First, a few quotes:
Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem. ~Saul Steinberg
I see great things in baseball. It's our game - the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us. ~Walt Whitman
Strikeouts are boring - besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls. More democratic. ~From the movie Bull Durham
Nearly every baseball fan has heard that baseball is “America’s game” and almost everyone sees Baseball as an important product of American society and values. But at some point baseball and America have become intertwined. In many ways baseball has become a vehicle to tell the story of America. Things like integration, union strikes, capitalism, and a focus on production and skills are important parts of American society and baseball. The rules and procedures of the games itself reflect key American values such as perseverance, hard work, teamwork and ultimately a reliance on self. The game is also precise and filled with well outlined rules. But the more important part of the rules is that they have changed and evolved contextual.
But let’s step back and look at the game more closely. First of all, this is a game built on failure. If you manage to succeed 30% of the time then you are doing well for yourself. The point is not that American life/society is wrought with failure, but that success is rewarded in spite of previous/future failure. If you work hard and continue to try (baseball is a game built heavily on repetitive skill building) then you will eventually find success. But there is another angle, and that is that sometimes success is predetermined. Just like in America, not all things are created equal, and some people are just born into stardom and success. They have the skills (baseball) or social-standing/wealth (America) that makes success built more on destiny than personal achievement (not that they didn’t work hard, but I hope you see my point.) But while those might be “automatic stars,” others can maximize their strengths and shore up their weaknesses to become successful. Baseball’s emphasis on failure makes it ripe with opportunity. If you have gone 1-56 recently, you can hit a walk-off grand slam and you will be the hero. Every at-bat and various other opportunity means that you can constantly redeem yourself. While this might be a slightly idealized take on America, it is one that many believe in and relative to other situations is more true than false.
Another similarity is in the simultaneous importance of team and individual. While baseball is without question the most individual of the major team sports, the idea of a team can never be lost. This is an idea that reflects the importance that America places on the individual. While American society has gone through phases of increased importance of the society (think small ball days here) the individual (the superstar hitter or the lights out pitcher) often dominates. In baseball you must be able to act as an individual and within the framework of the team in order to succeed. This year we have all seen that the team has to work together offensively and defensively to succeed. In other words, the actions of the individual are relevant primarily when they are maximized by the team.
Baseball is an excellent sport, an American sport. Baseball is both subtle and obvious, relying both on the body and the mind. But beyond being the best sport around, I think it provides an excellent metaphor for America as a whole and the part that it has played in American society removes it from an "America's pastime" to "an American institution." It has provided many of us with an opportunity to better ourselves by learning about life and our society through an entertaining game. If only America and life was as easy as America. But only America could allow people with a specialized talent to play professionally a game that for 9 inning transforms them to children. They are briefly transformed to the better part of themselves that love purity, perfect dimensions, and a perfectly quantified game. They are provided with a transcendent platform, one that taps directly into America and the American spirit. And I personally hope that never changes.
There are many more points, but I’ll allow for some discussion on the topic. People have also made the connection between baseball and life, which has its own merit, but I felt that with the 4th of July on Monday that perhaps we can look at it through this lens.