Fordham Professor Dissects Baseball’s Cultural Impact in New Book


There’s no question that baseball is America’s pastime. Since baseball became popular over 150 years ago, Americans have seen iconic players such as Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson leave their mark on the sport. The history of baseball is so illustrious and extensive that there are hundreds of books describing it, and just recently another book has been released: “The Cambridge Companion to Baseball,” edited by Fordham University’s own Leonard Cassuto and Stephen Partridge, a professor at the University of British Columbia.

Cassuto, a professor of American literature and American studies, has been teaching at Fordham since 1989 and has been a baseball fan his entire life.  In addition to being a fan of the game, he also enjoys writing about it. Two weeks ago, Cassuto published an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about the business of baseball, and on April 7, “The Cambridge Companion to Baseball” was released.

“The Companion” is comprised of several essays written by experts detailing the history of baseball and its impact on American culture as well as American culture’s impact on the sport of baseball. “The book describes baseball as a game with two glorious pasts and one troubled present,” Cassuto said. “There’s the real past, or what actually happened, and the romantic past such as the myths that were created surrounding some of the game’s memorable characters.”

The distinction between the real past and the romantic past is an essential component within “The Companion,” and it is important to understand this distinction when looking at the history of baseball as a whole.

The real past is the story of what actually happened from when baseball was played on the sandlots to the modern way it is played today. I think this real past is very interesting because the romantic past is more prevalent in the way the legend of baseball has been established. Inside the real past there are important characters such as Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier during the time that race relations and civil rights were major issues in post-World War II America. This is just one way that baseball and culture are intertwined.

The romantic past of baseball is what people most closely relate to baseball. These stories, like the claim that Abner Doubleday invented the sport in America or events such as Babe Ruth’s “called shot,” are myths, and baseball was built upon these myths.

However, as mentioned before, the book also recounts baseball’s troubled present and the essays in this segment of the book range from Pete Rose gambling on games, to the steroid era, to George Steinbrenner and baseball’s new corporate ideology.  These chapters also discuss the disparity between the big-market teams such as the Yankees and the Red Sox and the small-market teams such as the Kansas City Royals and the Pittsburgh Pirates. “The issue is not so much having the salary cap as it is not having a salary floor,” Cassuto said “The rich [teams] spend too much and the poor spend too little. Another problem that baseball is facing now is the issue of labor. During the 1994 season, many baseball players went on strike until their demands for higher pay were met. The strike lasted throughout the season and it is considered to be a dark time in the history of the sport.

Along with the essays regarding baseball’s modern era, there are many stories about baseball’s impact on culture especially with regards to immigrants and the globalization of the sport. “Latin baseball players [such as Roberto Clemente] helped immigrants assimilate to the United States and the introduction of foreign players helped baseball act as an ambassador to other countries” Cassuto said. One of the players highlighted in the book is Ichiro Suzuki of Japan. Suzuki was one of the first Japanese players to transfer to the Major Leagues and his worldwide fame in both America and Japan helped create a bond between American baseball and Japanese baseball.

“The Cambridge Companion to Baseball” covers the extensive history of baseball from cover to cover. It details baseball’s impact on American culture. It covers the past and its truths and myths as well as the powerful franchises of the present. Cassuto said, “If you want to get an overview of baseball’s [multiple] pasts and presents, you’ll get them all in one medium-sized book.” As a baseball fan, I am excited to learn more about the sport I love and if you are like me, then you should undoubtedly get “The Cambridge Companion to Baseball.”