The  United States of the World

Click History below to read the complete book, The United States of the World, by Daniel F.
McNeill. 12 Essays on American History.

Heading 3





                                                                                 Transcendentalism and Baseball






By the time of the Civil War, baseball arrived on the scene in America with events in its
drama that parallel all the major themes of the Christian religion: a primary state of innocence, the batter setting himself at the plate; a temptation, the offering of the ball by the pitcher; a fall, the self-condemnation by hitting the ball to the diminished role of a base runner; sin, the passive touching of a base; faith, running the bases or taking a daring lead off base; grace, a sudden unmerited aid that  leads to advancement on the bases or scoring a run; and the final redemption of reaching the place at home plate where the player was at the beginning. The game even expresses also a parallel to the idea of predestination in Calvinism. The batter who hits a home run is ipso facto predestined to be saved. He is the exception. He hits the ball so well that his salvation is assured prior to his birth on the bases. Baseball is a game invented by nineteenth-century Protestants and the drama relates to Transcendentalism because Transcendentalists struggled to free themselves from traditional Protestant Christianity. Baseball players struggle to free themselves from the predicaments they face in a game that parallel the basic drama of Christian experience.They face on the base paths a representation of life prescribed for them in a form that they struggle to escape. Transcendentalists also tried to escape from an unwanted form of life. In the case of baseball players, the life they oppose is expressed in a cycle of events parallel to Christianity that they pass through against their will and transcend by scoring a run. For transcendentalists, it is Christianity itself that they transcend.
   Is it not natural for a people who have rid themselves of rule by a European nation to also rid themselves of a European religion? Some writers of the transcendentalist period in the early 19th century like Nathaniel Hawthorne remained Christians but even they sought a genuine new spirituality that the old Catholic and Protestant practices could no longer provide. They all sensed that Christianity fit the past but not their time. However none of them escaped to new spiritual experiences without the key elements of Christian experience remaining in their minds since they all knew the main themes in the bible. Emerson was a consecrated minister before he renounced his ministry. Hawthorne observed in Rome at Saint Peter's Catholics going to confession and confessed that he would have practiced it if he could have believed it would allow him a genuine experience. In his last novel, The Marble Fawn. his American hero and heroine search the artistic and religious remains in Italy for genuine uplifting spiritual experiences. They find little in the Italian Christianity of their time, the 1850s, that is genuine and in their two European friends, Miriam and Donatello, they brush up against genuine evil. Baseball players also test experience to try to find something genuine. Hitting the ball turns out to be a deception that leads only to passivity at one of the bases. Touching a base for safety is a kind of death. A lead off  base is life but it is life with danger because nine enemy players try to force a runner back to his base and block his advancement. The enemy players all want to eliminate a base runner, to put him out. For a player to swing his arms furiously and feel his legs pumping up and down as he runs at top speed towards a new base or towards the plate is real life. The only genuine being of a base runner is base running. The bases threaten to make the base runner accept the falsity of attaching himself to a base rather than running along the course of the bases and existing truly. Evil is borrowed being. It is non-being posing as being. The base runner must not borrow his being by touching a base. Rather than posing as being by holding a foot against a base, he must create his being by leading off base. He has faith that his true being is not identical with his present existence on the bases. He must not let himself become the same as this new existence. Transcendentalists also wanted nothing to do with an existence rooted in the traditional Christian experiences offered them by their Protestant background. They were certain another superior and more genuine existence was possible. If it meant adopting a spiritual way of life that was not Christian, then so be it. Get rid of everything that is not real life. Don’t remain in contact with anything that  prevents you from feeling what is genuine. Leave your base. Try to find your true home.
   William Ellery Channing, a unitarian minister whose thoughts influenced Emerson, taught that God should be imitated by humans to raise themselves to new heights of human and spiritual experience. In the past, religion forced men to worship God and to humble themselves. Channing argued that God’s entrance into human history had created divinity in man and man should strive through elevated behavior to act divinely as God, his divine father, acts. Emerson taught that the imitation of any man was a form of suicide and that acting as God acts meant that a man must be completely free spiritually. He believed that you find your true life only by relying on yourself alone. He gave up his life as a consecrated minister. He left his base. He had the courage to face the perils of existence on his own. Saint Augustine believed the opposite. For him, self-reliance was not Christian. He put the whole meaning of Christianity in one sentence: Et hoc erat totum: nolle quod volebam et velle quod volebas. “And this was all: to not will what I wanted and to will what you (meaning God) wanted.” Emerson would have put the nolle where the velle was and put the velle where the nolle had been so it read: Et hoc erat totum: velle quod volebam et nolle quod volebas. “And this was all: to will what I wanted and not to will what you (God) wanted.” Emerson believed that holiness was natural and that it could be reached  by experience that was genuinely individualistic. Self-reliance. It was the motto of Transcendentalists and baseball players.
   For Hawthorne, evil was a dominate reality in life and the fall of man from grace to sin was for him observable in the daily actions of humans. He got to know  Emerson when he lived in Concord but he made a pointed effort not to proceed along the same  paths that Emerson was following. Transcendentalists like Emerson believed there was no fall of man. They often express a spiritual optimism by their belief in a possible expansive human freedom and independence that Christian thinkers would have judged to have been possible only before the fall of Adam and Eve and the arrival of original sin. A kind of Emersonian optimism about the fall, or rather the lack of a fall, also inhabits the orthodox baseball fan. There must be a parallel with the fall of man in the baseball drama or else the cycle of events that follow batting do not parallel in a true aesthetic pattern the regular development of Christian experience. This means that  every successful hit in a game (except a homerun) is parallel to a fall from grace. Clearly for most baseball players and most baseball fans this is heresy. They follow the orthodox view that a hit is a positive success  whereas in reality it is a fall to a lesser state that happens over and over again before our eyes in every ball game. A batter who reaches base loses power. He transforms whatever form of being he has as a batter to a form of being as a base runner that diminishes his being. He transforms himself from one level of being to a lower level of being.  A batter has the potential to run and when he hits the ball into fair territory he transforms himself to a runner but loses his previous state of being because he can no longer hit. He is no longer a hitter who can also run but a runner who can no longer hit. He condemns himself by striking the ball to being only a runner and his sudden loss of a primal wholeness is a fall to a new reduced state of being. He can not regain the state he has just lost so the only redemption possible is to try to negate what he has become. Yet for the optimistic orthodox baseball fan there is no parallel to some fall from grace in baseball. Even though a batter fails 70 percent of the time, everything is positive. Every batter will get a new chance to bat. Every batter eventually gets on base and even though many more baserunners fail to score than succeed, for the optimistic fan everything is nonetheless positive. Arriving at a base does not in any way diminish a player. Like most Transcendentalists, for most Americans and most baseball fans there is no fall and no original sin either in life or in baseball.
   But what about grace? A transcendentalist, since he believes holiness is natural, must believe that man can raise himself to spiritual heights by his own merit. Grace for a Christian is unmerited. For thinkers like Saint Augustine and Blaise Pascal, it is the sine qua non of Christianity. If God does not give an unmerited assistance directly to man in his soul then his salvation is impossible. The transcendentalist view is in fact an attempt to establish a new basis for religious experience without grace. A transcendentalist gets by without grace but in baseball salvation by grace happens so regularly in hundreds of different actions all parallel to the divine eruption of divine grace in real life. It should be a problem for the orthodox baseball player or the fan who are unwilling to see any connection between baseball and the Christian religion. Someone could object that a sudden arrival of a successful play that brings with it victory and a joyous feeling of release in players and fans exists in every sport. True, but parallels with grace are programmed and prescribed in baseball. It is only by some unmerited assistance that a base runner can be saved. Religious writers tell us that grace from God is by no means a onetime event. A believer must be aided again and again by grace. Sudden salvation happens for a baserunner when a following batter hits a homerun but ordinarily he needs more than one unmerited assistance to succeed. For example, he is on first base and a base hit by a following batter allows him to reach second base. A long fly ball to right field allows him to tag up and run successfully to third base. But he still needs some third form of unmerited assistance to reach home. Then a batter hits a fly ball to center field and a player just misses catching it allowing the runner on third to score without meriting his success by his own individual input. The other aspect that separates grace as represented in baseball from other sports is that a player is automatically diminished in power when he reaches base. He is now weaponless without a bat. His success in reaching base at the beginning of his adventure is in reality a failure. He now is condemned to rely on the actions of others to reach home plate and not only on his individual merit. Football players, hockey and basketball players, are equipped with full.positive power right from the start of their adventure and right through to a conclusion of a successful action. They score points aided only by themselves. A baseball player who does not hit a homerun can not succeed on his own. Unpredictable acts either by players on his own team or by players on the enemy team are needed to provide a player with  changes in the circumstances around him that will allow him to proceed around the bases and reach home. Grace in thousands of different  forms parallel to real grace is prescribed in baseball. Without unmerited assistances, a base runner cannot score unless he has hit a homerun or, when he reaches first base, steals by his own merit second base, third base and then steals home.
   But baseball orthodoxy will not allow various forms of unmerited assistance to be understood as grace. It is heresy to believe baseball has anything to do with religion. It is about the supreme American virtue of having a keen eye out for chances to advance and succeed. A batter does not diminish himself by reaching base according to the orthodox fan. He advances. He avoids an out and establishes himself in the game on a base ready to seize opportunities and advance further along the base paths. Of course it is difficult. He is on his own. He is surrounded by enemies out to defeat him and take away his opportunities for success. But no one in a ball game, just as in American economic life, has the power to keep circumstances locked and under control. Things change. Things are always changing. Opportunities for advancement or defeat are always coming up. A base runner has to be shrewd and clever and quick to take advantage of changes around him that are inevitable. He has his eye out not for some unmerited grace but for some unpredictable act caused by others that will give him the chance to show his merit. The orthodox baseball faith sees only individual merit in baseball. Most batters and most baserunners fail but that’s natural. That’s life. Even if a batter makes an out, he will get another chance to bat. Pick yourself up off the floor. Get back in the fight. Sooner or later you will beat the odds if you have faith only in yourself and your own merit.
   The cycle of a fall from innocence and an experience of sin and faith, grace and salvation, is foreign to the views of many optimistic Americans in their religious beliefs and in their native attitude to life. Christianity is perhaps observable to some minds in the structure of baseball but it is there as something unreal in the background. It can have no meaning for the orthodox baseball fan. Baseball can not be primarily an expression of the Christian religion. The  truth is that Transcendentalism grew out of a negative attitude to Orthodox Christian beliefs as Americans experienced living on their own after breaking their ties with England and with European culture. Christianity existed in the minds of many Transcendentalists but only in their mind. Their spirit was elsewhere. The spirit of the baseball fan is elsewhere too. He wants to be himself and he wants his American game, baseball, to be what it is naturally and nothing more.
   But if we look at what happens every time a player leaves home, rounds the bases and returns home scoring a run, we see the real drama of baseball purely and simply. Every batter tries to live out to the end a three-act drama. Act one is trying to hit the ball as well as hitting it and then touching first base safely. Act two is running from first base and touching second base and then third base. Act three begins when a player’s foot stops touching third base and he runs and touches safely home plate, the place where he was at the beginning, the end that is also a beginning. Each act is a separate but interrelated dramatic experience. When the drama is completed, when the three obligatory scenes are acted out successfully, it is called a run. The complete baseball game is a secondary contrived drama of two teams of nine men each given in any game at least 3 chances to act out individually the three acts of the basic drama. Baseball is not a team sport meaning individuals playing together as one team  against another team of players also playing together as one team. It is mainly about watching at least 54 individuals step up to the plate and try to play out alone without any direct aid from anyone the three acts. The home run hitter succeeds before he is born on the bases. But even he must run and reach first base, then leave it and run to third and finally leave third and touch the plate. Baseball is about individuals escaping their own obliteration and saving themselves by the grace of positive events not caused by themselves. It is implicitly a Christian game. But Transcendentalists decided that Christian experience was behind them and no longer relevant to genuine spiritual experience. The orthodox baseball fan puts behind him any idea that the drama of baseball represents stages of Christian experience. They both reject Christianity, one as a reality spiritually and one as a reality present symbolically in a game.

Daniel McNeill's book on the metaphysics of baseball, The Theater of the Impossible,



                                             THE THEATER OF THE IMPOSSIBLE

                                                            Daniel F. McNeill

                                                                   PART TWO

NATIVE AMERICANS, AMERICAN PROTESTANTS AND AMERICAN BUSINESSMEN PLAY THE SAME GAME

   The rules of baseball tell us how to play and how to regulate what may happen without saying anything about why what happens happens. To understand why the phenomenon, baseball, appeared in America in the nineteenth century and evolved to the ingeniously complex entity that we know today requires a different understanding than that needed to understand the rules. You must start looking at baseball from a completely different angle. You must begin to see not just the game, but also the slices of life to which the game is similar.
   Books on the history of baseball pay very little attention to the problem of how baseball originated and how and why it evolved to its present form. Ball games, with rubber balls or balls covered with rawhide, sometimes with bats three or four feet long, were universal among native Americans, going back many hundreds of years. The games often had a ceremonial character. Before the year 1000, in northern Mexico and Arizona, there were ball courts, similar to those of the Mayas of Central America, as large as 180 by 61 feet. The issue of some ancient American ball games was life or death. More recently some of the pilgrims building the Plymouth Plantation used to escape from the tedium of work by playing ball. Forms of baseball similar to the one we know were played by white Americans well before 1870, which is the generally accepted date for the finalization of baseball in its present form. The history of baseball since that time is, of course, well documented. Yet we know little more now about its early history and evolution than was known in 1907 when the Special Baseball Commission, made up of prominent baseball executives and two United States senators, announced, with insufficient evidence, that Abner Doubleday is the father of baseball.
   The crucial number in baseball is four. Three is everywhere a condition to be escaped or overcome. Four—or anything beyond three—is the condition to be achieved. Three strikes and a batter is out, but he can overcome this condition by hitting or he can escape it by getting four balls. The first three batters in a lineup are chosen by a manager with the hope of getting beyond the three to the fourth batter, the cleanup man. The three bases are guarded by four infielders. In the World Series each team can win three games, but it is the team that goes on to win four games that takes the series. The team in the field is attempting to impose on the team at bat a condition of three outs. And the fundamental rule is that a base runner may reach all three bases, but that it is only by reaching home plate, the fourth point in the cycle, that he scores.
   Four is the sacred number in native American mythology. Every native people, in North and South America, use four— four persons, four points, four stages of development, etc.—as the universal form of the creations of their natural religions. The examples of the universality of four in their beliefs are numerous. Here are three from Myths of the Americas by Dr. Daniel G. Brinton, published in 1868:

“An excellent authority relates that the Aztecs of Micla,
in Guatemala, celebrated their chief festival four times
a year, and that four priests solemnized its rites. They
commenced by invoking and offering incense to the sky
and the four cardinal points; they conducted the human
victim four times around the temple, then tore out his
heart, and catching the blood in four vases scattered it
in the same directions. So also the Peruvians had four
principal festivals annually, and at every new moon one
of four days’ duration. In fact, the repetition of the number
in all their religious ceremonies is so prominent that it
has been a subject of comment by historians.”
“It is well known that the calendar common to the Aztecs
and Mayas divides the month into four weeks, each
containing a like number of secular days; that their indiction
is divided into four periods; and that they believed
the world had passed through four cycles. It has
not been sufficiently emphasized that in many of the
picture writings these days of the week are placed respectively
north, south, east, and west, and that in the
Maya language the quarters of the indiction still bear
the names of the cardinal points, hinting the reason of
the adoptions. This cannot be fortuitous. Again, the division
of the year into four seasons—a division as devoid
of foundation in nature as that of the ancient Aryans
into three, and unknown among many tribes, yet
obtained in very early times among Algonkins, Cherokees,
Choctaws, Creeks, Aztecs, Muyscas, Peruvians, and
Araucanians. They were supposed to be produced by
the unending struggles and varying fortunes of the four
aerial giants who rule the winds.”

“In an ancient manuscript found by Mr. Stephens during
his travels, it appears the Mayas of Yucatan looked
back to four parents or leaders called the Tutul Xiu. But,
indeed, this was a trait of all the civilized nations of
Central America and Mexico. An author who was very
unwilling to admit any mythical interpretation of the
coincidence, has adverted to it in tones of astonishment:
‘In all the Aztec and Toltec histories there are four characters
who constantly reappear; either as priests or envoys
of the gods, or of hidden and disguised majesty; or
as guides and chieftains of tribes during their migrations;
or as king and rulers of monarchies after their
foundation; and even to the time of the conquest, there
are always four princes who compose the supreme government,
whether in Guatemala, or in Mexico.’ This fourfold
division points not to a common history but to a
common nature. The ancient heroes and demigods, who,
four in number, figure in all these antique traditions,
were not men of flesh and blood, but the invisible currents
of air who brought the fertilizing showers.”

   The explanation that Dr. Brinton gives for the universality of four is its correspondence to the four cardinal points of any territory, East, West, North, and South. The four points are crucial to the native American, whose main occupation is hunting, because they locate him both practically as a hunter and in the profound sense of giving him a definite identity with himself in relation to the heavens. The four points are also the places of the four sacred winds, the winds being symbols of the breath of the spirit. The cross is also a common symbol of native Americans; it was an object of worship. According to Dr. Brinton, the cross is no more than an expansion of the basic symbol of the four cardinal points since “The arms of the cross were designed to point to the cardinal points and represent the four winds, the rain bringers.” The Creeks’ manner of conducting the ceremony of making the new fire, for example, was “to place four logs in the center of the square, end to end, forming a cross, the outer ends pointing to
the cardinal points; in the center of the cross the new fire is made.” If the four cardinal points are marked on any field and connected to one another, or the four ends of the cross are connected, the result is a baseball diamond.
   The four points “locate” an ancient American man on a segment of land that otherwise has no sure dimension. Can we not simply say that to mark out the four sacred points is a traditional American fashion of possessing land both geographically and mystically? In this respect, it is amusing and yet profoundly interesting to read even the little we have published about early baseball during the period between 1830 and 1860. There are often no set ball fields. The teams must first meet on some field and mark out the base paths. Preston Orem in his book Baseball 1845-1881 writes that one day in 1845 a group of white American ballplayers, realizing that they would soon be driven from their grounds on the north slope of Murray Hill in New York, decided to look for a permanent, suitable place in New Jersey. “So a squad sufficient to make up a game assembled, crossed over on the ferry and marched up the road, prospecting for suitable grounds. They ‘settled’ upon Elysian Fields, Hoboken.” “In New York when the group started to play the game, the town ball and New England game square field was used. Later an early member Wadsworth brought in a diagram of the diamond-shaped field, which the players decided to try out. Preferring it, they used the idea.” Here we see a group of modern, white Americans appropriating land for playing baseball. This means that they redefine both their natural environment and natural behavior because they regulate their behavior according to new laws appropriate only to a new, unconventional geography. And the revolution is accomplished by learning to adapt their radical behavior to fit the dimensions of a sacred native American design!
   The natives who lived in the ancient cities of Mexico and Central America tried to connect their lives to the planets in the heavens above. Teotihuacan near Mexico City, the greatest of their cities, has within it great pyramids of the moon and sun. The pyramids, built around 400 A.D., are ancient skyscrapers, mountains constructed in the city itself that elevated men who climbed their steps to the level of the heavenly planets and the Gods. The pyramid of the sun at Teotihuacan is built in the four-sided, quadrangular shape extremely common in native American sculpture and architecture. It is oriented towards the four cardinal points and has four stepped platforms at different levels with walkways along the edges. The walkway at the very top has four straight stone paths along the edges of the pyramid about 20 feet wide and about 90 feet long. The paths meet each other at right angles and in the center there is a raised area that was probably the site of an ancient temple. The great pyramid of the sun at Teotihuacan has thus at its summit, immemorially preserved in stone, the same diamond design and the same dimensions that were used more than 1400 years later for the ball game in Hoboken, New Jersey
   The ball was universal among native Americans as well as sun worship. Of the four sacred points, east is the most important because, since the sun, a ball in the sky, appears there first in the morning, it is the primary point that locates the other three. According to Dr. Brinton, “When the day begins, man wakes from his slumber, faces the rising sun and prays. The east is before him; by it he learns all other directions; it is to him what the north is to the needle; with reference to it he assigns in his mind the position of the three other cardinal points. There is the starting place of the celestial fires, the home of the sun, the womb of the morning. It represents in space the beginnings of things in time.” The flaming ball crosses the sky beginning at this primary place and sinks down again to earth—earth is also sacred to the native American—at the secondary point of importance, the west. Is there any connection between the ball, which can fly across the sky like the sun, ball games, sun worship, the sacred nature of the earth, and the four cardinal points? It seems likely that there is. The sun not only appears first at its home in the east, but it returns there; it reappears there after the cycle of the day and night. The sun makes a journey over sacred land in the form of a ball touching two bases. Every day is a celestial ball game for a native American. The sun locates him at its home, the east, each morning, and returns home after a night’s absence to give him at least one secure base each day in an insecure world.
   Yet man does not make the same voyage as the sun during his day; he must wander along the difficult paths of an all-too human practical existence, alienated from whatever he was at the dawn of his life. A home run ball belted from home plate to straight-away center field, descending out of view in line with home behind second base, would parallel a day’s voyage of the sun over the earth from a primary point in the morning in the east to a final point at sunset in the west, and it bestows on the hitter a grace that is certainly a representation of man’s deepest dream of paradise, the dream of making Apollo’s golden voyage across the sky; but home plate under all other circumstances is more like the place of the beginning and end of man’s life itself, the Alpha and the Omega, the place from which man enters existence and equally the place to which he goes after struggling to exist.
   Batting can be understood as analogous to the struggle to be born. To exist as a base runner a batter must transform himself into a base runner by hitting the ball. As a batter he is in a state of pre-existence: he is at the stage like that of the fetus. His confrontation with the pitcher, supported by his seven teammates in the field, is like a struggle against all the hostile conditions that can abort his birth. Better still: when a batter steps up to the plate, he has not yet even reached a condition analogous to the state of a fetus. His conflict with the pitcher, his struggle to connect with the ball the pitcher throws, is like the drama that precedes birth and existence, the real beginning—the drama of conception. Batting mirrors the struggle of the sperm to connect with the ovum, the struggle to begin life. A batter is born as a base runner when he has succeeded in transforming himself into a base runner by reaching base. But he cannot even attempt the transformation unless he makes some contact with the ball. Of the many bats that swing fruitlessly through the air missing the ball, his must be the one that contacts the ball, just as one sperm of the many makes contact with the ovum to form a fetus before attempting the transformation to birth and an individual existence. But even when the connection is made, nothing is certain. A fetus has a chance to be born—but only a chance. When a batter hits the ball, strikes it solidly, he has a chance to get on base—but only a chance. His birth can be aborted; he is not automatically safe on base. Someone or something can intervene. The ball he connects with can go foul. If it goes fair, it can be caught before it touches the ground. It can be hit solidly and bounce along freely but suddenly someone can grab it and throw it to first base: it is a vivid representation of something like an aborted birth because the ball reaches first base just before the batter does and a baseball life is ended near the moment when it was about to begin. Hitting the ball is a fatal moment, like conception, that will either project the batter further to something like birth, life, and destiny—or else end as an out, an annihilation, that will return him to nothingness. The fundamental goal in baseball is to time the swing of the bat. The batter must swing neither too early nor too late, but at just the right moment. The flight of the ball from the pitcher to the batter can be understood as a parallel to the cycle of the ovum. In life, conception can take place only when the ovum is fertile and in position; in baseball it can take place only when the ball reaches the area of the plate.
   When a man comes alive as a base runner, he is like an American seeking economic
success. He has a problem similar to that of any capitalistic entrepreneur. He is alone in hostile circumstances, surrounded by individuals seeking to block his advancement. He has something like a certain capital to begin with, depending on his position at birth: he reaches initially either first, second, or third base. (The game of Monopoly—so popular in America—is a variation of baseball which carries out to the limit the logic of acquiring, increasing, or decreasing capital according to the position a player reaches or proceeds to by chance on the paths of a diamond-shaped area.) But any position is untenable because it is to remain within the midst of the struggle: to achieve success he must strive to get beyond the struggle, to go beyond his existence by scoring. Every American wants to score. No one wants to remain as a static element within the hard vicissitudes of the day-to-day economic struggle. The base runner, like the entrepreneur, waits, appraising his situation and the hostile forces around him, for an imbalance to develop. The following batter or batters usually cause some imbalance, either favorable or unfavorable. He must be ready to seize the moment when the imbalance develops and use the sudden alteration in the conditions and the strategy of the individuals threatening him to his own advantage. He must profit from the imbalance by advancing along the bases. Nothing is sure. He can fail. Everything is a chance, a gamble. At all costs he must be constantly alert for something to happen, ready to suddenly invest himself in an enterprise if what happens seems favorable to the enterprise. If he is on first and a batter triples, he can, so to speak, get rich
overnight. But if he is on first and a batter singles, he must be shrewd enough to know in an instant if he should try to get to third because his success or failure depends on his ability to make a quick and adventurous, but realistic calculation. More fail than succeed. It is a hard thing to be alone on base on a hot afternoon in the American sun. The infielders sneak over to try to trap the base runner off base. The enemy basemen threaten to eliminate him at second or third and the catcher at home. The outfielders are poised tensely, calculating where the ball will probably be hit, ready to throw the base runner out if he tries to advance. It’s hard. The only gratuitous help he can legitimately expect is what may develop by chance within the given circumstances themselves. The manager may order the following batter to sacrifice by bunting but this is still hazardous because the exact imbalance that will develop is unknown. In fact, the sacrifice expresses the bitterness of each player’s individual isolation because, as the word “sacrifice” implies, the batter does not work with the base runner towards a common goal, but towards the base runner’s goal: he must enrich the base runner’s existence by sacrificing his own. The hit-and-run play is the closest thing in baseball to a cooperative enterprise, but it is really no more than a quid pro quo: the base runner runs to second, displacing the second baseman who runs to cover second, on the condition that the batter will attempt to hit the pitch toward the area vacated. They cooperate to achieve separate goals. And it is still dangerous because its result is unpredictable. No outside help in the sense of an external interference can be expected: nothing in the base runner’s behavior would make us think that his existence is even slightly like the existence of a man in a welfare state. The economy of the three bases is hard, but like the American economy, it must not be manipulated benevolently by an outside agency so that it can remain natural and hostile and allow only the fittest and the luckiest to survive. The world doesn’t owe the base runner a living. He must pay his own way or be eliminated. It’s hard. But then, if there is everywhere the stink of failure, there is also everywhere the smell of success. The base runner is a modern American hunter alive in something similar to the economic jungle, but it is a jungle of both defeat and opportunity. If he is shrewd enough, and constantly ready, constantly calculating, he will seize an opportunity sooner or later and succeed. Even if he’s eliminated, it’s not fatal. He’s not dead; he’s only bankrupt. He will pick himself up off the floor. He will get another chance to bat, if not today, then tomorrow. Someday he will score and then there will be success and the applause from the crowd that goes with it. The bankruptcy laws governing the American economy make it perfectly legal for corporations to take legal action in order not to pay their debts completely. Baseball does not deign to conform itself to some tedious legal procedure. It kicks aside the possibility of being analogous with any such state of things and goes further: it allows its entrepreneurs to steal. If a favorable imbalance does not develop, a base runner can always create an imbalance by his own initiative. If he’s shrewd enough and quick enough, he can gamble on being eliminated from the game by trying to steal. It’s legal. Maury Wills, the first great base-stealer in baseball since Ty Cobb, wrote a book with a title that expresses it exactly: It Pays To Steal. In both baseball and capitalism it sometimes pays to steal—as long as you don’t get caught because then you’re out. Baseball is thus, from this point of view, a reflection of the ethos of nineteenth-century American capitalism: it is a direct reflection of the world that produced it. And it is a thorough reflection because it is also an image, in one of its aspects, of something similar to class power. Not everyone in nineteenth-century America was thrown by the condition of his birth into the economic struggle. There were classes of society and the power that went with birth in an upper class. Baseball expresses a clear analogy to class power in the home run hitter. The batter who hits a home run is not merely born into something like the economic jungle as lesser batters, he is well born: with one swing of the bat he knocks the ball out of the park and receives all the advantages of class power. He is the exception, the fittest of the fittest. He succeeds before he’s born. He does not have to engage the contingencies of something like a free and harsh economic existence. He does not have to steal or cunningly dance off a base waiting shrewdly to seize some opportunity. He knocks the ball out of the park and then, with contempt and disdain, his power
unopposed and unopposable, he runs at his leisure around the bases.
   Man in a baseball game, in the role of a batter or a base runner, is an individualist fighting against a mean world. He is, like Robinson Crusoe, on his own, and if he is to survive and get home, he must rely primarily on his own boldness, luck, and ingenuity. Robinson Crusoe finds himself in isolated, hostile circumstances. But he is shrewd. He takes advantage of every opportunity. He even finds a friend and help. He overcomes his immediate environment, and he finally overcomes it completely by going home. A batter happens to hit a ball that projects him into difficult circumstances: there are two outs and he finds himself on first base, alone. But he steals second base because he is shrewd and daring enough to get a big lead off first base. Everywhere there is danger. Anxiously, he takes as big a lead off second as possible. Suddenly he finds a friend: the batter hits a line drive to center. He is off immediately (with two outs), and he reaches home. He overcame difficult circumstances by boldness,luck, and ingenuity and returned home. Baseball mirrors the Robinson Crusoe story because his character and adventure express the traits of Anglo-Saxon, middle-class character which are themselves basic to success in baseball and America: individualistic self-reliance, courage, and shrewdness in the face of hostile circumstances.
   Baseball as we know it was created in the cultural atmosphere of the last half of the nineteenth century in America, and its logic is the logic of the people who produced it. One expression of their way of thinking was the survival of the fittest philosophy. There were problems in late nineteenth-century America; annoying contradictions kept cropping up. Democracy existed with slavery, opulence with squalor, optimism with despair, patriotism with civil war, sailing ships with steamships, freedom with rank oppression, government swindling with religious fervor, and private swindling with moral rectitude. A condition of constant competition, constant struggle, constant opposition of one interest to another appeared natural and inevitable as history progressed. There had been no poverty in early nineteenth-century America. Life was rude but there was land, at least to the west, for most men willing to work. In a pioneer culture everyone was free to pursue his economic interests to the best of his ability. The problem of failure developed later in the century, after the Civil War. When the continent had been settled, when economic interests had been advanced and stabilized, it became evident that, despite progress, a condition of general economic scarcity still existed and that in the economic struggle many people had lost. A need arose to justify success. Respectable people, concerned that the day-to-day drama of the survival of the fittest in the industrial jungle was getting too rough for their moral comfort, imported Herbert Spencer, the English philosopher. They venerated Herbert Spencer. People collected money for him and gave him a gold watch. He explained that success was as natural and unavoidable as failure. He adapted Charles Darwin’s theory of the biological survival of the fittest to the social arena. Progress is generated only by conflict. Spencer told his American audiences that everyone in society was free to struggle economically. It was every man for himself in the economic jungle. But in a condition of economic scarcity only those predisposed to the struggle, only those who were bigger, shrewder, healthier, luckier, and bolder would survive and succeed. The poor, even though they somehow survived, were not worthy of survival: it was wrong to help them because to do so would be to interfere with the natural evolution of humanity.
   This survival of the fittest philosophy speaks words that express an intimate agreement with the doctrine of a baseball game. Isn’t it true that in a baseball game everyone gets an equal chance to bat? Isn’t it true that some players survive the ordeal of batting, get on base, and go on and score, whereas other players are either eliminated by the pitcher or eliminated later on the bases? What is a baseball game if not a drama of survival of the fittest? It isn’t just. It’s a bitter fate for one man to be eliminated at second base after singling because the following batter hits an easy ground ball, whereas another man reaches base on an error and scores on a home run. Yet what could be more natural for men living out in their own lives a real drama of survival, and envying the success of the few, than to invent a sport’s drama about the failure or the elimination of the many, and to be passionate about watching and playing it? The roars from a ball park are loud with elemental meaning because the celebration of survival in a baseball game is the voice of a joy that has suddenly conquered a deep American pain.
   William Jennings Bryan’s famous statement, during his campaign for the presidency in 1896, caught the unusual logic of the time at a deeper and more discreet level than the brutal and simplistic survival of the fittest philosophy. He let loose his anger against the bankers, who, under the thumb of London, were cowardly maintaining the gold standard which was crippling America’s potential for rapid economic expansion: “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!” It had a beautiful thunder because it gave exciting meaning to old religious symbols by a sudden new application of them to the economic reality. And the brilliant synthesis in Bryan’s sentence of the theme of crucifixion in a religion of redemption with the theme of the massive sacrifice of individuals required by an industrial economy of growing abundance that redeemed only the powerful and their sycophants operates too in baseball because it is also a synthesis of the brutal antagonism between Christian Protestantism and industrial capitalism. The work of late nineteenth-century Americans in the dog-eat-dog industrial hell was new to them and hostile to their mind and spirit. Caught between the latter-day Robespierres in Washington playing the role of conservative statesmen and the revolutionaries in banking and finance pretending by their holier-than-thou veneer that the privilege of creating money as they saw fit was somehow a just due that they had earned by some divine merit, the average American, powerless and voiceless, needed a pretense of his own to give reality to the private pain of his work by transforming it into public play. So the impossible had happened: the universe of baseball provided a kind of mirror of reality where Protestant America could play at redemption in the real structure of a survival of the fittest game, which was nonetheless the same game Americans were playing at in real life.
   The American Civil War had killed the bodies and seeds of 600,000 men and left a hole near the middle of nineteenth-century American history that nothing could fill. The war left a silence in the soul of America. Afterward it was as though the social body had to get up dazed after a bad and unexpected beating. Words suddenly shaken out of touch with the soul made talk seem hollow, even a waste of time. In the emptiness everyone searched for himself in solitary acts that dug only more holes. After the war, in the period that historians call “Reconstruction”, little was reconstructed, almost everything was changed. In a new industrialized world it was every man for himself in arenas where the only sounds that said anything real were the noises of work and the whispers of politicians in corridors. Huckleberry Finn , floating on his raft out in the middle of the Mississippi River, his companion a rootless black, is the true image of an America that felt the need to go very far away from home to try to find itself. In that blank time of savage industrial development, history rushed up out of a vacuum and drove men along strange new paths all over the continent in a futile race to fill a painful absence.
   Baseball echoed the silence and spoke a language that did not need words. A man stood up, picked a bat, set himself at a plate, and faced the naked presence of alienation in the fast, tricky flight of a ball whose unvarnished intent was to put him out. If he could hit the ball solidly, he could run away to face some new type of alienation on the dangerous base paths. He risked an out guided by the desperate belief that the road that led him away could also lead him back. No miracle could restore the soul that America had left behind on the fields at Gettysburg. A new life of the soul seemed far away, at the end of some strange and dangerous journey.
   Baseball players were not the only American nomads of the time eager to rush off on strange journeys of self-discovery. Educated Americans in easy circumstances would have made voyages to the other side of the moon to make up for themselves some foreign culture. They fled in droves the barbarity of America whose wealth provided them with the means and the ease to compose religious hymns in quaint English villages, study Greek vases at the Louvre, or to stroll through the countryside near Rome looking for the ancient remains of Horace’s villa in the  Sabine hills. Henry James, born in the state of New York, became an English citizen towards the end of his life in time enough not to die an American. At his home in England, Lamb House, he
composed novels with gauzy, Europeanized characters that made him a sitting duck for the judgment of a character in Cakes And Ale by W. Somerset Maugham. “Henry James . . . turned his back on one of the great events of the world’s history, the rise of the United States, in order to report tittle-tattle at tea parties in English country houses.” But many people felt James’ need to seed their thought and feeling in the ground of some culture whose language spoke nuances that silenced the din of utility and the endless talk of money back home; everyone who could turned his back and ran off to some foreign base. They cruised on the Aegean to transport their imagination back to Ancient Greece or they sailed to Martinique to study its language and legends. American nomads haunted hotels in culture-centers all over Europe in a society born of chance meetings that were so only in appearance for the need to study European Metaphysics or Homeric Greek was imposed by a universal disgust. The American novelist Edith Wharton, who spent her life in Europe immersed in foreign languages and cultures, expressed her attitude to Americans on the occasion of a rare visit to her native New York with the following lash of the tongue: “ . . . I despair of the Republic! Such dreariness, such whining callow women, such utter absence of the amenities, such crass food, crass manners, crass landscape! What a horror it is for a whole nation to be developing without a sense of beauty and eating bananas for breakfast.”
   Even though she could not understand Americans’ manners and appetites, she understood their soul. She caught the tragedy of the time in a novel of genius, Ethan Frome. The hero, Ethan, a powerless and proud American, is crushed by the solitude and poverty of his rural plight. He does not have the courage to go off and create a new life for himself in some large industrialized city swarming with immigrants fighting for a living. “The inexorable facts closed in on him like prison wardens handcuffing a convict . . . He was a prisoner for life.” His tragedy did not touch at all the shrewd captains of the roaring industrial revolution who were emptying peasants from villages in Italy to work in American factories and who spent enough time in a depopulated Italy to absorb Italian culture cheap.
   A Boston lady, Mrs. Jack Gardner, hit the greatest home run of the time: she came back to Boston from the other side of the moon with a Venetian palace. Others had duplicated her miraculous journey but not her audacity for they had erected the triumphs of their voyages, crenellated castles, baronial chateaux, etc. far from the hovels of the polloi, on islands like Newport or Isleboro or way out of town in hidden, affluent boondocks. Madame Gardner erected hers in the middle of Boston, a few hundred yards from workers’ tenements. She imported the Italy of her dreams, an elegant renaissance palace filled with fine art, and installed it next to Italians imported for hard labor. Even the Boston Brahmin crowd, who were tough-minded friends of culture, was shocked. What a blow struck against the whispered prohibitions of the rich it was to plant an apotheosis of their ends right next to the people who were their means! Edith Wharton made an appearance opening night at the dinner table set in the Dutch Room surrounded by Rembrandts. She expressed something of the tension of upper crust Boston when she quipped to a neighbor “that the meal reminded her of the kind one was offered at a provincial French railroad station.” She said this in French which added just the right odd nervous touch to an atmosphere of expatriation which already seemed absurd enough since nearly everyone was at home in their native country.
   The need to discover oases of culture also affected those who had to stay home. It was beautiful to walk the fifteen or so miles out from Athens to the site of ancient Megara, where Scylla had betrayed her father for love of King Minos, but beautiful too to walk out from town on a late afternoon or a day-off to baseball fields that the abundance of American land sprouted all over the continent. Baseball parks were the only Champs-Elysées that millions of humble Americans ever saw: they were hungry for culture like the rich and the culture of baseball was not only nearby but also their own. How beautiful to watch young men contest a game on a summer afternoon! No doubt but that some ladies, when their favorites gripped the bat, felt as did Scylla looking down from her father’s fortified towers at King Minos gripping a javelin,
                             “Vix sua, vix sanae virgo Niseia compos
                             Mentis erat: felix iaculum, quod tangeret ille.”
They had never heard of Ovid, but they had no need of Latin poetry beside the beauty of youth besporting on a carefully cultivated grass field with its solitary pitching mound and its bare base paths. It was a paradise where the destiny of men played itself out in an incorruptible form, a shelter from the industrial and sod-busting hell. The baseball rules reflected the outside world, but they had nothing to do with the insanity of the rule of universal utility that debased all who could not escape its command. A game was a civilized war wherein a player had to cut a path for himself against the odds; the players may have only fought with a bat and a ball but they fought. In fact, the players wore uniforms—caps, flannelled shirts, and zouave pants—much like those the soldiers had worn during the Civil War. Baseball was an expression of a world where the new industrial wisdom of mathematical, rational production threatened to make human individuality disappear altogether in a crushing synthesis of men and machines, where a man knew he counted for nothing unless he dared to fight to escape a deadly organization that paid him little to make himself a human tool. Played on a beautiful field, baseball was nature recreated with logic and imagination that imitated a real world in order to show one possibility for transforming life. It was neither the barbarous new industrialization nor nature in the raw, but the deadly logic of the one combined with the wildness and unpredictability of the other. It was both worlds and therefore something more. In the silence of a game without language, laws justified the necessity of inhuman conditions against the heroic boldness of men ready to risk an out to prove their worth beyond the power of law.
   A batter is unable to remain at home plate; he hits a ball which results in his projection into a completely different situation, that of a base runner on first base. The act that causes him to reach first base can be understood as a parallel with original sin. He is a survivor like Robinson Crusoe but he is also an Adam, a biblical hero. Adam, expelled from the Garden of Eden, is awestruck at the extent of his forsakenness. Similarly, the base runner on first base, although he knows it is possible to return home, is not optimistic: it’s a long way to home plate. His mood changes when he reaches second base: now he is halfway home— more than halfway with his lead off the base—and he is cautious but optimistic. So the beginning of Christianity in history when the good news of grace, salvation, and immortality changed religious experience from the fear and trembling of the Old Testament to the faith and hope of the New Testament corresponds
to the base runner’s mood when he reaches second. To reach third base corresponds to the stage of the revelation that has not yet manifested itself in history, the kingdom of the holy spirit: the base runner now sees home plate, his ultimate salvation, as close at hand, as attainable, and his anxious sense of victory and fulfillment corresponds on the religious level to that time in the history of the future when we will perhaps all reveal ourselves as sons of God.
   He is an Adam who is also the new Adam, Christ. A particular situation in baseball can even be seen as the drama leading to the crucifixion. A batter reaches first base: man falls. Fallen man was not able, according to Christian belief, to be saved by his own efforts. God himself, through his Son, must take upon himself man’s fall: he must himself become man and experience a moment of total forsakenness to redeem him. This moment in Christian history is the moment during the crucifixion when Christ, because he has reached that point of complete alienation from God at which he is man completely externalized, completely estranged from God, at which his own being is at one (atonement means at-one-ment) with fallen nature—the moment when he cries out from the depths, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” This moment is mirrored in a baseball game when a player doubles with a runner on first base. Of course it is only possible to mirror the crucifixion—it is only a game, the player who doubles
is only playing. Yet the playing does reflect something in the mirror that has a nuance that somehow goes beyond the game. For at the moment when the man who doubles reaches second base, completing the act that gave the runner abandoned on first a chance to score, he has projected himself to a point representative of complete alienation and forsakenness because going to second base is a movement toward home base by going farther away from home plate. On second he is geometrically at a point equidistant from first and third, exactly extended as far as possible from his original position at home plate: before he was directly in front of the pitcher, now he is directly behind him. If being on base is like human existence after the fall of Adam, he
is for a moment like a pure existent, pinned at the heart and center of existence like Christ on the cross.
   But the drama that precedes the drama of running the bases, whatever it may represent, is the struggle to give the ball a kiss of life rather than death. The confrontation of two individuals—one at the plate, one on the pitcher’s mound—fiercely expressing the total individuality of their being—one is completely obsessed with throwing a ball, the other fanatically possessed with hitting a ball—is the central, ever-present event of a game. This duel of individuality, focused on the ambiguous and deceptive flight of the ball thrown by the pitcher, is in itself like some primeval antagonism of embryonic forces without a shred of civility or humanity. Yet the drama evolves from this fundamental confrontation to a sudden new manifestation of the hitter’s individuality at one of the bases whenever there is not the immediate negation of a strikeout or a putout, or the transcendence of the situation by a home run. Every manifestation of an individual runner at one of the three bases is a fall to a lesser state compared to the previous manifestation as a hitter. The hitter is an individual who has the potential to run and when he hits he becomes his potential but loses his previous integrity because he can no longer hit. He is no longer a hitter who can also run but only a runner who can no longer hit. He condemns himself by hitting to being only a runner and his sudden loss of a primal completeness is his sin. He cannot regain the fullness he has just lost so the only redemption possible is to negate what he has become. He must redeem the sin of being a runner by struggling on through a completion of the cycle of running to home plate where he negates being a runner by becoming something
completely new, a run scored. The burden of the base runner’s incompleteness is intensified by the ordeal of his journey around the bases. Each base lacks the power to give him substance and real integrity because touching a base gives only the illusion of permanence, not the reality. The doom of three outs forces him to try to redeem himself as quickly as possible. The individuals behind him, batting at the plate, can force him to test the perils of the bases and produce some final judgment regarding his trial. The hitter redeems becoming a runner by the completion of his journey to its end: he negates his sin when he transforms the original defiant act of hitting the ball into a new integrity by the final act of negating his incomplete individuality on the bases by becoming a run scored. Looked at from this angle, baseball is a nineteenth-century phenomenon that expresses as a game the drama of sin and redemption. To reach base and then to struggle through the peril of the bases with wit and courage, always braving the possibility of being nullified, and to at last go out of and beyond deadly circumstances in an ultimate, triumphant affirmation of the reality and value of individual being by scoring a run is a representation of central themes of the Protestant universe.
   Primal being as a batter separates itself from itself by accepting a real relationship with a dead object, the ball. The pitcher puts his being into a pitch, the batter his into a swing, and in a magical instant of metamorphosis only the ball seems alive. In real life, how or why primal being shatters its worth and integrity, how or why it perceives and becomes fatally connected with and reduced by non-being, is an absolute mystery. Baseball at least represents the problem with an eternal dramatic ferocity and vividness that leaves little doubt, for eyes that can truly see what is going on, of the problem’s existence. Suddenly, mysteriously, being is no longer of any importance at all. Only a baseball flying 60 feet 6 inches at around 85 miles an hour has importance. The pitcher slows his pitching movement after releasing the ball and stops clumsily lower down on the mound. The batter becomes an assemblage of muscles swinging a bat with measured force for the purpose of connecting mightily with a foreign object. Good-bye primal being! Only the deceptive flight of the ball and then the swing of the bat are suddenly really alive. The problem for the batter is now the exact science of making a conscious connection with the plenitude of the ball flying towards him. He forgets who he is in order to attend to a business that has nothing at all to do with him. His being becomes a bat swinging through the air. He makes himself an object in order to connect with an object. He does not know anything, except the quick delight of the bat’s movement, until he has transformed himself by hitting the ball into something else, and then, on the mathematical geography of the base paths, everything can be known because everything has the distinct dimension of safety and danger, of life and death, of good and evil. Yet as soon as he hits the ball the serpent’s lie is apparent. His state of being as a batter is suddenly transformed not to a superior state (provided he doesn’t hit a home run which, however, can be understood as a representation of Calvinistic predestination) but to a drastically inferior state. Just an instant before, as a batter, he stood alertly at home plate, in control of himself, facing the pitcher calmly and with dignity. He connects with the ball. Suddenly he is no longer in the same state of being. He is motionless for a split second—then he throws the bat away. It is useless. His being no longer resides in the state of standing at the plate and swinging the bat. He is now threatened by annihilation by the very object of his desire, by the ball, which he has himself driven away into the hands of his enemies. He is all at once a base runner, threatened everywhere by the possibility of sudden obliteration. He must surge up quickly from the disaster and form some new being that is an adaptation to a totally new situation. He is suddenly alive and in danger. He must run, run, to try to reach the safety of first base. That he was deceived into hitting the ball is clear from the very logic of his actions after reaching first base: whether he is there for only a moment or stops there, he does not want to be there. He immediately wants to return to the place that he has just left. But there is no going back: what he has done is irreversible. He can only go home by struggling at his peril to run further away from home. He must first know the goods and evils of existence and prove himself worthy of returning to home plate by not allowing the poisonous but tempting passivity of merely standing touching a base to anesthetize him. It is a sinful condition to just stand touching first base so he immediately leaves it by running on or taking a lead. He believes. Somehow he believes that it is not his fate to remain on the base, stuck in a half-dead form of being. The three bases prescribe his existence by forcing him to follow a predetermined pattern. But he must accept the pattern and deny it at the same time: he must accept it only in order to deny it. To lead off base is like an act of faith; it is to exist freely and truly. The base runner must safeguard his fundamental individual identity by refusing to conform to the ritualistic pattern of the bases. The bases are arranged in a certain form, but they are only a form: the substance of a base runner is base running. The bases threaten to make the base runner accept the lie of attaching himself to a base rather than to run along the course of the bases and truly exist. Evil is borrowed being: it is non-being posing as being. The base runner must not borrow his being by touching a base. Rather than posing as being by standing on base, he must create his being by leading off base because it is his faith that his true being is not identical with this existence on the bases. He must not let himself be the same as this new existence. He must flee it. Before, as a batter, he concentrated his whole being on batting: everything was a beginning without an end. Now, as a base runner—suddenly existing as a base runner—he knows that his very struggle to escape from the bases is enigmatic because at the moment he touches home plate he will be safe from all peril but he will no longer exist: everything in his existence exists in order to end. The base runner must dare to go on to the end of his base running existence to know the full truth of his uncertain journey.
   Scoring is the triumphant escape from the shadows of a false state of being that the base runner reaches by faith in his individual worth and power, but his faith must be usually aided by grace. A sudden, unexpected suspension of the given conditions of a game which are thwarting an individual or individuals by an unexpected yet hoped for act which leads to a base runner’s or base runners’ salvation is the obligatory scene that may complete the drama of batting and base running. There are two outs. The base runner is on second base. The batter hits a high fly ball towards left field. It appears that the left fielder will catch it. But it is hit farther than it at first appeared. The left fielder cannot quite reach it. It drops to the ground. Suddenly, when his situation seemed almost hopeless, the base runner is saved. The possibility of sudden salvation is what makes baseball so exciting, and the possible metamorphosis of any hitter into the role of a home run hitter raises the drama to the thrilling dimension of being literally on any pitch a theater of an impossible salvation.
   Thus the logic of a baseball game expresses the enigma of the Christian Fall and Redemption totally: a primary state of innocence, the batter setting himself at the plate; a temptation, the offering of the pitcher; a fall, the self-condemnation by hitting to the diminished role of a base runner; sin, the passive touching of a base; faith, running the bases or taking a daring lead off base; grace, a sudden aid that leads to scoring; and the final redemption of reaching the place where the player was at the beginning. But the logic goes even farther because a baseball game usually has its Calvinists. The batter who hits a home run is ipso facto predestined to be saved. He is the exception. He hits the ball so well that his salvation is assured prior to his birth on the bases. He is like one of the elect: like a true son of God, with his head high, he calmly runs around the bases towards home plate to receive there his reward. Baseball is the ritual drama of individual freedom, a celebration of free enterprise work as a pastime. And a baseball game is also a Protestant miracle play.
Buy the book, The Theater of the Impossible, at: www.amazon.com/author/graceisall  





 

     Perpetual Baseball


 Part 4 of a book about the cultural and metaphysical meanings of baseball, The Theater of the Impossible,by Daniel F. McNeill

   Buy the book at: www.amazon.com/author/graceisall


​   

                                           



   The first prophet of baseball appeared in 1975 in the film masterpiece, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Ken Kesey, the author of the book of the same title, owns the glory of having created the character who in the film reaches dimensions that make him the world’s first perpetual baseball player. His hero, Randall Patrick McMurphy, gets loose from handcuffs and in a mental hospital in the state of Oregon, where most of the action takes place, walks on a new moon. A west coast cowboy without a horse sounds the soul of a new and dangerous California in a tragedy that is, in the film version, the equal in power to anything in ancient Greek tragedy. Since the Civil War, the Europeanized minds of most American writers and artists who tried to revive the American soul only dug more holes or planted the ground with foreign seed. When Randall P. McMurphy gets loose from his handcuffs, the soul of America pounded into the ground at Gettysburg, which baseball preserved in a muted and disguised form, rises again fresh and true and shows the world how to walk tall on a new deadly ground. McMurphy leaves one location, a prison, wins a base in a different place, a mental hospital, struggles there against an organized group of enemies trying to pacify him, tries to escape and fails, but by his out allows a friend, a member of his team, to escape. The art of the film imitates the art of baseball. A tragic hero lives out a destiny routinely possible in any baseball game.
   When the guards delivering McMurphy from the prison to the mental hospital release him, he gets a new chance to step up to the plate. The new life he can create for himself will be full of risks because although his new environment has a measure of freedom, it will be the unrelenting mission of the group of enemies all around him, the women nurses and the men guards, to shut him up and turn him to stone. The confrontation with the pitcher takes the form, near the beginning of the film, of an interview with the head of the hospital, a psychiatrist. He is an intelligent, scientific humanist who, if he does not yet know all the laws of human behavior, at least is certain that all human behavior must obey laws. His business is to decide who is sane and who is insane, who is worthy to play the rigged game and who is not worthy. Like every pitcher he hates the sudden spontaneity of a base hit and his science is devoted to eliminating all home runs from the universe. McMurphy wants to get by him and be admitted to the mental hospital because life among the mentally ill seems a paradise after the handcuffs and the prison he has just left. To get on base in the psychiatrist’s prison seems at the worst an easy intermediary trip to full freedom. Like all ball players, McMurphy is sure that the only way back home is to first get on base. He has more than enough wit to handle the psychiatrist’s curves and he does earn a base in the cuckoo’s nest where he will be observed to decide if he is normal.
   He is, but his normalcy borders on madness because he has an innocent and fierce wind in the soul that blows where it will. He has enough discipline and reason to set his sails and steer his ship, but he obeys no law except the imperative to be born again with each new tug of the universe on his mast. He is a new Christ admitted to an evil world for a new crucifixion. He is insane because his humanity violates the rules of the rigged game. He is judged a social misfit because he will not sit down and quietly obey his enemies like a vegetable. He has the stiff, self-reliant hardness of a Ty Cobb. He is ready to steal any base in any ball game at any time against any team. Yet he is a new cowboy, not the old sort, usually on a horse above the ground with the glamour and god-like detachment of the sun. The old cowboys got off their horses mostly to punish now and then a few wild western men who disobeyed the law. Randall McMurphy is against any law that cannot prove on the spot its necessity by showing a man some new possibility for life. Like Achelous, the Greek river God, who turned himself from a man back to a river in order to squirt away from the grip of Hercules during a wrestling contest, McMurphy is a new cowboy because he has his eye on not just what is possible. He is not just ready to steal bases. The law allows that. He is ready to try to go all the way home at any moment. His boldness will send him off and running from first base for the plate on just a base hit like Enos Slaughter who scored from first base on a base hit to win the 1946 World Series. He is as innocent as Jesus, as self-reliant as Ty Cobb, and as bold as Enos Slaughter. He is too dangerous to be let out of the mental hospital. He has to be specialized, one way or another, so that he learns to live only according to predetermined models of behavior. Experts in the necessary laws of behavior must operate on him. He must be forced to stand passively touching a base and not be allowed to run freely around the bases.
   R. P. McMurphy walks through the mental hospital for the first time smiling ecstatically. He has, in fact, like Hamlet, faked madness to get out of the prison, and now his joy upon his admission to the new Eden that his cunning has made possible is straight-ahead wacko. He warbles like a bird-man of some new American race and crows like an Indian on the warpath. His words are as jaunty as his steps. He quickly turns the inmates of the ward where he is assigned—those who have ears to hear— into his apostles. He uses the ordinary language of typical American games—poker, Monopoly, basketball, baseball—as the wine of new prophecy. Such games are only water outside the hospital because, although they get close to life, they never get beyond an imitation of life. Inside the hospital, where men are cut off from the miracles of fresh real possibilities, they strike a note of reality. Games produce a more robust flavor in the brain than the mellow tantalization of pills and indoctrination. The language of games is essential to McMurphy because he does not know any path to a New Jerusalem that can be walked without trying to create a direct personal contact with every fellow he meets along his way. He needs his disciples as much as they need him. They don’t speak any language that knows the words of a real communion, but they do turn on to the arguments of games. R.P. McMurphy tries to absolve them from the useless search for a soul already lost by preaching the gospel of leaving themselves to go in a direction that seems farther away from themselves, to first base, to second base, to third base, and then farther away still towards the only really sane self for postmodern man, the one always ready to be born anew by a perpetual innocent search played out independently of the rules of ordinary behavior. He tries to put them on a new schedule of sleeping only to wake up fresh every morning for the start of a new ball game. He preaches that salvation is possible if they but dare to begin to play the game that the rules of the mental hospital, a tightly knit mini-copy of the rigged life outside, do not allow.
   The war between McMurphy’s apostles and the enemy team breaks out at the group therapy meetings ruled by Nurse Ratched, the queen of the ward. Outside, during exercise breaks on the basketball court, McMurphy teaches his team with a basketball how to penetrate to the heart of the real experience offered by the game by daring to throw the ball in a basket. Free from the eye of Nurse Ratched, playing basketball or not, he teaches them how to catch the ball of life. But here, sitting in a circle with his team dazed by Ratched’s presence, he can only watch with gaping eyes while she cuts them up with the knife of analysis. The therapy meeting is like a board meeting of a corporation whose members have all lost their souls. Board members of business corporations meet to decide how to use a power that is absent from the meeting but is real because the reality of human work, of goods and services produced, lies behind the accounting figures of their discussions and decisions. The members of Nurse Ratched’s board meet to analyze publicly how to use a power that is simply non-existing. She wants the human beings of her circle to mark the debits and credits of an absent balance sheet. Psychology calls this absent government in the human soul that has life-like fantasies but no real business the unconscious. Nurse Ratched wants her executives, whose egos are half-dead and near burial, to become conscious of something unconscious, to analyze an absent business, to hold the mirror of rational logic before their lost souls.
   For example, at the first board meeting that McMurphy attends, Nurse Ratched wants one member, Harding, who has admitted at previous meetings that he suspects his wife is cheating on him, to tell why he suspects her. Harding says that he can only “speculate as to the reasons why”. Ratched asks if he has ever “speculated” that perhaps he is “impatient” with his wife because she does not meet his “mental requirements”. Her measured, calculating words are alive with sexual innuendo. He answers that the only thing he can truly speculate about is the very existence of his life, with or without his wife. But he is unable to keep the focus of the group away from his relations with his wife because others interrupt with snickers expressing more sexual innuendo. Harding himself suddenly uses the word “peculiar” and the word flies wildly among fellow members of the cuckoo board, causing alarm. He bravely insists that being “peculiar” is not the problem: “I’m not just talking about my wife. I’m talking about my life. I can’t seem to get that through to you. I’m not just talking about one person. I’m talking about everybody. I’m talking about form, I’m talking about content, I’m talking about interrelationships. I’m talking about God, the devil, hell, heaven. Do you understand finally?” But under the stare of Ratched and with the hubbub of the cuckoo group, without the bounce of action and reaction to add rhyme to their reasoning, his words float by without effect. The truth risks becoming a feather unless it becomes a man. Harding’s mental health requires the courage of his accepting his being’s uniqueness, whatever it may be, as a vital and necessary element of his personality that need not be subject to anyone’s analysis. By putting himself in the position of being judged “peculiar” by a group, he turns himself into a defenseless object out of touch with a wholesome inner experience of his uniqueness. Ratched’s weapon against the mental health of being unique is the fist of two plus two equals four. She urges them to speak freely because getting talk of peculiarities out in the open under the gun of rationality produces the fission between mind and soul that reveals the world of guilt. The innocence of our experience is routinely destroyed when the mind, detached, dictates that every experience is necessarily good or evil. Ratched wants her patients to analyze what they are rather than be who they are. Being unique, from the point of view of rational knowledge, can only be a fault that must be corrected for if it is a genuine element of being then it means anything may be, no one’s peculiarity should be ruled out because it does not fit some abstract rational standard. Ratched wants them to do the rational tail chasing of all losers. She wants them to confess in public the sin of not being just like everyone else.
   McMurphy, a perpetual ball player, knows that psychological introspection on a group basis is just a trick to make him take his eye off the ball. Without a ball and a bat, far from a real baseball field, he has to either blow some life into the mouths of the dead around him or condemn himself to just thinking about playing perpetual baseball alone with himself in the terrible solitude of a mind cut off from the bounce of emotion. Perpetual baseball, like baseball itself, is a game requiring individual boldness and initiative, but individual effort cannot come to fruition (without the miracle of a home run) unless combined with a team of individuals trying to aid one another and using the same bases of security in order to fulfill their mission. Perpetual baseball is a team sport and Ratched has McMurphy’s team on their butts in a vicious circle where questions do not seek real answers and guilt is the name of the game. She is striking them all out. Their bats seem clumsy and useless. They lack the power to even begin the journey on the base paths. How easy it would be to coach his team and get his players and himself going if he and his eight disciples were on a real ball field in a real game and Ratched were but the enemy pitcher on the mound! McMurphy could jump up and shout encouragement with words everyone could understand. Wait for a good pitch! Keep your eye on the ball! She’s throwing you curves! It would be the easiest thing in the world to make his players see that she was trying to get them out of the game completely, to nullify them, to strike them out. And he himself could jump into the game, go to bat for his team, make something happen. But they are not on a ball field, they are mice in a laboratory with a well-meaning scientist who is not even aware that she is forcing them to submit to the law of an evil experiment. If McMurphy were to jump up from his seat in the vicious circle and try to save his disciples by hoping beyond hope that they could imagine they were in a game on a ball field, if he were to jump up and shout, “Wait for a good pitch! She’s striking you out! She’s trying to rig the game!”, if he were, so to speak, to start announcing the rules for perpetual baseball right in Ratched’s laboratory, where only the game of perpetual reason counts, his disciples would only believe that he was crazy and nurse Ratched’s laboratory approach would win the game because McMurphy would be a case study before their eyes of that wildness that obeys only the laws of life and speaks its own language. McMurphy would show himself as he truly is but in a way that would make him seem to be really crazy.
   The question then is not whether McMurphy, a poker player, will put up or shut up. He must shut up because Ratched’s well-meaning mind does not hear any words that do not fit a programmed groove of mathematical meaning and syntax. She does not catch any words that she cannot throw back in a pat sentence that has the firm indifference of a straightjacket. Words alone will not produce the miracle of speaking to his disciples of the tree of life because he can only speak to them, with Ratched refereeing her own game, through a word processor that edits out any nuances that speak of unpredictable possibilities. Ordinary words are just another routine out. He must put up a bet voiced in words able to duck the fists of Ratched’s logic yet secretly with the power to lead his poor souls to some blessed, unspeakable redemption. Four cards are now dealt face up to all the players and they all lose if someone does not have an ace in the hole.
   At the next board meeting, the following afternoon, McMurphy turns over his hidden card:

Nurse Ratched: Last time we were discussing Mr. Harding and the problem with his wife, and I think we were making a lot of progress. So who would like to begin today? Mr. McMurphy?

McMurphy: Yeah. I’ve been thinking about what you said about uh, you know, getting things off your chest, and uh well there’s a couple of things that I’d like to get off my chest.

Nurse Ratched: Well that’s very good, Mr. McMurphy. Go ahead.

McMurphy: OK. Today as you may or may not know—it doesn’t matter—is the opening of the World Series. What I’d like to suggest is that we change the work detail to night so that we can watch the ball game.

   The World Series! Up to this point, watching the film, we have not really listened to the talk of the board because the members, Ratched included, have not said anything that comes from themselves. But now we feel the tension and excitement of some new possibility, we hear the words of a new language. We all obey laws, like McMurphy’s disciples, of sterile obligations that war against our deeper obligation to create ourselves in a way that befits our human dignity. We all take absent problems seriously. But here is an absent business that is real. All they have to do to know the sorrows and joys, the outs and base hits of a free enterprise is to turn on the television set!
   The real business of the board can only be that each member accepts his own absurdity as a creative source of his unique personality. A truth that cannot be ascertained in any scientific laboratory is that to be healthy we must cut the cord with reason as the mother of our invention and follow the threads of our beings’ peculiarities even if the new paths are through shadowy regions that produce fear and trembling. We will never find the spaces in the outside world where the impossible is possible if we give up in advance the free use of the secret possibilities within ourselves to be manipulated by the same indifferent power that tries to regulate our public and conscious behavior. But McMurphy is far from announcing that salvation must be achieved right now by a real mystical experience. He is willing to settle for a televised substitute. In the baseball game men obey laws that exist nowhere but in the realm of their play, and a totally new form of life embodies itself where the impossible is always possible because the rules allow it. The game on the television is the play within the play where he will escape the rational consciousness of Ratched by showing his disciples in a rationalized form the base paths to the New Jerusalem. The ball game is an unwritten, unspoken, ritual drama of primal antagonisms and spontaneous, miraculous absolutions. The board members will never hear the drumbeat of themselves, the music of their uniqueness, until they get rid of the noise of reason and analysis in the brain. The ball game is a mystical experience that is a regular service of the mass media. It is a chance to watch a game that may short-circuit the one they are now playing.
   At this moment, however, the moment of McMurphy’s suggestion, only we, outside the circle, feel the excitement of some new possibility. And McMurphy has not even hinted that a mystical experience, even a televised version, is possible. He has not suggested that Ratched allow some substitute adversary into the play who may hide behind a curtain, like Polonius in Hamlet, waiting to be stabbed. No one knows that baseball may be a new adversary for the hero of reason except McMurphy and at this moment he is not talking. He is not offering some real opportunity for his disciples to play perpetual baseball, nor some opportunity for himself to play perpetual baseball because he is always playing it. McMurphy’s suggestion is almost totally neutral, neither a nothing nor a something but a faint hint of something else. McMurphy’s ace in the hole is not some cancellation of Ratched’s logic, which could only take a violent form, but the ace of a blank suggestion that seems as dead as the blank screen of the turned-off television set. Ratched is a bitch of perpetual reason because reason drugs her with a continual artificial fullness. It never lets the water out of her tub. McMurphy has merely pulled the plug.
   She sees his flimsy ploy, but as she reaches down and presses the plug into the hole, she suddenly takes her eye off the ball and begins passing out privileged information about what goes on secretly offstage.

Nurse Ratched: Well, Mr. McMurphy, what you’re asking is that we change a very carefully worked out schedule.

McMurphy: A little change never hurt, huh? A little variety?

Nurse Ratched: Well, it’s not necessarily true, Mr.McMurphy. You know, some men on the ward take a long, long time to get used to the schedule. Change it now and they might find it very disturbing.

McMurphy: They can go back to the schedule after the Series. I’m talking about the World Series, Nurse Ratched. Huh?

   The board members are on a schedule that has been carefully worked out for them! She admits that, even though the board members might find it very disturbing, the schedule can be changed. She herself translates McMurphy’s nearly blank suggestion into words that speak of the possibility of proceeding in some different, disturbing way, and worse still for a hero of reason, this new direction would not be prearranged! She lets the ball drop and bounce right into McMurphy’s hands. Suddenly he is almost shouting words that would have seemed absurd a few moments ago, but are now blessed with meaning:

McMurphy: They can go back to the schedule after the Series. I’m talking about the World Series, Nurse Ratched.

   He is right to be excited because a voice of reason has admitted that when logic does the business of ruling human behavior its design always presupposes an end that excludes ipso facto any deviation whatsoever. Reason has confessed publicly that “It’s not necessarily true” that “a little change never hurt”, but what it really means is “It is necessarily true that a little change always hurts.” Ratched tells her patients that they are mice that experimenters have put in a cage and that the logic that the experiment forces them to accept is that they will harm themselves if they dare to leave! She has by no means opened a door, but she has certainly admitted that some alien program could harm the program she has put in the computer. She has openly admitted to McMurphy’s disciples what he merely coolly hinted at: that a new groove is possible by turning on the television to watch the ball game.
   In fact, in the next breath she confesses her mistake:

Nurse Ratched: Well, anyway this is no way to proceed about this ...
   
   She suggests that they take a vote to decide whether or not they watch the ball game: McMurphy loses. He gets only three votes out of a possible eighteen. Yet a momentary flip-flop of Ratched’s logic sent C our after D and to get her troops back in the prearranged march ABCD and avoid the terrible possibility of ABDCXZ, of a quantum leap, she has had to resort to democracy, to the awesome freedom of people prearranging their own schedule. And the crisscross of words echoing hurried thoughts has said more in toto than either Ratched or McMurphy intended. The sum of their conflict can only be answered, as in the ancient Greek theater, by the voice of a chorus that responds to the confusion of antagonistic thought with the unity of a collective voice.
   The voice of the chorus speaks the next day at the third board meeting. Meanwhile, the night before, McMurphy gives his team a great pep talk by inspiring them to try to break out of their prison, out of the hospital, and watch the baseball game on television as a kind of mythological challenge that they should attempt even though it seems beyond the realm of possibility. They have already lost the real ball game because they failed to vote to watch the baseball game on television. But McMurphy cares nothing, absolutely nothing, about ball games that have already been lost. He doesn’t even mention the possibility of voting at the board meeting the next day to watch the second game of the World Series on television. Instead, he announces that he is going to go downtown now and watch the World Series anyway at a bar and invites them to come along with him. Is he talking about a real ball game or a fantasy ball game? Does he mean he can watch a replay of the game? How can the ball game that was played that afternoon and is already over be seen? Even a replay, highly unusual on nighttime television in 1963, would already be a ball game that is partly fantasy since the real game has already been played while the playing seems to be going on. It is impossible to say whether this new ball game is real or not but it does not really make any difference because the nerve of his pep talk is to get his disciples to imagine that the impossible is possible. And anyway there always seems to be a ball game downtown in some bar when a perpetual ball player is imprisoned. They should have the courage to take a lead off base themselves and run off downtown too! One, Chesswick, who will be the voice of the chorus the next day at the board meeting, even agrees to go off with McMurphy. To bust a hole in the hospital wall, McMurphy decides that he must lift up a sink in the ward’s men’s room that is at least twice his weight and fastened to the floor. This is a real enough plan because to bust a hole through the bars a huge object is necessary, but there are other ways out and the challenge has more than a hint of mythology, something like the challenge of Indo- European heroes of legend who had to prove their superhuman worth by pulling some magic sword out of the ground. In any case, he gives them a laboratory demonstration in the men’s room of trying to do the impossible. He even bets them real money that he can lift the sink. He makes a superhuman effort and fails, but his promethean grunts and groans and the supreme tension of his muscles say all that need be said against those who say that it is impossible to play perpetual baseball in a mean world that seems crammed with only petty possibilities: try.
   At the meeting the next day, McMurphy is silent and Ratched is back on her high horse. She starts tramping on Billy, a sensitive, boyish young man with a severe stutter.

    Nurse Ratched: Did you tell the girl how you felt about her?

   Billy (stuttering): Well, I went over to her house one Sunday afternoon and I brought her some flowers. And I said, I said, Celia will you (stuttering extremely) marry me? (Snickers and chortles from the board)

    Nurse Ratched: Billy, why did you want to marry her?
    Billy: (stuttering): Well, I was in love with her.

    Nurse Ratched: Your mother told me that you never told her about it. (Long pause) Billy, why didn’t you tell her about it? (Long pause) Billy, wasn’t that the first time you tried to commit suicide?

   The fist of two plus two equals four lets rip for the millionth time a low fastball over the outside of the plate! A real human being, conscious of the mind’s limitations, reserves judgment about matters that cannot and perhaps should not be known. Zing! Ratched’s logic not only knows the secrets of the human heart but also discovers there a cause-and-effect relationship between the inability to speak of love and suicide. Billy is right not to answer her. There is nothing to say. We are at zero.
   Some voice from the chorus of Ratched’s dead souls must find the strength somewhere to move muscles to produce a totally new therapy. Chesswick, a small ineffectual man, suddenly feels in himself the birth of a creation out of nothing that once happened in American culture, the birth of baseball. Indeed, the true measure of the miracle is that he does nothing more and nothing less than what Americans have traditionally done to make something happen that has fresh life in an atmosphere of cultural sterility: he begins talking baseball. He begins speaking the only language that every American can understand in the fight to transform the laboratory of Ratched’s evil, controlled experiments to the arena of endless human possibilities. Chesswick goes to bat for himself, for his team, and for Billy.

Chesswick: Oh, my God.

Nurse Ratched: Yes, Mr. Chesswick?

Chesswick: Miss Ratched, I’d like to ask you a question please.

Nurse Ratched: Go ahead.

Chesswick: OK. Uh, you know, if uh, Billy doesn’t feel like uh talking, I mean, uh, why are you pressing him? Why can’t we go on to some new business? Huh?

Nurse Ratched: The business of this meeting, Mr. Chesswick, is therapy.

Chesswick: Oh. Well, you know I can understand this, Miss Ratched, because, uh, I know, uh, Mr.McMuephy, he said something yesterday about, uh, a World Series, a baseball game? You know, and I’ve never been to a baseball game, and well I think I’d like to see one. And that’d be good therapy, too, wouldn’t it Miss Ratched?

Nurse Ratched: I thought we decided that issue.

Chesswick: No, I, uh, I don’t think so because, I mean, we, uh, discussed that yesterday and uh we have a new game today, I think, don’t we Mac?

McMurphy: That’s right, Chess. And we want a new vote on it, don’t we?

Nurse Ratched: Will one more vote satisfy you, Mr.McMurphy?

McMurphy: Yuh, it’ll satisfy me.

Nurse Ratched: There’s a vote before the group. Everyone in favor of changing the schedule please raise your hand.

   What can be a better drama of the inner conflict of the American soul than to watch a queen of reason, hearing the sound of that soul, rush to set up a new controlled experiment whose outcome she can rig? She seems to have abandoned prearranged categories, but her ploy is only the momentary twitter of a democratic vote whose outcome she has foreclosed because she controls in advance the categories that will regulate the vote. But Ratched will not freeze R.P. McMurphy in any category because at the bottom of the soul of America lies a primal word, an unwritten mythical tongue, and he will speak it. We are now watching in open conflict the struggle of two teams playing for different cities. Ratched’s city is formed by rational consciousness and reason. McMurphy is playing for the city of the impossible, the heavenly city of endless games where gestures are never bound to practical ends, where means are confused with ends and there is never any need for a final score. In McMurphy’s city, men play perpetual games of their own free invention on Elysian Fields for from the hospitals of reason and rational consciousness. Ratched’s city can only force McMurphy’s city to reverse the natural order of history: since American life created baseball, he must now use baseball to recreate American life. He will speak primal words because under the pretense of democracy Ratched is plotting to refuse him real words. In her city no one even suspects that a mythical Mickey Mantle is always trying to hit the mythical curve balls of a Sandy Koufax in some corner of the American heart.
   Yet McMurphy now, when a new free vote seems possible, becomes the truth because the cold eye of reason has at least blinked and ahead a path innocent of all the necessary choices of consciousness leads to a new base.To describe the journey in philosophical terms, McMurphy can now fly off towards an end unforeseen by rational knowledge. In terms of baseball, which is the game McMurphy is always playing, he has a chance to steal a base, to win a step ahead in a game played according to rules that allow the impossible. The ball game on the television set is the apple of escape from Ratched’s garden of reason and rational consciousness to a promised land beyond good and evil, to a super incorporation of the self that is not necessary.
   McMurphy’s ace in the hole is really nothing much more than the ploy of a runner on first base eager to steal second base. Ratched has had her eye fastened on him since he got to first base by earning admission to her ward. Ever since then he has been taking a lead, swinging his hands, moving away from his base, believing. A man has been preparing to race off, following the bounce of his fantasy, towards an unknown possibility while the eye of reason, on an imaginary pitching mound, has been holding him on base with the stare of a knowledge that sees only his murder. McMurphy must not fly off too quickly or too slowly but at just the moment when Medusa’s eye blinks. Like a base stealer he will run to his perdition if he leaves base too soon and at the same time he must be quick-witted enough not to leave base too late. Chesswick, another player on his team, has stood up to bat and confused Ratched’s attention span, but there is no help for McMurphy except to face alone the absurdity of a foot race toward the impossible. He has got to continually leave wherever he may be in order to return home. He cannot know whether Ratched’s eye is the stare of a truth superior to a man’s free creation of himself until it blinks and lets him dare to run off and test his ability to create himself freely: instead of trying to know what can exist, he must try to exist without knowing anything except the reality of his voyage in movement towards—the pitcher blinks! The cowboy without a horse is off for second base! A new vote is taken among the board members to decide whether or not to watch the World Series on television! McMurphy’s body and spirit come alive as though he were a base stealer off for second base with every muscle at its peak of strength for the run. A new vote! And every board member is raising his hand! McMurphy feels like a base stealer with his own knees jumping up towards him with furious bounces while his arms pump and his feet rise and fall in a wild flight towards freedom. What a pleasure it is for a cowboy to suddenly feel that there is a way out of the corral even though all the gates are shut! How delicious is even one momentary taste of a freedom that exists only when a man is galloping towards the unknown! Nine hands are up! More than enough votes, it seems, to turn on the ball game! McMurphy slides into second base.
   Safe! But his victory is too sudden and unique to be endowed by reason with permanence. McMurphy has gone far but only as far as reason has prearranged to let him go. He is still fixed in a category that can be the death of his being. Reason has twitched but not budged from her heavy-handed position.

Nurse Ratched: I only count nine votes, Mr.McMurphy.

McMurphy(chuckling): She only counts nine, only nine. It’s a landslide!

Nurse Ratched: There are eighteen patients on this ward, Mr. McMurphy. And you have to have a majority to change ward policy. So you gentlemen can put your hands down now.

   McMurphy (indicating the nine men in the ward not in on the therapy session, men who appear to be hopelessly lost mentally): You trying to tell me that you’re going to count these? These poor sons of bitches, they don’t even know what we’re talking about.

   Nurse Ratched answers, “Well, I have to disagree with you, Mr.McMurphy. These men are members of the ward just as you are.”, which means that she admits what we already suspected, that she was not really switching to some new category, but only giving a false nuance of democracy to the logic of the old category whose limits she holds firmly within predetermined bounds. It could not be otherwise. The scientific method does not allow free inquiry except within categories that it defines in advance by a stoical application of reason to phenomena. Any element within any species that does not fit the predetermined category of the species is simply removed from active consideration as an element of the species. Scientific reason can never win the battle to define reality because it limits its own part in the struggle to the safe area where reason must chase only its own tail. It shuts all the doors forever and knows only in a solipsistic groove that excludes in advance anything that it does not choose to know. At best, if it finds something that does not fit the knowledge it wants, it sets up a new exclusive category, and so on ad infinitum. Luckily for McMurphy, one of the nine lost souls that he must now try to get to vote to watch the World Series is a being outside even the most broadly defined category of American science: he is an Indian.
   McMurphy has already shown himself a successful executive of a new space and new business; he is a perpetual baseball player doing a perpetually new business inspired by the free enterprise spirit of baseball. And McMurphy has inspired his apostles—nine of them raised their hands—to feel the boldness of his enterprise as a power alive within themselves. He has successfully begun to teach the members of his corporation to incorporate themselves by beginning to fly off towards unknown spaces. Since the ball game on the television set has not yet been turned on, he has each of the nine men on his team already playing a new game in a freshly discovered space of the mind that needs neither reason nor television. McMurphy is a sincorporation of a business executive because he tries to market only products that his customers need even though his drum must beat a magical sound to awaken the need. He has cornered a market that nobody wants, he has taught the dregs of America that there is no final out ever if they raise their hands and say yes, if they refuse to buy what they don’t need. But the first out of America, the American Indian, is represented in the drama too in the person of a huge and silent Indian. He makes it his business never to speak at all. His defense against the barbaric mammon and the ferocious iniquity of the white man is to hush up eternally. Any word that comes out of the Indian’s mouth is the sound of a lie that an enemy has whistled into his spirit to scalp his soul. No one can sell him anything at any price because his pride is stronger than his need. Will he raise his hand and let McMurphy’s lowly team of beaten palefaces watch the World Series? The magic of McMurphy’s sales pitch does allow the Indian to speak without words. The Indian can give a signal by raising his hand—he can speak without speaking—that will send for the millionth time a primal ball of the American spirit flying over an American land once again made holy. The pride of even the proudest of the conquered may be defenseless against the music in the soul that calls travelers to follow the base paths of their own free self-creation. The ballgame on television suddenly seems to the Indian a good beyond the goods and evils of the white man’s fiendish invention. He raises his hand.
   But by this time, Ratched has already precluded the sound of a new voice: while McMurphy is on his horse galloping all around the ward hustling to earn just one vote from one of the lost souls, Ratched adjourns the meeting. She turns the screws of the coffin without the slightest regard for either the living or the dead or the in-between. She shoves the uniqueness of the Indian’s assent off to a no-man’s-land with which her reason refuses in advance to have any truck. McMurphy simply ignores her action because he has been on second base too many times with two outs to give up before the third out. She declares the third out in advance without even throwing the ball, but this seems to McMurphy, in the excitement of his long lead off second base, no more than the unspoken claptrap of a pitcher trying to stare him back to his base. His base running soul is speaking words of prophecy all over the ward, talking up a new logic, selling perpetual baseball. All he needs to get home is a base hit! The heroic input of just one man can allow a whole group of men to dare to follow paths that lead to life rather than remain imprisoned in a vicious circle of prearranged failure.
   Meanwhile, this is what has taken place just before Ratched adjourned the meeting:

   Mc Murphy: All right., all I need is one vote, right? Right?

   Nurse Ratched: All right.

   McMurphy: OK. (moving around the ward) Wanna watch the World Series? C’mon, Pal, this could be a big moment for yuh. Now you wanna watch a baseball game? You wanna watch baseball? Just raise that hand up. Just raise the hand. Whatta you say? Sorry. Banchini, old horse, whatta you say, you wanna watch the ball game on TV? Huh? Wanna watch the ball game? Baseball? World Series? Whatta you say, Pal? You tired? Just raise your hand up, Banchini, watch the ball game. Huh? OK. All right. what about you, Pal?All we need’s one vote. Just one vote. Just your one vote! That’s all we need! Just raise your hand up and your buddies can watch the baseball game. General,you remember, don’t yuh? October? The banner, the star, (singing)”Oh say can.” The World Series. Raise your hand up. (singing) “by the dawn’s early light”  Just raise your hand up. What about you, Pal? Wanna watch the ball game? Wanna watch the ball game? Huh? Just one vote. Just raise your . . .”
   Ratched does give McMurphy a chance to go fishing for men in a polluted creek where all the fish are dead, but now she sees that his last possible convert is the Indian, an unknown element in her category that could speak everything or nothing: it’s time to preclude a baptism that might really be possible.

   Nurse Ratched: Gentlemen, the meeting is adjourned.

   McMurphy (ignoring her, shouting): Isn’t there one of you maniacs that knows what I’m talking about?

   Nurse Ratched: Mr. McMurphy.
   McMurphy: Huh?
   Nurse Ratched: The meeting is adjourned.

   McMurphy: All right, just wait a minute, will yuh, just one minute?
   Nurse Ratched: You can bring the subject up again tomorrow.

   McMurphy ( speaking to the Indian): All right, Chief. You’re our last chance. Whatta you say huh? Just raise your hand up. That’s all we need from you today, Chief, just raise your hand up one time. Show her that you can do it. Just show her that you can still do it. Just raise your hand up. All the guys have got ‘em up. Just raise your hand up, Chief, will yuh? Huh? (He turns away from the Indian) Come on, there’s got to be one guy in here that’s not a total nut.

   Chesswick: Mac.

   McMurphy (looking back at the Indian): Chief! The Chief (warbling an Indian war cry) Nurse Ratched. Nurse Ratched, look, look, the Chief put his hand up! The Chief put his hand up. Look. He voted. Would you please turn the—would you please turn the television set on? The Chief has got his hand up right there. (Mastering his excitement and speaking calmly) The Chief voted now will you please turn the television set on?
   Nurse Ratced: Mr. McMurphy, the meeting was adjourned and the vote was closed.

   McMurphy (excited again): But the vote was ten to eight! The Chief, he’s got his hand up! Look!

   Nurse Ratched: No, Mr. McMurphy, when the meeting was adjourned, the vote was nine to nine.
   Randall McMurphy has done everything he could to trick Moby Dick into not slapping men down with his tail, but toying with a power that has no possibility of meeting with human beings on the sacred ground of their true dignity only makes the tail more rigid, its force more furious and more deadly. Randall McMurphy wants to watch the baseball game so badly that he even stoops to appealing to the monster’s humanity!
   McMurphy: Ah, come on, you’re not gonna say that now, you’re not gonna say that now.

   But Captain Ahab is one of his ancestors so he does not fear heading out, when reason and humanity fail, to the open sea of his just anger:

   McMurphy (continuing angrily): You’re not gonna pull that hen house shit now when the vote—the Chief just voted, it was ten to eight. (Shouting wildly) Now I want that television set turned on right now.

   McMurphy is nowhere. He is speaking words outside the known categories. He is being wasted by a power that speaks words that squeeze the edges of its victim’s brain until the mind is narrowed to a spectrum of naive and petty universals and is unable even to realize that it is itself about to collapse for lack of air. McMurphy is on the floor. He will get up. He will go to bat again. He will not obey a law that contains a universal judgment contrary to the living stamina of his inner dignity. Not now, not ever. He has been on second base too many times when the third out has been forced on his team to give up. But the way he creates himself anew, the way he hits his home run in spite of the enormous odds against him, needs to be examined by us very closely.
   We must understand that McMurphy has been stripped by Ratched of the power to speak in a known language. Ratched has him where she wants him, at zero. She has him screaming like a maniac. She has him surrounded by blank walls in a silence so total that the sounds of normal words touch no human being even slightly and even echo back into McMurphy’s own mind as an indictment against himself. If going crazy is hearing words that come clear and straight from the heart fall flat on another’s ear, then McMurphy is going crazy. Every roll of the dice is coming up snake eyes. He can’t change the dice so he has to change the name of the game.
   We are talking about how an American man saves his soul. McMurphy must create himself from zero without the tool of a known language.  He must sit down in front of a blank television screen, cut off from reality by a rational lunatic, with his group of lost souls, and somehow find words of a new and powerful innocence that will make his disciples members of an unbeatable, primal ball team. McMurphy must either speak with the tongue of some language declaring that his being is forever the enemy of Ratched’s logic or accept to live as a speechless dummy with the fiber of his being tied fast by her ropes. What will McMurphy say? Where is the language of some miraculous ignorance that can turn McMurphy and his scarecrows back into real men?
   Under the stare of Nurse Ratched, a Sphinx with the victorious cold look of a beast whose paws are unable to touch human skin except with the hurt of animal claw, McMurphy, sitting before the blank television screen, looks up at the nothingness with eyes glimmering with excitement and says, “Koufax, Koufax kicks. He delivers. It’s up the middle! It’s a base hit! Richardson is rounding first, he’s going for second! The ball’s into deep right center! Davis is over to cover, to cut the ball off! Here comes the throw. Richardson’s rounding first, he’s going for second. The ball’s into deep right center. He goes into second. He slides. He’s in there. He’s safe! It’s a double! He’s in there, Martini, look at Richardson, he’s on second base! Koufax is in big trouble! Big trouble, baby! All right . . . .”  Words lifeless and absurd for the calculating mind release the blessed waters of an ignorance innocent of all the necessary goods and evils of Ratched’s world. The sound of McMurphy’s trumpet begins to crumble the walls of her city. Then a sacred eye in the depth of his soul sees a mythical home run hitter come to the plate waving the magical bat of all our impossible hopes. The batter swings and McMurphy shouts, “It’s a long fly ball to deep left center.” And now all his disciples around him are shouting with equal enthusiasm for McMurphy proclaims it a home run. They are wild and noisy and crazy with the loud shouts of hope, over the wall of Ratched’s prison. McMurphy’s players are suddenly the true apostles of his gospel because the words of his imagination have become a real power within themselves. McMurphy sees something where there appears to be nothing. A holy candle of an imaginary baseball game is suddenly shining in the darkness. The mythos of baseball at the root of his disciples’ minds comes magically alive and primal cries of freedom and joy echo from a pulse beat suddenly in rhyme with the deepest rhythms of our continent. That beat thrills to the sounds of our real language. The syntax and sentence structure and above all the verb of baseball’s mysterious and ingenious drama establish in the soul the language that says, among other things, that our true dignity is forever ready to burst out if we but have the courage to play the game of living the truth and that playing at making the impossible possible is a serious American business.

Read another part of the book at: www.amazon.com/author/graceisall


   









Transcendentalism Before and After the Civil War


   In America before the Civil War, men lived without the traditional borders of their ancestors in Europe. Men of thought and culture in America felt a release within themselves as though the old limits that gave unity to experience no longer applied to them.               
  New England Transcendentalism was a new secular religion that transcended both secularism and religion. Modern secularism excludes religious experience and walks on rationalistic and scientific grounds. Transcendentalism included any element of this kind of secularism but refused to allow its narrow view to limit other elements of experience. Descartes in the 17th century convinced thinkers that truth can be expressed only in rational and mathematical forms and this led most important thinkers to exclude thought not based on reason. Hegel, the German philosopher, wrote famously that whatever is real is rational. For Descartes, a Catholic, a whole area of experience existed beyond what could be categorized rationally. For the philosopher Kant, reality was composed of the phenomenon, the rational side, and the noumenon, the non-rational side. A New England Transcendentalist considered this split dishonest and harmful. He kept the phenomenon and the noumenon united. He was open to all possible experience and refused to conform his mind and spirit to any influence that did not register with him as genuinely his own. He lived in a land without borders and refused any borders blocking worthy experiences within himself. Ralph Waldo Emerson considered the imitation of any man a form of suicide. His non-conformity had a religious side because he believed openness to all morally good experience must lead to discoveries of the divine infused in nature by God himself. Nature held the keys to a perfect and holy human life. An individual who refused all foolish conformities must learn eventually that something is real when the divine in nature teaches that it is also morally right.
  The new secularism that transcended secularism and the new religion that transcended religion did develop however from within the Christian religion. Catholic Christianity very early introduced practices that secularized the divine. Pelagius in the 4th century taught that moral conduct and salvation could be achieved independently of God’s grace. Saint Augustine fought Pelagianism with his doctrine that only through grace could a believer be saved. Only God’s grace operating in the soul could give a human the power to resist evil and do good.  Calvinism agreed with Saint Augustine’s doctrine about grace. Humans were either directly elected by God through grace  or else were not elected and doomed to suffer the consequences.  Transcendentalism took its stand with the mass of humans condemned to live without grace and taught that they had the power within themselves to elect themselves to a glorious human life by opening their minds and souls to all possible worthy human experience.
  European thinkers criticized apostles of Transcendentalism like Emerson and Thoreau of Concord for their naïve disregard for the presence of evil. But Emerson touched the heart and mind of optimistic Americans when he taught them in his popular essays to create their own world and to rely on no one but themselves. Some American critics, eager to find nationalistic inclinations where none existed, describe Transcendentalism as a cultural break of a new nation with the old nations of Europe. It was not. Transcendentalists in New England and elsewhere, frustrated by the lack of higher experience derived from their native circumstances, sought to enlarge their experience with anything gleaned from the past in European art, philosophy, religion and literature or from any higher experience at all available to them from worldwide cultural and religious influences. Dante’s synthesis of art, poetry, philosophy and christianity was a major influence on Transcendentalists. They opened their souls to any experience that transcended their normal experience provided it was genuine.
  Transcendentalism was an expansive humanism that reached into realms of the divine that Christianity for centuries had kept locked in sacred practices and traditional constructions.  The transcendentalists were genuinely out to find the truly human. New England men with a long Protestant tradition behind them accepted the Calvinistic duality between election and damnation but refused to limit their human experience because of it. They were open to the influence of everything including Christian grace. But they knew that grace did not come from any human merit and its influence came and went without any direct human control. As far as they were concerned, everyone was morally obliged first and foremost, whether saved or unsaved, to be a worthy independent human being.
  Traditional Christian experience was an element in Transcendentalism but it influenced it indirectly and came into it, so to speak, through the back door. Christ’s life and death introduced a new human persona in history that broke radically with humanity’s past. A person could no longer be a real person with only a purely human experience. It had to also include the divine because Christ was divine-human and belief in him now added a divine experience to the merely human. Christ’s self-sacrifice  mysteriously allowed grace to enter a Christian’s soul. A Christian became truly a person by grafting onto himself  the divine. Put differently, a Christian became a whole person by finding the power through Christ to transcend the human. Transcendentalists were also after the whole person, but they believed they cou