Shots heard round the world

I thought I knew baseball. But I didn’t know about the New York Giants’ sign-stealing scandal of 1951, which came to my attention this morning when I read Ross Douthat’s op-ed in the NYT.

Douthat lulls me into a false comfort zone by setting up a familiar scenario: the corrupt, performance-enhanced modern world of Roger Clemens and his contemporaries, vs. the good old days of Bobby Thomson and the mid-twentieth century Giants, a team that staged a breath-taking comeback at the end of the 1951 regular season. Then Douthat pulls the rug by providing a few details of HOW the comeback was achieved. This unexpected shift makes me just the right amount of uncomfortable and gives me a good excuse to tie this story to a broader one: American history!

LLS thesis: Whether the text you’re looking at is American History or Major League Baseball, fondly remembering “the good old days” as “the era of real heroes, superior in courage and purity” requires a pair of comforting, self-deluding blinders–there’s some relevant data you’ll need to ignore. Which is what I probably tried to do with the sign-stealing story. I HAD heard it some time back, but I didn’t want to let it taint my memory of the Giants’ amazing late-season surge to grab the NL pennant, a stirring piece of baseball lore. It was Ross Douthat’s provocative op-ed today that got me to rethink both the ’51 Giants and our modern-day fallen idols, and (not that RD was pushing for it) to see a parallel in How We View American History.

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