Baseball for Credit

This article was written by William A. Borst

This article was published in the 1974 Baseball Research Journal


Maryville College is a fast-growing co-educational institution, located in St. Louis County.  As a part of our innovative approach to higher education, I originated an accredited course in baseball history during the spring semester of 1973.

Entitled “The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Baseball,” which I adapted from Leonard Koppett, the course was designed for the fan who wanted to develop a deeper knowledge and understanding of the “national pastime,” and its relation to American society.  Baseball has enjoyed over a hundred year history in the United States.   As a viable social institution and a popular form of entertainment since 1869, the “human game,” as I call it, has formed an intimate relationship with the nation’s history and culture.   As the “national pastime,” baseball serves as a microcosm of the nature and character of the American people themselves.

Thirteen students attended the course, which included a chronological survey of the game, as it developed from the days of Alexander Cartwright until the start of the 1973 season.  Other topics that were discussed included:   the nature of the fan, baseball’s ethic, the concept of the “hero”, the reserve clause and anti-trust action, as well as a close look at stars of the past and present through the use of films from the Film Division of    the Major Leagues.

The selection of adequate texts for this course involved a problem.  There are relatively few well-written books about baseball in an academic sense and in paperback from.  Wallop’s Baseball: An Informal History was adequate as a general text.  I might add that as an outgrowth of the course, I have written a capsular history of the game, in less than 30 pages which I hope to have published this year.  We discussed Bouton’s amusing inside story, Ball Four, especially his comments on the baseball “hero”.  Lawrence Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times is an excellent rendition of an oral history of baseball’s former greats.  Since I am an old Dodger Fan, Roger Kahn’s Boys of Summer was a must for the course.  I augmented the book discussions with an hour-long tape from the Treasurer of the L.A. Dodger’s Booster Club, Mrs. Terry Dowling.  Because of our correspondence during the year, she sent me a tape of her experiences as a young woman, growing up in Brooklyn, in a world of Dodger fans, prior to WW II.

As for a guest speaker, my first choice was Roger Kahn.  His coming to Maryville had to be contingent on his being in St. Louis to promote his book in paperback.  Fifty dollars was the most I could get as a speaker’s fee.  As it turned out Kahn never came to St. Louis to promote Boys of Summer.  However, in mid-May, I received a phone call from his asking if the offer were still open.  He was in town to write an article on Joe Torre for Esquire Magazine.  Unfortunately the course had ended the first week in May.  But we did get together for fours hours of conversation about baseball and writing.

I also asked former player and scout Andy High to address the class.  He is a delightful 75-year-old man with a tremendous memory, like so many “old timers”.  Now retired and living in St. Louis, High was unable to come because he was recovering from cataract surgery.  But all was not lost.  I was then hit with the brain storm of asking “Cool Papa” Bell, a former star in the old Negro Leagues.  He had just retired as a night-watchman at City Hall.  After some reluctance to talk to a college crowd, Bell agreed to speak to the class.  After watching him strike and instant rapport with some 20 college students, I could not really understand his initial reluctance.  He simply delighted us with his stories of his long career in baseball.  He said that one year he kept statistics for himself and Josh Gibson.    Bell said he stole 175 bases and Gibson hit 75 home runs in a 190 game season.   He also said that he was clocked in 12 seconds for the trip around the bases.    My three-hour stay with him was quite an education, not only in baseball, but also in life itself.

Some of the other highlights of the course included a visit from Bob Buck, the Sports Director of KMOX TV (CBS) and his camera crew.   They filmed a five-minute sequence of the class, replete with interviews with some of the students.   Incidentally, of the 13 regular members of the class, ten were women.  The TV tape appeared on the news report that evening.   The course did receive a great deal of local publicity, including a number of other media plugs. Jerry Lovelace, the Publicity Director of the St. Louis Cardinals gave us 20 complimentary tickets to a Pirate game in April.

In all fairness I must admit that the idea for a college-level course of this nature was not originally mine.   Dr. Harold Seymour taught a similar course at Finch College in New York City years ago, and I have been told that certain other SABR members have developed college courses in baseball.

The baseball course was quite successful;   in fact, I will be teaching it at Meramec Community College early in 1974, and will be repeating the course at Maryville in May.   Last year’s course was concluded with a comprehensive but not too difficult final exam.    Here is a copy of that exam.   What kind of grade would you make?

Soc.  Sci. 187      Baseball History Final      Dr. Borst

Give significance of eight of the following.    (40)

Charlie Finley             Bench Jockey              DH

Coopers town               Johnny Bench            Black Sox

John McGraw             Amazin’ Mets              Ty Cobb

“Life Swap”                Hans Lobert                Don Larsen

Connie Mack              Baseball ethic             Ban Johnson

Ace Sullivan               Miracle of                   Junk Man

                                    Coogan’s Bluff

Essay:

             (1)   Select your own all-time all-star team for either the National or the American League.    Choose a player for each position, including an R-pitcher and an L-pitcher.   Give reasons for your choices.

            (2)   Discuss the origins of baseball.   What relationship did Abner Doubleday have to the game?   Alexander Cartwright?

            (3)   Evaluate the impact Babe Ruth made on baseball.  How did he reflect the spirit of the twenties?

            (4) Discuss the 1934 Cardinals.   How did they reflect the atmosphere of the depression?

            (5) Who were the “boys of summer?”   How do you explain the success of Kahn’s book?

            (6) Explain Bouton’s concept of the hero.   How does it differ from the traditional understanding of the hero?

            (7) Discuss baseball as a sports-industry.   Traditionally how has the Supreme Court interpreted baseball’s relation to American society?

            (8)  Discuss the psychology of the fan.  Use examples to support your answer wherever possible.

            (9)  Discuss baseball in relation to segregation and the race issue.   Evaluate the respective roles of

 Rickey, Robinson, and Reese in the elimination of “Jim Crow” from the national game.

 (Note:   You must do #1!  You have a choice of 5 of the remaining 8.   Each one is worth ten points.)

 Bonus: One point apiece.   Ten points if you get all five.

1)   Ty Cobb’s lifetime BA.

2)   The name of Veeck’s midget.

3)  The number of no-hitters Koufax pitched.

4)  The number of straight games DiMaggio hit safely in.

5)  The man whose record Ruth topped in 1927 when he hit 60 homers.

                          (Copyright William A. Borst, 1974)

© SABR. All Rights Reserved