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James T. KeaneMarch 19, 2024
A sketch of the Polo Grounds in 1896 (iStock)

Tomorrow is Opening Day!

If that strikes you as a bit early, it is. Usually, we’re a lot closer to April Fool’s Day before the greatest season in sport begins, but this year Major League Baseball is kicking off the season with a two-game series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres in Seoul, Korea. While the rest of baseball continues to deal with blisters and roster decisions stateside (don’t shout at me, Canadians, the Toronto Blue Jays are in Florida at the moment), those two California teams will expand just a little bit further our notion of what it means to have “baseball out west.”

Baseball fans of course will have noticed over the years that in addition to South Korea, Japan and Taiwan are also crazy about baseball, which is why so many of our elite players now hail from the other side of the Pacific (and why Major League Baseball wants to play games there).

Over the years,America has been blessed by a friendship with two of baseball’s commissioners—Angelo Bartlett Giamatti and Fay Vincent Jr.—who were not only subscribers to America but contributors as well. Bart Giamatti (two random facts: he banned Pete Rose from baseball, and the actor Paul Giamatti is his son) was the president of Yale University before being named commissioner of baseball in 1988, a job he held for only a year before he died. In 1988, America published his erudite and snarky address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

One of Giamatti’s first moves as head honcho was to hire a deputy commissioner, Fay Vincent, who succeeded him in the job in 1989 and served until 1992, when he was pushed out by the owners (who then named one of their own as commissioner). Vincent was a close friend of editor in chief George W. Hunt, S.J., who recounted that sad moment in baseball history in a 1992 column. Vincent himself often wrote for America over the years on diverse subjects, from Samuel Coleridge to Edmund Campion to Isaac Stern to John Henry Newman. In 2013, Vincent was interviewed by America deputy editor in chief Tim Reidy on the morality of baseball.

Vincent and Giamatti aside, one must admit that historically America has not been the media outlet most folks turn to for sporting matters—though the America Media Sports Department™️ has gained new life in recent years due to a welcome ecumenism regarding such matters. However, more than a few editors over the years were baseball fans (if less sanguine about football, boxing or other siblings of the national pastime), and from the magazine’s earliest days, they loved a good baseball analogy. What to make of William Jennings Bryan’s three failed attempts at the presidency, for example? Well, they noted in 1910, many a great batsman started a game 0 for 3 at the plate.

As long as the game didn’t enter into the Sunday sermon, that is. “Bad as is the vainglorious sermon, there is another still worse, the baseball or football sermon,” wrote future America editor in chief Richard Tierney, S.J., in a 1913 essay on religion and education. “No doubt points can be scored by an occasional prudent use of apt illustrations drawn from the campus. But to preach as if ‘Spalding's Guide’ were a text-book in homiletics is to cheapen religion and degrade a sacred function. The effect on the boys is the very opposite of that desired. Much as they love the field, they resent its encroachment on the sanctuary.” (Pssst: No they don’t.)

A lot of our Jesuit editors over the years have hailed from Brooklyn—as do a few of their pickleback-guzzling lay scions today—and so when it came to baseball, the Brooklyn Dodgers got a little more attention than most. And of course, the Dodgers were the first team in baseball to play an African-American when Jackie Robinson made the club in 1947—a moment the editors noted with welcome. Former America literary editor Raymond Schroth, S.J., was one of the many editors who reminded me once or twice that my beloved Los Angeles Dodgers had no real claim to the Dodger legacy; they would always be “Dem Bums” from Ebbets Field.

In fact, when the team announced in the fall of 1957 that it was moving to Los Angeles, America devoted an entire page to an essay by Francis J. Marien, S.J., on “Los Angeles and the Idea of a City.” It was less of a hit job than one might expect—Marien, a philosophy professor, was himself a native Angeleno—but still took its shots. “Los Angeles is a large city. In some ways it is an important city. But it is not (yet) a great city,” he wrote. “This is a city of strangers, for strangers, by strangers. They come and they swell the ranks of the city. But they do not identify themselves with the spirit of the city—it has no distinctive spirit. They have given us no poets.”

He concluded thus:

Anyway, the Dodgers are coming, as welcome as the Marines. And I am sanguine enough to hope their coming will help to arouse a distinctive, local spirit. May their coming mean that we will soon speak a common language with something like a Brooklyn accent and be capable of expressing something like a Bronx cheer. Something like it— but distinctively Angeleno.

The Dodgers are still there—66 years later, playing in baseball’s third-oldest stadium. They’re also heavy favorites to win the World Series this year because of the addition of Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto to a team that has already made the playoffs 11 years in a row. Have I already bought tickets to a July matchup at Dodger Stadium against the odious San Francisco Giants, another exiled New York team? Yes, yes I have.

The first pitch in Seoul tomorrow will come early—6:05 a.m. here in the former home of the Dodgers—and yet not a moment too soon.


Our poetry selection for this week is “Calling the Colors,” by Angela Townsend. Readers can view all of America’s published poems here.

Also, news from the Catholic Book Club: We have a new selection! We will be reading Norwegian novelist and 2023 Nobel Prize winner Jon Fosse’s multi-volume work Septology. Click here to buy the book, and click here to sign up for our Facebook discussion group.

In this space every week, America features reviews of and literary commentary on one particular writer or group of writers (both new and old; our archives span more than a century), as well as poetry and other offerings from America Media. We hope this will give us a chance to provide you with more in-depth coverage of our literary offerings. 

Other Catholic Book Club columns:

The spiritual depths of Toni Morrison

What’s all the fuss about Teilhard de Chardin?

Moira Walsh and the art of a brutal movie review

​​Who’s in hell? Hans Urs von Balthasar had thoughts.

Happy reading!

James T. Keane

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