Friday, February 01, 2008

The Society of Baseball Literature (A Parody)

Matt Alopekes was Professor of Sports Literature at the University of Wisconsin. His main area of expertise was baseball. There are various sub-areas in baseball studies that one can work in: history of the game, statistics, commerce, journalism, rules and law, marketing, and sociology. He himself was not a practicing baseball player, coach, or fan of the game. He had attended a few little league games as a kid, but in High School he lost interest, and later in College he felt that alot of what he had been told about baseball was really a fabrication (for example the World Series is not really the "world" since it only includes the USA and Canada). A couple of his college profs (ex-baseballers in fact) had shown him the flaws of the game and how it was not good for a free and democratic society to have the country so riled up about sports. Baseball had become a major means of supressing women as a comparison of the salaries of male and female baseball players clearly demonstrated. In fact, Alopekes was of the mind that the money invested in baseball should be transferred to health and education. He lamented the fruitless outreach of the Democrat party to baseball fans in trying to show that they weren't really anti-baseball (much had been made of Hillary Clinton's claim that she went to methodist baseball games a teenager). Despite his now repugnance towards the game in his late teens, Alopekes persisted in taking classes on baseball at Grad school and soon developed an interest in the history of the game in Asia. In fact, he went out to write his Ph.D thesis on "The McDonalization of Japan: How America Exercised Cultural Hegemony over its Oriental Vassal through the Introduction of Baseball into Japan". The volume was published by Polebridge Press and Alopekes went out to become a Professor of Sports studies at the Uni of Wisconsin. He presented papers at various conferences including the Society for Baseball Literature and was also in a CNN documentary when Mickie Mantle's own personal baseball bat was apparently found in the ruins of an abandoned statium by an Israeli sports memorabilia dealer. Alopekes claimed that it was a forgery (he was probably right).

Every year when Alopekes went to the Society for Baseball Literature (SBL) he became increasingly aware of the ideological profile of most of the members. It finally dawned on him one day that most of the people who come to SBL actually play baseball, coach baseball, and even attend baseball games. Some of the "fundamentalists" even wear baseball uniforms, indoctrinate their children by making them watch baseball games on TV, and even play baseball with their families. On Sunday morning of the SBL, the place was almost empty since many of the members would actually be at a baseball game. Alopekes found this disconcerting. How could this type of enthusiasm for baseball have any place in serious scholarship let alone a university? How can we trust baseball players or even bona fide fans of baseball to teach baseball studies in an academic environment? In his mind their scholarship was clearly compromized. This was evidenced by their statistical analyses which was hampered by their veneration of certain players, histories of baseball were usually told from a baseball perspective and did not take into account the view point of other sports like cricket, tennis, or hockey, and the study of the commerical and sociological aspects of the game were completely overlooked. In fact, many in the baseball academy refused to accept the assured results of critical baseball scholarship that baseball was not in fact an American innovation, but had evolved out of a version of French cricket played in Barbados and was brought to the US by ex-slaves in the mid-eighteenth century.

Alopekes then wrote an editorial piece for the Journal of Baseball Literature called: "Foul Ball: Why Baseball Fans Have no Place in the University". There he argued that the study of baseball in the University should be undertaken exclusively by those who have no adherence to baseball at all: neither play nor watch the game. The biases of fans and players in the guild was destroying the credibility of the profession. If fans or players wanted to study baseball, that was fine, there are plenty of clubs and academies that provided forums for that, but in terms of an objective, unbiased and scientific study of the game free from the euphoria and hype of fans, real baseball scholarship would have to undertaken in the university by non-fans.

Alopekes started up the "baseball based on facts not fans group" (BBFFG) at the SBL which proved to be controversial among the membership. But Alopekes found that he was not alone and a great many others in the academy shared his dispostion towards the study of baseball. The BBFFG went on to write several major publications including "Baseball and Power: The Oppression of Minorities in the Baseball Seasons of the 1930s", "The Giants and the Pennant: Who Really Won and Why", "Red Socks and the Red Peril: How A Boston Club Aided Communism in America", "Homeruns and Homosexuals: Stories from the Margins of Baseball Culture". Some onlookers were amazed at BBFFG because: (1) why would anyone who either disliked or was disinterested in baseball want to study it in the first place? (2) What is wrong with baseball fans teaching about baseball since they are the reason why there is a game to study in the first place?

1. It is Friday, I'm in the middle of a nice Spanish red, and I'm in a cheeky mood.
2. I admit that I know nothing about baseball.
3. This is meant to entertain not to offend anyone.
4. Cricket trumps baseball any day of the week and twice on Sunday!


Patrick Egan said...

I propose a unit entitled Alternative Baseballs: New Discoveries in Cooperstown. Panelists will discuss how Abner Doubleday was a fabrication of proto-orthodox fans and ways in which A. J. Cartwright created rules to undermine "alternative baseballs". (Only non-fans will be invited as panelists).

Chris Weimer said...

Very humorous, Michael! Your scenario is entirely plausible given just a little more time.


JD Walters said...

I know EXACTLY who you're talking about, and it is right on. It takes a parody to reveal how truly ridiculous 'Alopekes' crusade is to end 'baseball studies'.

Chris Weimer said...

That's funny, JD, because I think Alopekes is right on, but you severely misinterpreted his goal. Alopekes does not wish to end Baseball studies - on the contrary, he wishes it would be practiced without debilitating bias.

Chris Weimer

BK said...

First, I think that this parody is very, very funny and also on-point.

Second, I think that JD (one of my fellow writers) is exactly right in his comment that the real Alopekes crusade is ridiculous. I also thinkk that Chris is mistaken on a crucial point: The real Alopekes doesn't seek to remove a debilitating bias, he seeks to inject his own debilitating prejudice.

JD Walters said...


Alopekes thinks that the only purpose of baseball studies should be to demonstrate to everyone how irrelevant baseball is, and likens himself to a physician who would gladly give up his profession if all disease were eradicated. So he does want baseball studies to end, even if in the foreseeable future he recognizes that that is not a practical goal. He does not merely make an innocent plea for an absence of bias. BK is right. His own prejudices are overwhelmingly obvious.

Chris Weimer said...

I just read Michael's little parody again. Please tell me where in the text does Alopekes mention that he wants Baseball studies to end. Thanks.


JD Walters said...

Oh, come on, you know I'm talking about the real person behind the parody. But if you need it spelled out, check out p.25 of "The End of Biblical Studies".

Chris Weimer said...

Yeah, I figured you were hinting at Dr. Avalos, having written that sore piece against his book for the SBL forum. However, that is an added reading to the actual words of the parody. The Michael has written it, this Alopekes character does not in fact wish to end Biblical Studies, at least such is not expressly stated. And moreover, Hector Avalos does not, as I see it, wish to end Biblical Studies altogether, but to end the strong bias in it and reclaim it under modern historical critical scholarship.


Michael F. Bird said...

I'd hate to referee a debate about the sub-textual referents of my pardoy (fun as it to watch you kids fight), but no-one has yet noted what the words Alopekes mean in Greek! There was the inspiration for my parody. It was not meant to be an exact representation of anyone's views, merely a laugh at some of the more zealously secular approaches to biblical studies.

Kevin Rosero said...

Thank you for that. Humor is a great tool for observation. I'm glad, by the way, that it was not meant to represent exactly the views of any one person; that would be a very narrow purpose. When I read it I simply thought of those times when people have said to me that Baseball Studies must be compromised because most of the scholars are fans. People do say this. It sounds like a call for neutrality -- because the people calling for it won't disclose their own biases. If the views of fans are going to be disallowed, what is going to replace them? Not a blank piece of paper, but real viewpoints , by people with real interests. And it's not to hard to guess what those views will look like. You will only get the views that people have an interest in promoting -- and you've already removed interest in certain viewpoints. The latter will not be put forth any longer. That's the goal.

I'm sorry to go on so long, but I just think this is really important, and a sorry state of affairs. It's when people don the cloak of neutrality, and won't disclose their own strong viewpoints, that suspicion arises.