April 2, 2010

FROM THE ARCHIVES: IT HAS THE POWER TO MAKE EVEN THE SILLY TALK SENSE:

The Best of All Games (John Rawls, March/April 2008, Boston Review)


In the letter that follows, written in 1981, Rawls puts philosophy to the service of baseball and gives an account of the sport and its special appeal to the American people. The letter recounts a breakfast conversation some twenty years earlier with Harry Kalven (1914 - 1974) who had been a friend and colleague of mine at the University of Chicago. Kalven was a legal scholar of great distinction who specialized in torts, the jury, and free speech.

On his death, Kalven left a manuscript, to which Rawls alludes and which was eventually published in 1988 as A Worthy Tradition, on freedom of speech. Like Rawls, Kalven loved baseball. He was proud that his torts casebook contained more baseball cases than any of its competitors, and each year made a point of taking students to a Cubs game.

First: the rules of the game are in equilibrium: that is, from the start, the diamond was made just the right size, the pitcher’s mound just the right distance from home plate, etc., and this makes possible the marvelous plays, such as the double play. The physical layout of the game is perfectly adjusted to the human skills it is meant to display and to call into graceful exercise. Whereas, basketball, e.g., is constantly (or was then) adjusting its rules to get them in balance.

Second: the game does not give unusual preference or advantage to special physical types, e.g., to tall men as in basketball. All sorts of abilities can find a place somewhere, the tall and the short etc. can enjoy the game together in different positions.


Of course, his political philosophy required that when Josh Hamilton hits a homerun it be credited to Nick Punto....

Zemanta Pixie


[originally posted 7/17/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 2, 2010 2:11 PM
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