-door meetings favored by this White House finally recede! This is how things are supposed to work in our republic.
The limits of endurance in enemy hands. Jun 20, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 38 • By NOEMIE EMERY
A World War II Story of Survival,
Resilience, and Redemption
by Laura Hillenbrand
12:46 PM, Dec 1, 2010 • By JOHN NOONAN
On June 6th, 1944, 1st Lt Dick Winters parachuted behind German lines, assembled a small strike team, and neutralized four enemy artillery pieces that were wreaking havoc on nearby Utah Beach. The Brecourt Manor Assault, as it was later dubbed, represented one of the most brilliant examples of small unit assault tactics in recent military history. Winters had no intelligence on the size of the enemy force holding the guns or the structure of the German defenses.
Why World War II was inevitable.10:45 AM, Nov 1, 2010 • By PHILIP TERZIAN
Among Barbara Tuchman’s many sins as an historian was the notion, propagated in her popular volume The Guns of August (1962), that the Great Powers had more or less blundered into conflict in 1914, and that smarter diplomacy might well have prevented the Great War.
In the wilderness of mirrors, he who holds the last mirror wins.9:40 AM, Aug 3, 2010 • By GABRIEL SCHOENFELD
Since last year, Hezbollah has been rounding up Lebanese who are believed to be spying for the state of Israel.
Allies in War, in Peace Friends.12:30 AM, Jul 4, 2010 • By JOSEPH LOCONTE
The celebration of American Independence has a way of illuminating the Anglo-American relationship, especially during times of war. Although July 4, 1776 marked the date when the American people dissolved "the political bands which have connected them" with Great Britain, July 4, 1940 signified just the opposite: the moment when the two great democracies solidified their “special relationship.” Seventy years ago, British prime minister Winston Churchill delivered a speech before the House of Commons that masterfully rebuked the United States for sitting on the sidelines while Britain stood alone to defend freedom against totalitarianism. Churchill’s insights are worth recalling during our own season of war, when the historic ties between the two nations seem frayed and in doubt.