Counterpoint: Baseball and Collective Meaning

Last Thursday, our Fearless Leader provided rumination on dreaming, or the unfulfilled and limitless potential of the future, as the game’s greatest strength. (If you haven’t read it, please take a moment to go do so; otherwise, my rebuttal won’t make much sense.) I’d like to take this opportunity to present an alternative viewpoint, in defense of the past.

I’ve always struggled with the present tense. We’re often cajoled, by motivational posters and the ghost of Satchel Paige, to live in the moment; but by the time that moment has happened, we’ve received the data, interpreted it and understood it, it’s long since passed. We’re always a fraction of a step behind reality. To cross that already treacherous boundary into the future, and to make predictions, sometimes feels incomprehensible to me. My own inability to dream, to imagine the unformed possibilities beyond the event horizon, probably says a lot about me, or at least my failures as a novelist. It might also say something about my home team, whose future and past are all too often similarly dressed.

But it’s not so terrible. Baseball, like life, needs its historians as well as its poets. In the comments of Cistulli’s piece, Illinois glass M. Michael Sheets makes my case quite eloquently, noting that every moment “is made possible by all previous moments.” In some sense, we need to make meaning out of what has already happened, understand the reality we live in, in order to fashion some sense of perfection from it.

As a relativist, I tend to shy away from the concept of perfection, and as a cynic, I tend to worry about those who like to talk about it. Cistulli impugns reality as a sort of prison with only one possible interpretation; this may be true in the box score, but in the stands during the game, there are as many realities as they are viewpoints.

But I do believe in baseball as a method for creating shared meaning, pulling us out of our own little individual universes into something that we can agree upon, despite our different perspectives. We can disagree on the statistics, and even our methods for measuring them, but the San Francisco Giants as 2012 World Champions is immutable and universal. It gives us, as we navigate the realities of the people around us, a place to start.

My job, such as it is, is to find these commonalities between us and reveal the absurdities in them. Because of all of our different desires and perspectives, the future, for all its hope and promise, isn’t particularly funny. If the blackbird could sound like anything, what is there left to talk about?

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Patrick Dubuque writes for NotGraphs and The Hardball Times, and he served as former Bill Spaceman Lee Visiting Professor for Baseball Exploration at Pitchers & Poets. Follow him on Twitter @euqubud.

8 Responses to “Counterpoint: Baseball and Collective Meaning”

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  1. Patrick, you ignorant slut.

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  2. Kyle says:

    I agree with both of you. I am unable and unwilling to think for myself.

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  3. TS Flynn says:

    It seems odd to me to expect perfection from baseball, even as an idealized goal. The men who play, manage, and umpire the game are imperfect (as baseball is quick to remind them). And while success and failure are defined by results (the past), it’s during lived moments–instants usually–when a fan’s adrenaline surges because success or failure hangs in the balance. We love triples because that moment lasts all the way from home to third. That’s why I think the present is baseball’s greatest strength.

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    • Jesse says:

      But as our author writes: “We’re always a fraction of a step behind reality” ie a ‘present’ reality as “by the time that moment has happened, we’ve received the data, interpreted it and understood it, it’s long since passed.”

      Basically, your response is non-sense here: there is no present.

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      • Jesse says:

        Patrick might be right about the present (reference to Hegel’s ‘dieses Itzt’?) but isn’t Cistulli’s “perfect” future – “Offseason projections, prospect analysis, every Max Scherzer start: each is an exercise in the art of the possible. And each, I think, gestures at a version of a future that is perfect” – as much a grammar pun as a concept or discovery of perfection?

        In any case, an interesting dialogue between the two authors and I’ll be curious to see Patrick’s response to Carson’s Ecstatic Truth piece.

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      • mightyflynn says:

        Non-sense only if you accept the premise (“We’re always a fraction of a step behind reality”). I don’t, because in baseball, at least, a moment isn’t always instantaneous. In my example of a triple, “the moment” is experienced after it is anticipated and before it is interpreted and understood. The present exists in that moment. But that’s just how I experience baseball. I’m not looking for a debate or saying anyone else is wrong in the ways they perceive baseball time and apply philosophies. I think it’s fun to think about, though.

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