Thorn: The ‘unchanging game’ of baseball

From SABR member John Thorn at the Library of Congress Magazine on July 2, 2018:

“Ninety feet between bases,” wrote Red Smith, “is perhaps as close as man has ever come to perfection.” Other writers have extolled the divine inspiration that must have produced a game of nine men and nine innings, with an exhilarating disregard for the clock. Baseball grew up with the republic and has been the rock around which life’s turbulent waters have swirled. Amid unceasing, unsettling change in all America’s institutions, our game has given us an everyday reminder of all that was once good about America and might once be again.

Or so it goes. In fact, the only permanent thing about America is change. Baseball has changed irresistibly, whether through innovation or evolution, sly turns in custom and practice, or overt rule changes. Fans of a certain age have seen “their game” bloat from two hours to three; relief pitchers proliferate; defensive shifts turn former hits into routine outs; and increasing strikeouts and home runs result in fewer balls in play.

The belief in our nation’s historic game as a repository of its ancient values is strengthened by a shared belief in things that may not be so … we do no dishonor to baseball’s story to call it myth. Truly, much of what we love about the game today, and what binds us as a people, is its yesterdays. e ever- present past is what keeps Babe Ruth alive as we watch Shohei Ohtani, the remarkable pitcher-hitter of the Los Angeles Angels.

Read the full article here (scroll to page 28 of the PDF):

Originally published: July 2, 2018. Last Updated: July 2, 2018.