A Baseball Book for Big Thinkers

Last month the Boston Red Sox dropped out of playoff contention, losing their wild-card berth to the Tampa Bay Rays after leading them by nine games three and a half weeks earlier. For any other team, this would have been a late-season swoon of epic proportions, but by Red Sox standards, it was fairly ordinary. While I didn't tear any hair out over it personally (I'm a Yankees fan, and a casual one these days), it did remind me of a favorite book from childhood, one that I'd be pleased to recommend even to non-sports fans.

The Answer is Baseball is a fairly obscure little volume first published in 1989; its author, Luke Salisbury, is a sportswriter and community college professor in Boston. Framed as a book of non-trivial trivia, it aims to pose questions that illuminate the very soul of the game. (Salisbury draws an elaborate parallel between good trivia questions and the catechism.) More broadly it's a literary exploration of baseball, of a kind that may help explain to the skeptical why so many nerds adore the sport. The reflections on statistician Bill James take on renewed interest in this autumn of Moneyball, while the final chapter, on the longstanding rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox, contains the most poignant account of Boston’s various collapses that I've ever read.

Salisbury, still smarting from his team's 1986 World Series loss to the Mets, walks the reader through the full, infamous inning that culminated in Bill Buckner's muffed ground ball. "I was like a child watching a horror movie," he remembers; he knew the worst would happen, yet he couldn't turn the TV off. His helpless frustration, recounted play by agonizing play, is enough to move the most hardened Yankees fan to pity. For good measure, Salisbury also recounts Boston's equally notorious regular-season meltdown in ‘78 and their historic missed opportunity in the ‘49 World Series. In the process, he transmutes his heartbreak as a fan into a larger meditation on Boston and New York, on the character of the two cities and their relative places in the cultural imagination. Where New York is ultra-capitalist and effortlessly predominant, Boston is "stylish” and “neurotic"; the tragic ironies that beset their beloved ballclub are downright Sophoclean.

As a whole, The Answer is Baseball is one of those genuinely idiosyncratic books that somehow, through a stroke of un-Bostonian luck, managed to get published. At times it reads more like an Intro to Literature survey course than a sports book, but even the more overwrought passages are part of its charm. (To Salisbury, baseball cards are Proustian “cardboard madeleines,” while the ruthlessly competitive Ty Cobb is the twentieth century’s answer to Captain Ahab.) In exploring the cultural and spiritual dimensions of the game, Answer is as effective as such staples of the fan's canon as Ken Burns's Baseball documentary and Updike’s “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.” If a volume like it appeared today, I doubt any major press would take a chance on it, but as the World Series approaches, I hope some of my readers will.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons, user Olsin.se.]

The 4 types of thinking talents: Analytic, procedural, relational and innovative

Understanding thinking talents in yourself and others can build strong teams and help avoid burnout.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to collaborate within a team and identify "thinking talent" surpluses – and shortages.
  • Angie McArthur teaches intelligent collaboration for Big Think Edge.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Do you have a self-actualized personality? Maslow revisited

Rediscovering the principles of self-actualisation might be just the tonic that the modern world is crying out for.

Personal Growth

Abraham Maslow was the 20th-century American psychologist best-known for explaining motivation through his hierarchy of needs, which he represented in a pyramid. At the base, our physiological needs include food, water, warmth and rest.

Keep reading Show less

Scientists reactivate cells from 28,000-year-old woolly mammoth

"I was so moved when I saw the cells stir," said 90-year-old study co-author Akira Iritani. "I'd been hoping for this for 20 years."

Yamagata et al.
Surprising Science
  • The team managed to stimulate nucleus-like structures to perform some biological processes, but not cell division.
  • Unless better technology and DNA samples emerge in the future, it's unlikely that scientists will be able to clone a woolly mammoth.
  • Still, studying the DNA of woolly mammoths provides valuable insights into the genetic adaptations that allowed them to survive in unique environments.
Keep reading Show less

Believe in soulmates? You're more likely to 'ghost' romantic partners.

Does believing in true love make people act like jerks?

Thought Catalog via Unsplash
Sex & Relationships
  • Ghosting, or cutting off all contact suddenly with a romantic partner, is not nice.
  • Growth-oriented people (who think relationships are made, not born) do not appreciate it.
  • Destiny-oriented people (who believe in soulmates) are more likely to be okay with ghosting.
Keep reading Show less