Several years ago, my University of Connecticut colleague Steven Wisensale crafted a course that had foresight and vision for what America faces today. The name of the class, “Baseball in Society: Politics, Economics, Race and Gender,” serves as a mirror of American culture over time, reflecting the nation’s strengths and weaknesses, its accomplishments and failures. In general terms, American history, political power, economic justice, racial prejudice, gender discrimination, individual development, globalization and more are covered through the lens of baseball. More specifically, the class focuses on the ongoing conflicts between individualism and solidarity , labor and management, masculinity and feminism, urban and pastoral, white and non-white, rich and poor, young and old, gay and straight, and internationalism and nativism.
The phrases “Red States” and “Blue States” have referred to voters who predominantly choose either the Republican Party (red) or Democratic Party (blue) for presidential candidates. The terms have been expanded to hypothesize a correlation between states being perceived as liberal versus those perceived as conservative. All states contain both liberal and conservative voters and as of 2016, fully 38 out of 50 states have voted for the same party in every presidential election since the red/blue terminology was popularized in 2000.
In 1980, Neil Diamond’s iconic song “America,” from “The Jazz Singer,” captured the ethos of the American Dream by describing how immigrants were “traveling far without a home, but not without a star,” seeking freedom and opportunity. Since 2016, the people of our nation have encountered a broad and sustained national effort to promote homophobia, misogyny, racism and divisiveness, and an especially xenophobic attitude toward men, women and even children from Latin America. It makes Diamond’s song null and void.
Can America do better than this? Is there something in our culture that can bind us together, regardless of politics and other fracturing social forces?
Like baseball, America is all about hope. That’s why people came here from around the globe, and why Americans love baseball, according to political scientist and baseball historian David Pietrusza. “Baseball is not about hope without effort, and a 162-game season demands day-in, day-out effort,” Pietrusza said.
Like America itself, baseball stands for a belief that because success is not easy, achieving success makes it something to be treasured all the more. Despite its three strikes, four balls, foul balls, three outs and nine innings, baseball is game without a clock; it is a game that never expires until the final out. Moreover, no matter what the score is, hope always remains part of the game, regardless of the score at the start of the bottom half of the ninth inning.
The game has always been part of my life. I am a Dodger Blue fan forever. Baseball is not just the Opening Day (this year March 29) until the World Series in October. There is the Hot Stove League in the fall and winter months where we sit around and speculate about how our teams can be strengthened by the time Spring Training begins in February of each year, and we start the new cycle all over again. It has also been inclusive with all demographics — race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, and politics (red, blue). With the exception of the New York Yankees, the other 29 MLB teams, by the start of the 2019 season, will host an LGBTQ Night at their stadiums.
Similarly, America gets born again every day. Pietrusza said: “It is a society based on change, often for the sake of change. But people also crave a certain amount of stability, and baseball bridges both sentiments — it is the most traditional of sports. Your team may be your father’s or your grandfather’s team, he explained. “That counts for something in a world where different generations now seem to come from distant galaxies.” Professor Wisensale affirms that it was learning the game of baseball that served as a shortcut for immigrants to feel a part of America. No other sport did that.
The term “common denominator” is defined as a characteristic or attitude that is shared by all members of a group of people. Based upon the viewpoints of historians, politicians, economists, and academics, I assert that there is sufficient evidence that BASEBALL is the common denominator in America that will be the enabler to bring civility and respect to the dialogue about the future of our country.
Michael M. Ego is a professor of human development and family studies at the University of Connecticut, Stamford.