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So, I (maybe) know the basics of baseball but that’s about it. What are the most important things about the sport that anyone who wants to be a fan should know?(r/baseball)
This question gets asked (and answered) a lot around here. There’s a recommended reading list linked on the right, but are you going to read all of that? No, you aren’t. Nobody has.
Heaven knows, baseball needs all the new fans it can get, but I don’t think that a ten-page annotated reading list is quite going to get the job done.
Let me try a new multimedia approach here. Something a bit more carefully curated and (hopefully) less overwhelming. I’m going to suggest a deliberately arranged program of cultural immersion designed to take you quickly through the puberty of your average baseball fanatic.
In one month, I will shape you into a baseball fan. I will remake you in my own image, and in four weeks you’ll be ready for Opening Day like you’ve been there a thousand times before.
WEEK ONE: MEET BASEBALL
Time to get acquainted with America’s Pastime.
Read This: Moneyball by Michael Lewis, a narrative about the 2002 Oakland A’s. More broadly, it’s about how advanced statistical analysis has become an increasingly important part of today’s game. Also a good movie starring Brad Pitt, but the book is better.
Watch This: Episode One of Baseball: A Film By Ken Burns (about the origins of the game in the 19th century). Available on Netflix.
Visit This: A website dedicated to scoring baseball games, with a tutorial. For more examples of completed score sheets, check here. Watching and scoring games is easy, and it’s the best way to learn about what actually happens when the platonic ideal of baseball susses out on the infield dirt.
Optional: The college baseball season just started. Get out to your nearest institution of higher learning, and watch a game. Google around for decent collections of good baseball writing (like this), and sample them. Mix historical stuff with modern commentary. Bookmark FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Reference and SBNation. Block Bleacher Report.
WEEK TWO: TIME TO GLURGE
Baseball is awesome, and sometimes it will make you cry with its awesomeness.
Read This: The Glory of Their Times edited by Lawrence Ritter, a collection of first-hand accounts of early 20th-century baseball. Also “Why is Baseball So Much Better Than Football?” by Thomas Boswell.
Watch This: Any of the myriad films devoted to romanticizing the game. The Natural, Bang The Drum Slowly, The Pride of the Yankees, For Love of the Game, Field of Dreams, Bull Durham. Or maybe just devoted to having fun with it: Major League, Major League II, Rookie of the Year, The Sandlot, Angels in the Outfield. Take your pick. Some of these movies are great. Some of them stink.
Visit This: The website of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Read about the inaugural class of 1936: Cobb, Ruth, Johnson, Wagner, Mathewson.
Optional: Watch some clips of famous baseball moments. Clemente’s 3,000^th hit. Rose’s 4,192^nd. The Shot Heard ‘Round The World. Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Carlton Fisk’s game 6 walk-off. Buckner’s game 6 error. Bill Mazeroski. Kirby Puckett. Kirk Gibson. Etc. Etc.
WEEK THREE: DISILLUSIONMENT AND DISTURBANCE
Baseball is terrible and full of horrible people who will make you cry with their horribleness.
Read This: Eight Men Out by Eliot Asinof. A narrative history of the “Black Sox” scandal of 1919 and a great introduction to the seamier side of baseball. Gambling, gangsters, greedy players, greedier owners, manipulation, con men, corruption. The American Pastimes. Check out the Baseball Hall of Shame series.
Watch This: Sugar. A pitching prospect from the DR is sent up to the American minor leagues and discovers what it means to be meat in the grinder of the professional game. Also, for more background on the Black Sox scandal mentioned above, check out Episode 3 of Ken Burns’ Baseball and the excellent movie adaptation of Eight Men Out.
Visit This: “Tom Yawkey, Race, and the Smoking Gun,” by Glenn Stout.
Optional: Read The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh, Prop. by Robert Coover. You will learn about obsession, isolation, substitution, and psychosis. You will understand why baseball fandom is fertile ground for exploring those dark themes. Watch this recap of the 1984 “bean-brawl” between the Braves and the Padres. Grown men acting like petulant children.
WEEK FOUR: FANDOM FOR GROWN-UPS
Hopefully you’re a little soured on baseball at this point. It’s a cutthroat business that exploits your weakness for nostalgia and patriotism. Its history is steeped in racism, labor exploitation, cheap gimmickry, and organized crime. Its followers are often myopic obsessives. The question you’re facing now is this: How can we be fans (without irony) of that game? The answer: I dunno, but I’m pretty sure it involves being honest about the game’s imperfections and earnestly seeking out its manifold virtues. I’m still figuring that one out.
Read This: “The Knife in Ty Cobb’s Back,” by Gilbert King, an article about a terrible human being who was made, posthumously and unfairly, to seem even worse than terrible by an undisciplined biographer. All of your heroes are villains. And all of your villains are flesh-and-blood people. Also check out The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn and Ball Four by Jim Bouton. The former was a journalist. The latter was a pitcher. The latter wrote about what happened to men during baseball. The former wrote about what happened to men after baseball.
Watch This: More baseball games. The 2013 World Baseball Classic. Spring Training. College. Little League. MLB.tv archives. Whatever you can find. These are your primary sources. Everything else is just window-dressing.
Visit This: The website of the Baseball Reliquary, a Hall of Fame for adult fans who haven’t lost their sense of childhood wonder and who are dead tired of arguing about PEDs.
Optional: Check out The Eephus League and Flip Flop Fly Ball. Baseball is an aesthetic playground. Enjoy it. Read Are We Winning? Fathers and Sons in the New Golden Age of Baseball by Will Leitch – it’s a nice post-PED meditation on What It All Means. Finally, buy and read anything with Bill James’ name on it. Except the stuff about Joe Paterno. Stay away from the stuff about Joe Paterno. Listen to some music by The Baseball Project.
See you on April 1.
P.S. – Pick a favorite team to follow through the season if you don’t already have one. It helps.
EDIT: Added some links and corrected a movie title. I’m glad y’all found this useful!