I’m always fascinated about what the rest of the world has to stay about the United States when they think we’re not listening. From Top Gear/The Grand Tour, for example, I learned that we’re called “America” rather than the United States; that they think our coffee is weak; and they are baffled by our gigantic grocery stores and gigantic everything else.

This led me to wonder what other nations might have to say about baseball. Most American culture sites emphasize its likeness to cricket, “but shorter.” An inning is “a period of play” and “one eats greasy foods as part of the experience.”

Fair enough. I cannot imagine someone plopping me down in front of a baseball game with no idea as to what’s going on. It must seem terribly slow and rather pointless. But then, so is the entirety of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, and that didn’t stop us from forging ahead with it.

Having exported baseball, I suspect we became lazy on the matter of producing lesser American-made goods, such as muscle cars and every possible form of Batman. We figured there was no topping ourselves, and, in the words of Dave Barry describing Spain, “decided to get drunk and become a third-world power.” There’s no other explanation for the precipitous slide in the quality of just about everything the United States has done since we achieved Peak Baseball with Johnny Bench’s appearance on Hee Haw.

And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’ve failed to improve our standing in the world now that soccer is creeping in on baseball’s territory. The nature of World War II spread our game beyond our own hemisphere, and even though we packed up and left most occupied places, we left our gloves and our bats behind.

That is the nature of Americans. We’re a hodgepodge; we’re more than happy to share some of the podge that we’ve hodged. We devastated Japan, then planted baseball culture that now rivals anything America enjoyed in the heyday of the 50s.

It’s difficult to consider the wider implications of what baseball has granted when the home team fails to win a no-hitter. Are the teams stretched too thin, now? By spreading baseball, have we somehow diluted it? But consider the Cuban players who have pulled themselves into freedom with their prowess at the plate; they know there’s more at stake than a good time at the ball orchard.

In this sense, baseball is a diplomacy tool and a cultural marker. We don’t see it because we grew up surrounded by its nomenclature and its cliches, its reflection of the best and the worst of us. No one has to teach a native Cincinnatian the basics of baseball, even if, like me, the child cannot hit, throw, or catch to save a life. It was infused. It’s there; it always has been and always will be.

I suppose this all makes it easy to take our baseball heritage for granted, both nationally as well as here at home. It’s easy to rest easy, and complacency is always Step One of losing a beloved.. But for now, no matter how much greasy food we pile into the parks, you’ll look up from those nachos as soon as the bat cracks.

19 Responses

  1. LDS

    I miss muscle cars and soccer should have stayed overseas.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Without a soccer ball, what would small children cluster about on Saturday afternoons?

  2. Oldtimer

    Like most kids of the 1950s, baseball was my favorite sport and it still is. The Reds are a big reason why. I saw my first Reds game in 1958. I was lucky enough to see the 1961 World Series in Crosley Field as a 10 YO.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      You saw some blessed times indeed!

  3. Scott C

    Yes we travailed through the three Star Wars prequels, but that doesn’t mean we watch them a second time. Nor does the rest of the world have to come back and watch a baseball game the second time. However I suspect that there is something about baseball that continues to draw at least a few people world wide. It may seem boring to some that are uninitiated to the game, but like many things once you become familiar with the sport it becomes ingrained in you. To those unfamiliar chess seems to be slow and boring but those that can learn how to play it can bring a lifetime of joy. To some, like Mark Twain, golf is a walk spoiled, but to those of use who can no longer play sports like baseball, football and basketball it is an activity one can take part in for most of their lives.
    One of the great thing about America is that we are willing to share what we have.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I have seen some YouTube videos more than the last 2 prequels, and it is my JOB to write about Star Wars.

  4. Rut

    Baseball does have a diaspora, just depends on where you travel…. Western Europe, not so much.

    But I can say from experience that the baseball fans in Japan and South Korea, for instance, are “homegrown” in their own ways and traditions and are every bit our equal (if not more often our better) in passion for the game.

    I love that Baseball evolves at its own pace elsewhere and generally enjoy the unique things that emerge…. but a pox on Thunder Stix and anyone who imported those bits of devilry

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Good point. Isn’t it interesting that certain areas of South America and Asia have embraced it, but Europe pretty much took a hard pass?

  5. Rednat

    thanks Mary Beth. i find 21st century baseball an entirely different sport than 20th century baseball. i find the dayton dragons minor league version a lot more like the baseball i remember growing up. just so much more action than what i see when i go to gabp. I would feel entirely uncomfortable taking a young impressionable kid to his or her first major league game. i would not be able to explain the new rules, the advanced stats or why the 3rd baseman is playing in short right field at all

  6. Mark Moore

    “We’re a hodgepodge; we’re more than happy to share some of the podge that we’ve hodged.” What a perfect statement!!!

    I grew up on the Miracle Mets and that’s who we were when we played. Then it was the A’s (because they were the hot team). Then I settled into my Reds fandom and never looked back. it’s going on 50 years.

    As for what we left in Japan, my late father did his hitch post-WW2 in MacArthur’s HQ, downtown Tokyo. Like most of that era, he didn’t talk much about it, but what he did painted a pretty bleak picture.

    Keep us focused on what’s important, MBE. Real baseball is a big part of that. Watching MiLB.tv has reminded me.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      We owe that generation SO much! And so many of their contributions and stories are lost because they just… didn’t discuss it. I find that’s happening with Korea vets too.

  7. Andrew Brewer

    What I saw from the Redleg Nation, at least those who commented, when the no-hitter went south was not pretty… When the hell do you take a pitcher out of the game when he’s throwing a no-hitter ? That seemed to be the consensus of the baseball gods at Cincy. It was Bell’s fault. Aspersions were cast against the second basemen, who when charging the ball, made a late throw to second. But how could Bell have left him in the game ? Really ? Well the pitch count was too high, and he’s a young pitcher. He could hurt himself… He got the first out in the 8th, walked one, and then two. Bell pulled him. Wasn’t it really the Reds inability to score that cost us that game ? The case can also easily be made that this reinforces what we have witnessed so far this season. When the Reds won 6 out of 8, there was like this short surreal experience, that the Reds could actually be much better than their 3-22 start… and then the loss of the no-hitter… It’s big league baseball folks. Look where Joey Votto is… When a professional cyclist hits the proverbial wall and can’t get it done, they mercifully diagnose him with Pneumonia… Joey got put on the COVID list… There’s a lot of great baseball about to happen this season, if the wheels don’t fall off. Come out and root the Reds home. I don’t like seeing empty seats, because the Reds aren’t winning. The great teams, the best teams, have fans that come out no matter where their team is in the standings… There is no other team like the Cincinnati Reds… Who else you gonna root for ?

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Gosh darn right there is no other team like the Cincinnati Reds!

  8. Votto4life

    Nice Article Mary Beth. I do think we treat baseball in other countries as “less than”. But, Baseball has been thriving in Japan for nearly a century, long before the Second World War. In Cuba, baseball has prospering since the 1870s.

    In both Japan and Cuba baseball is not only the national pastime, but a national obsession. While the NFL has usurped baseball in this country.

    I am OK with that really. I still enjoy baseball even though I agree the game is far different that the game I loved in the 1970s. Baseball is forever changing. I hope one day it changes back into the game I fell in love with.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I remember Dave Barry writing about attending a Japanese baseball game in the 90’s, and he mentioned how quiet and intense the crowd was. I guess that’s changed….

  9. Brayan O'Malley

    Interesting and entertaining article. But… Japanese were playing baseball long before General McArthur whupped them. Americans visited Nippon and played against Japanese players at early as 1908.