Brosnahan: ‘All the ancient gods come to life’: An interview with John Thorn

From Cory Brosnahan at PBS’ American Experience on October 24, 2016, with SABR member John Thorn:

You’ve said, “In no sport is the past as important to the present moment as it is in baseball.” Why is that?

In football, when we have somebody approaching a rushing yardage record, nobody says, well, he’s good but not as good as Red Grange. In basketball, we don’t think about George Mikan at all. And in hockey, who thinks of Howie Morenz? Yet in baseball, when someone nears 3,000 hits, all the ancient gods come to life: Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Cap Anson — these people who no living human being has seen play all compete for newsprint with the star of the present moment.

Basketball of 1920 doesn’t look at all like basketball today. The same is true of football. And the same is true of hockey. Now, baseball changes minutely from season to season, and there are occasional massive rules adjustments, like the designated hitter in 1973. But the game that your great-grandfather saw — if he were to be revived to go to a ballgame today, he would recognize it as baseball. So I think the game gives an illusion of permanence. In fact, it seems that in an America that’s basically reinventing itself at every moment, baseball is the one fixed point — the one thing around which our memories turn.

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Originally published: October 24, 2016. Last Updated: October 24, 2016.