Baseball is a game of threes—three strikes to an out, three outs to an inning, three times three innings to a game. Here we present three new books with very different takes on the national pastime.
Baseball as a Road to God by NYU president John Sexton, is one of the most unorthodox baseball books published in recent memory. Indeed, it may be better not to call this a “baseball book” at all, but rather a peculiar entry in the counterattack against the new atheists of the Richard Dawkins stripe, arguing that baseball is a medium by which we can experience a “shining through of the sacred.” In a facile way, the game’s forms resemble those of a religion—stadiums its temples, the Hall of Fame its pantheon of saints—and Sexton draws on these analogies. But he goes beyond them to provide a comprehensive example of how the spiritual can manifest itself in the real. Sexton fills in his argument with plenty of familiar baseball history, and the book is shot through with exultation of the game. Its worshipful rhetoric matches the loftiness of the project, one with which it is worth engaging.
Leaving aside baseball’s sacred elements, Joe Peta’s Trading Bases: A Story About Wall Street, Gambling, and Baseball (Not Necessarily in That Order) represents the moneychangers in the temple. Profit is the name of the game here, and, untrue to its subtitle, the book takes as its subject Wall Street first, gambling a close second and baseball a distant third. The author, using his own experience as a stock trader, shares with readers—complete with clever pop culture references—a model by which to beat the Vegas odds and make a healthy return over a season of wagering. Readers keen on statistical analysis of baseball should take an interest, but others may find the technical language not worth the price of admission. The real revelations here are about the way gambling and markets work, not baseball. Still, Peta appreciates the charms of the game, and the book contains several nice reminiscences that suggest he and Sexton would find common ground over a beer.
With every April comes the return of baseball, and so too, it seems, comes a history of an individual season connecting the sport to the great issues of its era. This year the book is The Victory Season, the year is 1946, and the milieu is the struggle of the U.S. to adjust to peacetime. Many players had fought in WWII, and Robert Weintraub brings new light to the world of baseball within the military. After the war, key figures of the 1946 season include Jackie Robinson, preparing to break the color line; Larry MacPhail, overseeing the crassification of the Yankees; and especially Enos Slaughter of the Cardinals, a team destined to meet the Red Sox in the World Series. Under the weight of these personalities, the broader social history falls mostly by the wayside—Robert Murphy’s early attempt to unionize the players, for example, is only glimpsed. The detail can be a bit overwhelming, but those interested in this era of baseball will find a rich accounting in Weintraub’s book.