DAVID ZANG I Wore Babe Ruth’s Hat: Field Notes from a Life in Sports

How would you write your sports memoir? Maybe you’d recall a memorable trip to the stadium when you were young, or even getting an autograph from one of your favorite players. Was there a notable victory – or defeat – that marked your days as a player? Or are the events that stand out from your athletic career characterized more by humor than accomplishment? Did you spend Saturday afternoons in front of the TV with your dad, or maybe your grandmother? Perhaps you were in the stands for an event in the sporting annals. Or has your life as a fan and athlete been one of more losses than wins, steady persistence rather than moments of glory?

In his sports memoir, David Zang writes of the experiences of an ordinary, sports-loving American male. He collected baseball cards and read boys’ books about star athletes who always win in the end. He competed in Little League and high school wrestling. He cheered for losing teams and played for losing teams. Now a historian and professor of sports studies, Dave writes about hiws life as fan and player in I Wore Babe Ruth’s Hat: Field Notes from a Life in Sports (University of Illinois Press, 2015). As the title suggests, Dave has had some extraordinary moments, both comic and poignant. But the heart of the book is not the stories he tells, but rather the lessons those stories offer. Both funny and wise, Dave’s memoir reveals how our sporting experiences – even when they’re had in the cheap seats or on the bench – shape who we are.…


Selling the Yellow Jersey: The Tour de France in the Global Era

The Tour de France is happening right now! The 2015 edition started on July 4th and will continue until July 26th. I’m excited to be able to share this interview with Eric Reed about his new book, Selling the Yellow Jersey: The Tour de France in the Global Era (University of Chicago Press, 2015) as riders make their way through the various stages of this, the most famous bike race in the world.

A compelling historical narrative of the Tour, including some of its most significant moments and stars, Selling the Yellow Jersey explores the Tour as a global phenomenon. Reed argues that, over the course of the twentieth century, France was a full participant in a globalization that the Tour exemplified as a business and media enterprise, and a spectacle consumed by millions of fans around the world. Considering the roles of organizers, riders, and spectators within and outside of France, the book examines the meanings of “Frenchness” in contexts regional, national, and global. From the Tour’s emergence in 1903 during a “cycling craze” that had a particular vitality in France, to the doping scandals of more recent years, Selling the Yellow Jersey traces the Tour’s triumphs and scandals over more than a hundred years. It is a history of culture and commerce, from an organizational home base in Paris, to smaller French host cities such as Pau and Brest, to an international scene of participants both on, and beyond, the saddle.…


Skiing into Modernity: A Cultural and Environmental History

With El Niño and the Arctic Oscillation bearing down this December, plenty of us will be wishing for a white Christmas. We have the antidote – a podcast episode about snow-covered Alpine slopes, idyllic journeys through wintry hills and forests, rustic chalets, and dashing downhill racers.

Alpine skiing is little more than a century old, and its development was framed within the broader history of modern sports. Andrew Denning looks at the emergence of this winter activity and the history of the region where it was invented in his new book Skiing into Modernity: A Cultural and Environmental History. Part of the University of California Press’ new series “Sport in World History,” Andy’s book shows how downhill skiing developed out of Nordic skiing and then supplanted that older version of the sport, becoming an activity that encompassed the modern love of speed as well as a romantic connection to nature. And as Alpine skiing gained adherents, it transformed the region where it was born. Once seen as a remote and backward corner of Europe, the Alps became a hub for tourists and the site of a distinct brand of modernity. Skiers escaped from the cities to enjoy the mountains, forests, and fresh air, while strapping on engineered bindings and skis, climbing aboard ski lifts and gondolas, and rushing down manicured slopes packed with artificial snow. As the subtitle states, Andy’s book is indeed a cultural and environmental history, showing how an athletic activity grew out of a particular natural landscape, became widely embraced and celebrated in popular culture, and then – it its popularity – altered that original landscape into something new.

For another sample of “Sport in World History” series, check out the interview with Roger Kittleson about his book The Country of Football: Soccer and the Making of Modern Brazil.


Charles Fountain, “The Betrayal: The 1919 World Series and the Birth of Modern Baseball”

Gambling and sports have been in the news lately in the US. Authorities in Nevada and New York have shut down the fantasy sports operators DraftKings and FanDuel in their states, judging that their daily fantasy games constitute illegal gambling. Both companies had already come under scrutiny this past October, when news broke that their employees were scoring among the top money-winners each week. Is fantasy fixed? Or do all players have a fair chance of winning? State officials across the U.S. are deliberating whether this new variety of sports-related betting represents contests of skill and research, like investing in promising stocks, or illegal games of chance.

Wagers have always been a part of modern sports. In fact, many aspects of what makes our games modern – uniform rules, standardized playing spaces and equipment, the authority of governing bodies – were developed in order to ensure a fair bet. As Charles Fountain shows in his book The Betrayal: The 1919 World Series and the Birth of Modern Baseball (Oxford UP, 2015), gamblers were a constant presence around organized baseball from its start, so much so that a common term in baseball vernacular of the 1800s was “hippodroming,” a word used to describe a game whose results had been pre-arranged. Chuck points out that when rumors of a fix began to swirl around the 1919 World Series, it was nothing new or unusual. And when the rumors were revealed as true, it was thanks not so much to a principled effort to clean up the game but to the personal feud between White Sox owner Charles Comiskey and Ban Johnson, the president of the American League. But no matter how the news broke, the Black Sox scandal had a decisive influence on baseball and – as this new history shows – a lasting legacy in American popular culture.…