A PERFECT GAME: THE METAPHYSICAL MEANING OF BASEBALL (David Bentley Hart, August 2010, First Things)
My hope, when all is said and done, is that we will be remembered chiefly as the people who invented—who devised and thereby also, for the first time, discovered—the perfect game, the very Platonic ideal of organized sport, the “moving image of eternity” in athleticis. I think that would be a grand posterity.
I know there are those who will accuse me of exaggeration when I say this, but, until baseball appeared, humans were a sad and benighted lot, lost in the labyrinth of matter, dimly and achingly aware of something incandescently beautiful and unattainable, something infinitely desirable shining up above in the empyrean of the ideas; but, throughout most of the history of the race, no culture was able to produce more than a shadowy sketch of whatever glorious mystery prompted those nameless longings.
The coarsest and most common of these sketches—which has gone through numerous variations down the centuries without conspicuous improvement—is what I think of as “the oblong game,” a contest played out on a rectangle between two sides, each attempting to penetrate the other’s territory to deposit some small object in the other’s goal or end zone. All the sports built on this paradigm require considerable athletic prowess, admittedly, and each has its special tactics, of a limited and martial kind; but all of them are no more than crude, faltering lurches toward the archetype; entertaining, perhaps, but appealing more to the beast within us than to the angel.
In a few, peculiarly favored lands, more refined and inspired adumbrations of the ideal appeared. The Berbers of Libya produced Ta Kurt om el mahag, and the British blessed the world with cricket, but, because the running game in both is played between just two poles, neither can properly mirror the eternal game’s exquisite geometries, flowing grace, and sidereal beauties. And then there is that extended British family of children’s games from which baseball drew its basic morphology (stoolball, tut-ball, and, of course, rounders); but these are only charming finger-paint renderings of the ideal, vague, and glittering dreams that the infant soul brings with it in its descent from the world above before the oblivion of adulthood purges them from memory; they are as inchoately remote from the real thing as a child’s first steps are from ballet. In the end, only America succeeded in plucking the flower from the fields of eternity and making a garden for it here on earth. What greater glory could we possibly crave?
Beauty is objective.