“Isn’t it funny?” once mused Buck O’Neil, the sage of Negro League baseball. “Everybody remembers going to their first baseball game with their father. They might not remember going to their first day of school, . . . or their first Thanksgiving dinner. But they always remember going to the baseball game with their father.”
O’Neil’s observation applies to me (the game was between the Twins and Angels, at Met Stadium in 1977), as it does to Lee Congdon (a game at Wrigley Field in 1948). The starting point of Lee’s book is this understanding of the important place that baseball holds in the memories of its fans. Baseball and Memory: Winning, Losing, and the Remembrance of Things Past (St. Augustine’s Press, 2011) is filled with recollections of wins and losses, of moments comic and tragic, from all eras of baseball history. As Lee explains, these remembered visits to the ballpark or great plays seen on television point to larger questions of the ways that memory shapes us and the ways that we understand larger periods of history.
As a scholar of European intellectual history, Congdon takes a somewhat different approach to baseball, and names like Ricoeur, Kundera, and even Nietzsche figure into our conversation. Certainly, this is a baseball book, and Lee revisits many of the well-known and lesser-known moments and characters of baseball history. But it also a more philosophical, personal reflection on how Americans view the nation’s pastime and the nation’s past.