Monday, January 23, 2006

Back to the Dark Ages

I've gotten in the habit of hopping on-line for about an hour before bed every night. I check out some message boards, cruise over to to see if there are any new links, just kind of unwind.

Last night I couldn't do this because my Internet was down. After about 15 minutes of experimenting I became convinced that the problem wasn't on my end. I resolved to not worry about it until the next morning (and as you can guess by the existence of this post, when I woke up my connection was magically restored).

So, not having the digital world at my fingertips, I decided to dust off some books from my bookshelf before bed. Anthologies are perfect for this type of reading, so I scooped up my "Baseball Literary Anthology" which I bought about five years ago and have read about 15% of. I read re-prints of a couple newspaper articles about games from the 1910's, which were so wildly literary that I couldn't understand what was going on in the games (I suppose it didn't help that I hardly knew any of the players, though I did know of both Merkle and Snodgrass from the 1910's era New York Giants).

The next chapter I read was extremely interesting. Back in the 1960s some writer spent a few years tracking down really old ballplayers. The chapter I read was his ghostwritten account of Sam Crawford's life story. I have always been interested in baseball history, so I actually knew Sam Crawford's name, though I knew little about him. He is the guy who is the closest to 3,000 hits without actually getting there, mostly because the milestone meant nothing when he played. He likely would have stuck it out another year if he would have known how big that number would prove to be.

As an 18-year old in rural Nebraska in 1898, he and a bunch of buddies hopped in a horse drawn wagon and toured the state, showing up in towns and announcing that they wanted to play baseball games against all comers. He caught someone's attention, and two years later was playing for the Cinci Reds. Later, he bolted to the American League and played several years for the Tigers, alongside Ty Cobb. What was especially interesting, is that he complained about how "modern" ballplayers (remember, this is the 60s when he is saying this) are nothing like in his day, though he singles out Willie Mays as a throwback type. He also complains that home runs had taken over the game. He died at the age of 88 in 1968, the year before rules changes forever turned baseball into a hitters' game. I also found it interesting that he turned to reading Balzac in his retirement, and that when he was elected to the Hall of Fame in the 1950s, many of his neighbors found out for the first time that he was a former ballplayer.

After the Crawford essay, I cracked open a WW2 era English anthology that I bought for a buck last year at a book sale at U of L. I fixed on a random essay called "The Modern Man is Irrelevant" or something like that. I wanted to see how the modern man of the '40s holds up today. The thesis was that in the atomic age, we need to establish a worldwide government to regulate warfare or we will all die. Although we did get the U.N. shortly after this essay, I don't think this was the type of governance he was looking for. He did make some very prophetic remarks. He had a paragraph about how democracy was ideal, but that it is as much a cultural value as a political one, and we can not force it on anyone. I think the modern relevance of this observation is obvious.

He also spoke at length about the increasing interconnectedness of the world (I don't think the word "globablism" was invented yet). Like Sam Crawford, he had no idea. His main argument was that air travel makes national boundries less important. I wonder if he lived to see the computer. Probably not. Like Sam Crawford, it's too bad he didn't get to see the next generation of the trends he started to observe.

Then I read an article about the Strokes in my Spin magazine and went to bed.