It has become something of a ritual for me. The Major League Baseball Channel, every Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, runs Ken Burns’ remarkable documentary Baseball.
I saw this documentary when it was originally released in the mid 1990s. I was struck by the fact that this story of baseball was as much a story of the USA and the forces that have affected its development. It is not a story about white baseball players alone, but a story of the sport, including the Negro Leagues, the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, the changing demographics, and the class struggle contained within the sport.
Although i have seen nearly the entire series except for “The Tenth Inning” which premiered in 2010 and brings the story up to the present, i have found myself each time glued to the television. Contrary to myth, baseball is very much an urban sport, and a working class sport at that. The declining involvement of African Americans in baseball is another feature of the history of the sport, and a tragic component at that. When one considers the tremendous contributions of African American ballplayers to the sport–all too often overlooked–our declining percentage in the game is enough to bring tears to one’s eyes. This decline should not take us by surprise given the transformation of cities and the declining space available for baseball fields. To this must be added that whereas during the era of the Negro Leagues baseball had deep roots and a trajectory within Black America, with the integration of the sport and the transformation of the cities this became less the case.
One more observation. The fight for free agency and the growth of the Major League Baseball Players Association reminded one that baseball, though a sport, is a sport in the capitalist system, owned and controlled by individuals who are looking for a profit. The entertainment of the public, in that sense, is secondary and could just as easily be replaced by the production of some commodity, at least as far as the team owners are concerned.
Though Christmas is over, i would suggest that you take a look at the documentary if you have never seen it. If you are not currently a fan of baseball, this series will turn you into one. And when you become a fan, let’s have a chat about building a movement to get Curt Flood and Marvin Miller into the Hall of Fame. But that is for another commentary… 🙂