Adam Gopnik on Baseball

Adam Gopnik, Expos fan and art historian

Adam Gopnik, Expos fan and art historian

excerpts from a May 19, 1986 New Yorker article on aesthetics and baseball, “Quattrocento Baseball” by Adam Gopnik:

“Baseball can’t be grasped by a formalist aesthetic; the appeal of the game can’t be understood by an analysis of its moments. As in painting, the expressive effect, the spell, of baseball, depends on our understanding of context, of the way what is being made now collects its meaning from what has gone before and what may come next.”

“I have tried to imagine a pasture on the slopes of Parnassus where Bill Lee plays pepper with Giorgione, and Fra Filipo Lippi calls off Warren Cromartie.”

“…Each innings alters irrevocably the meaning of every inning that has preceded it: Henry Aaron’s first at bat in 1974, as he approaches Babe Ruth’s record, suddenly lends an entirely new meaning, an un-looked for centrality, to some nearly forgotten Aaron home run back in 1959. The significance of every action in the game depends entirely on its place within a history, on our recognition of it as one possibility, one choice, within a series of alternatives. The batter swings freely, the way the painter paints, but the swing itself is bound about by the ghosts of every other swing.”

“…baseball’s most inspired observers are essentially historians…”

“Baseball inspires reminiscence not because of the sentiment of its devotees but, rather, because the meaning of its forms–of a crucial lapse, a fabled stat–can only be clarified by time.”

October these days seems to share the central, miserable feature of postmodernism–the displacement of the vernacular into a mode of irony.”

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