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Published online by Cambridge University Press: 06 June 2017
I have argued elsewhere that baseball – the game and its texts – constitutes a genuine American mythology and that as a mythology baseball becomes a mirror of sorts for Americans and their culture, one in which, to use Richard Wilbur's description of nature, ‘we have seen ourselves and spoken’, and wherein we have seen or may yet see ‘all we mean or wish to mean’ (‘Advice to a Prophet’). As myth, baseball narratives seek to interpret and assign meaning to experience, to provide narrative order to a chaotic flux of events, and to reconcile the opposites of existence – in Lévi-Strauss's terms, ‘to provide a logical model capable of overcoming a contradiction (an impossible achievement if, as it happens, the contradiction is real)’ (‘Myth’ 65). The attempt to achieve the impossible and overcome life's contradictions (both generally and specifically) lies at the very heart of baseball's mythic endeavour in the closing decades of the twentieth century. I am persuaded by Lévi-Strauss's claims that mythological thought is a kind of ‘intellectual bricolage’ (Mind 17) and that the mythmaker is a bricoleur, an artisan who fashions a new work from whatever he or she finds lying at hand, building, in Franz Boaz's phrase, ‘new mythological worlds’ from the shattered remains of the old. Baseball's mythmakers as bricoleurs gather debris too: not only elemental myths (including one central to this study, the apocalyptic myth of end-times), but also scraps from popular culture, modern science, and not least from baseball itself. With these building blocks, baseball's millennial mythology is an astonishing artifact, a pastiche of New Age and old age, Revelation, angels, time travel, out-of-body travel, resurrection, cybernetics and cryogenics, Lou Gehrig and the Black Sox – all assembled in a diamond-shaped world of play. The recycled mythological debris and cultural scraps which go into baseball's texts necessarily bring with them not only yesterday's and today's refuse but, along with this rubble, intertextual equivocation and uncanny implications of old mythological worlds.
Thus a simple door in an outfield wall may be a threshold between life and death; the mandala of the field may be revealed as a centre of spiritual power; a circling of the bases may constitute a hero's difficult journey and return.