DXMachina (dxmachina) wrote,

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The Philosopher's Baseball?

Finally finished Baseball and Philosophy, Thinking Outside the Batter's Box, edited by Eric Bronson, a collection of essays applying philosophical principles to baseball. I'd started it over Christmas whilst hiding out from my brother's outlaws, then put it aside when I picked up Boswell's book. It's the most recent volume (#6) in a series called Popular Culture and Philosophy, in which each book examines some pop culture subject from a philosophical point of view. Other volumes examine such subjects as Buffy, Seinfeld, The Simpsons, and The Lord of the Rings, with volumes on The Sopranos and Harry Potter on the way. The nations' philosophy departments must really be desperate for new recruits.

I'll admit up front that philosophy bores me for the most part, and this book doesn't really change that. After a while, essay after essay applying various philosophies, such as zen and socrates, to hitting becomes tedious. I was really skimming a lot towards the finish. At the end of the book are several pairs of short pro and con essays arguing such propositions as should Pete Rose be in the Hall of Fame, or is ARod getting paid too much, none of which really add anything to those discussions.

Still, there were some I enjoyed. There's one essay by Willie Young called "Taking One for the Team: Baseball and Sacrifice" which is great fun, looking at the philosophical implications of the various types of sacrifices a player might be called upon to make in the course of a game, from laying down a sacrifice bunt to deliberately allowing oneself to be hit by a pitch, and whether those sacrifices are voluntary or involuntary. For example, Aristotelian principles are compared to Stoicism in the case of a pitcher who has to decide whether or not to hit a batter in retaliation for taking out a teammate at second base. Aristotle would go ahead and plunk the guy, even though he would likely be banished from the game, deeming that it would be the greater emotional good for both the team and his friend. A Stoic, on the other hand, will totally divorce any feelings of friendship he may have for his teammate, and rather will determine his course of action by what he reasons will be best for the team. That decision may very likely be the team is better off with him not getting thrown out of the game instead of avenging a teammate.

Another fun essay is about cheating, with the subtitle "Would Kant Cork His Bat?", and there's one on the ethics of the hidden ball trick. (I was totally unsurprised to find out that Manny Ramirez got caught by one of these a few years back. Manny was running on a pitch, and slid safely into second, at which point the second baseman told him the batter had fouled off the pitch. As soon as Manny started heading back toward first, the second baseman tagged him out.) There's also an interesting essay early on about the legal arguments that were used to prevent MLB from folding the Minnesota Twins a few years ago. For years, baseball made the argument that it deserved its antitrust exemption because a baseball team was a precious resource to the city in which it played. The folks in Minnesota turned that line of reasoning around on MLB, claiming that if MLB removed the Twins, they would deny the citizens of Minnesota that precious resource, and those citizens would suffer irreparable harm because of it. The judge bought it. MLB was hoist on their own petard.

Unfortunately, there just weren't that many that held my interest, so I can't really recommend the book. Ah, well.
Tags: baseball, books

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