Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

 Icon made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com

Baseball has had a powerful hold on the US imagination: "Casey at the Bat" and "A Visit from St Nicolas" are two of the best-known US poems. Because of the game's broad appeal and idyllic aura, baseball has frequently been a subject in US fantasy.

First, while the actual origins of baseball are unclear, writers have devised imaginary histories (indeed, the lie that Civil War general Abner Doubleday invented the game itself qualifies as a kind of Myth of Origin). In Mark Twain's "Papers from the Adam Family" (written ?1870-1906; 1962) Methuselah grumpily observes some compatriots playing that new fad, baseball, well before the Flood; and in W P Kinsella's The Iowa Baseball Confederacy (1986) Leonardo Da Vinci flies over a baseball field in a balloon and claims he invented the game.

Next, baseball frequently attracts divine and supernatural interest or intervention, a recurring theme of Kinsella, the writer who has most often produced baseball fantasies. In Shoeless Joe (1982) – filmed as Field of Dreams (1989) – a disembodied Voice commands a farmer to build a baseball field, where dead players gather to play their game once again. In The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, a dead Native American returns to observe an exhibition game lasting thousands of innings, whose outcome he believes will enable him to reunite with his lost love. In "The Last Pennant before Armageddon" (1985) the manager of the Chicago Cubs learns that God will end the world when the Cubs win another pennant, so he deliberately loses a key game. In "The Night Manny Mota Tied the Record" (1985) a spectator learns that a recently killed baseball player will experience Resurrection if he agrees to give up his own life.

Other stories that mingle baseball and divine beings include The Great American Novel (1973) by Philip Roth (1933-2018), narrated by the spirit of writing (called Word Smith), and Douglass Wallop's The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant (1954), about a frustrated Washington Senators fan who sells his soul to the Devil so he can become a star player for his team and help them win the World Series; the story later became a Broadway musical and was filmed as Damn Yankees (1958). In Angels in the Outfield (1952; remade 1994) a baseball team has Angels helping them win their games; a friendly Ghost helps a children's baseball team in David A Adler's juvenile novel Jeffrey's Ghost and the Leftover Baseball Team (1984); and a frustrated ex-player is visited by the ghost of his catcher friend in the movie Cooperstown (1992). An aura of the supernatural permeates The Natural (1952) by Bernard Malamud (1914-1986), filmed as The Natural (1984). The protagonist of Robert Coover's The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh, Prop. (1968) makes up his own imaginary players and, the final scene indicates, also brings them to life in some alternate plane of Reality. Leonard P Kessler's juvenile Old Turtle's Baseball Stories (1982) adopts the form of the Uncle Remus tale (see Joel Chandler Harris) to tell about a ball-playing octopus, moose, kangaroo and squirrel. Darryl Brock's If I Never Get Back (1990) is a time-travel fantasy. Michael Bishop's fantasy Brittle Innings (1994) poetically mingles baseball with the Frankenstein mythos. [GW]


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.