I understood everything but just like my wife I suddenly really felt that I understood nothing. Then I got a second pair of eyes. My physical eyes watched the regular actions of the game with the intimate understanding of baseball that I grew up with but eyes in my mind began watching also and they saw something new. The vision they gave me came in an instant.
I saw that a man in a baseball game transforms himself from a hitter into a base runner and then passes through the predetermined cycle of running the bases in order to transform himself once again into something new, a run scored. This dialectical development through successive stages — hitter, base runner, run-scorer — parallels the basic form of beliefs and philosophical doctrines that were common in the 19th century. I saw that the drama of a baseball game mirrors the core beliefs of the 19th-century American Protestants who created it. I suddenly had a new, cultural view of baseball that might be expanded one day into an article or even a book.
The title of the book that developed many years later was inspired by great moments in great games. George Brett’s
home run off Goose Gossage, Kirk Gibson’s
great home run and the great deeds of hundreds of other players have proved again and again that sudden salvation is as near in any ball game as good contact with just one pitch. Baseball would be nothing if it could not rise beyond the endless scratching for small advantages and become the drama of impossible, miraculous victories. In the continuous talk of baseball in my family and the neighborhood I grew up in, I heard over and over, “A ball game is never over till the last out.” The title “The Theater of the Impossible” is a rough translation of that basic wisdom.
TS: It is clear in reading your book that you have great affection for baseball. What made you fall in love with the game?
DM: In the Boston-Irish, tenement neighborhood where I grew up I was a baseball fan almost from birth. Everyone played baseball or watched baseball at the parks near my house. Life was work, saloons, Catholic marriage and baseball.
The year was winter and the baseball season. I am the cousin of “Lefty” Johnny Murphy, a semi-professional pitcher well known in the Boston area in the 1930s and ’40s. I played baseball as a boy with friends every day the weather made it possible. My father always regretted that he never got me to bat left-handed so I could be three steps closer to first base.
I acquired knowledge of baseball as naturally as I learned English. I love baseball. The wonderful intelligence and the marvelous complexity of baseball made my book possible. I love great, unexpected possibilities. I remember a double Nomar Garciaparra
hit in a Red Sox-Indians playoff game. No one could hit the Cleveland pitcher. A confident, dominant buzz of happy fan noise in the Cleveland park seemed to be weighing oppressively on the Boston players’ minds and bats. Garciaparra got his bat around on a high fastball, doubled and just like that changed the whole atmosphere of the game. I loved that double. I still don’t know how he got around so fast and got his bat solidly on that ball. It was more than just a routine double. It was poetry. Garciaparra’s bat said something bold and fine. I loved it.
TS: How difficult a process is it to publish one’s own book? What advice would you give people who may consider doing the same thing? How expensive is it to self publish?
DM: The process is not difficult because at Xlibris each step is set up very professionally. Once you have a manuscript ready it takes about six months. I tried to find a regular publisher but because my book is an unusual treatment of baseball, I could not find any American publisher who would even read it, let alone publish it. I did nothing with my manuscript for many years. I discovered just recently this new self-publishing service made possible by computers and the Internet. I realized I no longer had any reason not to publish. I still hope to find a regular publisher as has happened to other writers that publish in this way. My advice to writers is that if you have written, written and rewritten a book so that it contains the best of your intelligence, your creativity and your soul, it’s your duty to yourself to publish. It’s not expensive.
TS: Who edited your book?
DM: I edited the book myself. I did succeed in getting it read and criticized in 1985 in Paris. Christian Bourgois the publisher of “Les Editions Christian Bougois” read it and sent me a long letter praising it. He especially liked my description of Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. He called it un beau morceau, a beautiful piece. He did not take the book because he did not feel that French readers with little knowledge of baseball would have enough interest in it to justify a translation. However, it was a great boost to me that a sophisticated French publisher in Paris made me certain that my book was in a publishable form.
TS: The first and largest section of your book is devoted to Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. That game has been written about extensively. What were you hoping to add to the discussion about that historic game?
DM: Game 6 gave me the deepest and most powerful experience I ever had of a baseball game. It proved once and for all that the genius hidden below the ordinary, routine actions of games could sometimes explode to monumental drama of truly epic proportions. My whole being was in that game. I lived and died with everything that happened. Baseball is not religion, but when Bernie Carbo
in the last of the eighth inning with two strikes on him and two outs and two men on base homered into the center-field bleachers to tie the game 6-6, I knew what it was like to be in hell and suddenly go to heaven. I jumped up and screamed. I screamed with joy. I was saved. We were all saved. We were in heaven.
I wanted to go beyond the many discussions and writings in my treatment of Game 6. I tried to recreate the excitement of the game as literature. It was an epic game. I tried to find epic words and images to make it live again, to make it live forever.
TS: What works, if any, inspired you to write about a single game?
DM: What inspired me were the various analogies and parallels that I discovered between real actions in baseball and real life in America. My book is about the meaning of baseball in American culture. I am always trying to find words to express what the silent, wordless drama of baseball expresses without words. Yes, I try to make baseball speak. I ask it where it came from and why it took the complex, beautiful, intelligent design that we witness in every ballgame.
Is it legitimate to ask such questions? I think it is because if we don’t ask them then we are forced to accept the idea that a game that Americans created has no general and abstract meanings and has nothing at all to do with life in America. I say that baseball is a form of play that 19th-century Americans created and that even in their play they expressed their real way of life.
I discovered that they expressed themselves in their play in a universal form that in many ways was more faithful to what they were truly than their life away from ball fields. After I wrote of these discoveries in the second part of my book, I decided that I had to back them up by describing a real ball game. I had to see if my abstract parallels between baseball and real life could stand the test of a real ball game. Of course when it came time to look for a particular game I settled at once on Game 6.
TS: Have you read Daniel Okrent’s “Nine Innings,” perhaps the most well known single book about a single game?
DM: I have not read Okrent’s book but I certainly have sympathy with the labor he set for himself. His reviewers give the impression that he describes not just the game but has many “asides on players and events.” My description goes on for 12 innings! I rely only on the drama of the game itself for inspiration. As I already said, I tried, not just in the description of Game 6, but throughout my book to find words great enough to parallel a great, wordless game.
It is not for me to judge whether or not I succeeded, but we should understand that the task of creating feeling and color and atmosphere for our silent game has gone on far into our past and still goes on every time announcers on radio or television cover a game. It is new to write a description of an entire game, but oral descriptions have been going on for well over a hundred years.
TS: What were your objectives with the other sections of your book?
DM: Part two, “American Indians, Protestants and Businessmen Play The Same Game,” searches American history for parallels between typical cultural patterns of behavior and typical patterns of action in baseball. Part three, “The Aesthetic Nature of the Fan’s Experience,” argues that baseball is a creation that should be appreciated as art and that a fan does in fact follow baseball in order to experience at certain moments the beautiful. Part four, “Perpetual Baseball,” examines the hero of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” as a kind of perpetual baseball player. Randall McMurphy leaves one location, a prison, wins a base in a different place, a mental hospital, struggles there against an organized group of enemies trying to pacify him, tries to escape and fails, but by his out allows a friend, a member of his team, to escape. The behavior of the hero and the art of the film imitate the art of baseball.
TS: What was the most challenging aspect of writing your first book? How long did it take you to complete this project?
DM: The most difficult thing was to cut out of the book segments that I wrote that were too abstract. Some of them fit with the form of baseball but they hurt the progress and pace of the book’s development. The 19th-century dialectical idealism of the German philosopher Friedrich Hegel has parallels with baseball.
For example, he wrote in his book, “The Phenomenology of Spirit,” that the dialect is a “transforming process, is a cycle that returns into itself, a cycle that presupposes its beginning and reaches its beginning only at the end.” Isn’t getting on base and running the bases a transforming process by a passage through the cycle of the bases? Doesn’t a batter begin at the end and then pass through a cycle in order to end at the beginning? I found more than just a hint of baseball in Hegel but what I found made parts of my book too obscure.
The writing and rewriting took about a year but it was scattered over many years.
TS: You obviously do a lot of studying and reading for your profession. How much does your interest in baseball consume your life? Are you an avid reader of baseball books?
DM: I watch baseball regularly on television. I go to one game a year at Fenway Park.
I love contact with fans because their enthusiasm is so genuine that it reinforces in my mind the reality of baseball as a wonderful cultural phenomenon. Have we ever as a people created anything greater than baseball? I don’t read many baseball books but I think the baseball books of the great Chicago writer, James T. Farrell, are required reading.
For too long a time baseball was looked upon with indifference or scorn by American intellectuals. Farrell was an enthusiastic admirer of baseball long before it became fashionable.
TS: It must be satisfying to have published this book. What part of the process gave you the most enjoyment?
DM: I have known for years that baseball has an aspect to it that can be understood on an intellectual and cultural level. I have been aware how greatly sport has been appreciated by intellectuals in other cultures.
There are books in French that argue that track and field sports should be considered one of the fine arts. Ortega y Gasset, the Spanish philosopher, has written about bull fighting in “La Casa Y Los Toros.” I feel proud of the fact that, whatever its fate, I have at least produced a book that is not about all the real facts of baseball that we all know about already but about baseball’s meaning.
TS: What else should people know about your book that I have not asked about?
DM: Baseball fans should know that my book is a celebration of baseball and that I wrote it for them. I hope they all celebrate it with me.