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Bruntlett's jersey is Cooperstown worthy?

Aug 25, 2009, 10:21 AM EDT

We had quite a lively debate yesterday about whether Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame.  I’d have to guess, however, that even the most ardent Rose haters — of which I am not one, no matter what a lot of you think — would agree that Rose has a better claim to Cooperstown immortality than Eric Bruntlett’s sweaty jersey:

There actually have been more perfect games — 18, including the postseason — than unassisted triple plays . . . That is why the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum asked Bruntlett for a piece of memorabilia from the play.

Bruntlett is sending his jersey.

This isn’t a slam on Bruntlett or his feat — I took care of that yesterday.  I just don’t get the obsessiveness on the part of the Hall for this kind of totem.  I get truly historic jerseys, and I even get more directly symbolic things like a guy’s spikes for a stolen base record or something.  But the shirt a backup second baseman was wearing when something cool yet kind of flukey happened? How isn’t preserved video or a photo sufficient?  What does the jersey actually add to the historic remembrance of it all?  Maybe the glove would be better.  Bruntlett probably doesn’t want to part with that in the middle of a season, of course, so maybe the Hall should just wait for that.

Don’t get me wrong — this is not a complaint as such. Just kind of a head scratcher regarding why it is we actually preserve artifacts like this. Is it to remember an event? Does the Hall do this out of a sense of mere inertia?

Probably worth a visit to Cooperstown to ask someone. 

  1. Grant - Aug 25, 2009 at 11:30 AM

    It seems to me that Americans have a strong streak of antiquarianism. You are welcome to try to figure out why this is*, but it seems undeniably true. People in the U.S. are very highly disposed to fetishism of objects divorced from real historical context and meaning. Look at Civil War and other styles of reenactment, reconstructed historic houses filled with furnishings from a variety of eras, kitschy roadside attractions like fiberglass hotdogs, and the sports memorabilia industry as a whole.** Americans like to collect, and look at, a bunch of stuff of dubious importance and even provenance. It’s just how it is.

    *One theory is that, lacking a long and majestic past in the vein of the national history/mythology of, say, France, Americans have to fill up their yearning for shared experience with seemingly random detritus. Another is that Americans are acquisitive in ways that many other cultures aren’t, and this extends to historical memory. I’m sure there are other possible explanations. I suppose if you could figure this stuff out there’d be a nice, cushy tenured professorship waiting for you somewhere. That gives me an idea…

    **Umberto Eco wrote a wonderful essay about this, actually, entitled “Travels in Hyperreality.” I recommend it.

  2. Craig Calcaterra - Aug 25, 2009 at 11:37 AM

    That’s the best explanation I’ve heard yet, Grant. Now go out and get that tenured seat!

  3. Lawrence A. Herman - Aug 25, 2009 at 11:51 AM

    Not a whole lot of fans get to see stuff that’s trly historic. Cool but kinda flukey is what most of us live on.
    I’d much rather Cooperstown be amuseum of the cool but rather flukey than a half-assed attempt to assess who the greatest players were. When I go to Cooperstown it isn’t the plaques that thrill me. It’s the models of old stadiums, players’ lockers, 50-year-old baseballs and gloves. That stuff is so much more important to me than whether Pete Rose gets in that I can’t even put it into words.

  4. Splint Chesthair - Aug 25, 2009 at 1:44 PM

    Hey Grant,
    Really? Countries of Europe aren’t acquisitive? That’s funny because I’d like to collect things of value but France, Spain and England, already traveled the world and plundered everything of value from the indigenous peoples they encountered while killing many of them in the process. Seems like a baseball jersey is not the subject to be analyzed.

  5. bergie - Aug 25, 2009 at 2:12 PM

    They should have sent Eric Bruntlett in his jersey to Cooperstown

  6. Grant - Aug 25, 2009 at 2:35 PM

    I was making a reference to contemporary cultural norms. Americans have long been noted for their (likely connected) propensities towards joining associations/clubs and acquisitiveness. I’m talking about acquisitiveness on an individual, not aggregate level. Certainly, the monarchies of Western Europe went through long periods of imperial expansion that involved a great deal of wealth plundering. No one today really disputes that. However, in addition to a large-scale, societal drive towards plunder of others (America long has been and still is an imperial nation), individual Americans have been seen as striving to acquire as much stuff as they can. This has been noted at least since de Tocqueville. In Democracy in America he ascribed this tendency to the unruly society promulgated by the lack of a hereditary aristocracy combined with relatively open political institutions. Other explanations, including a relatively continuous high level of affluence have also been advanced.
    You might quibble with this analysis anyway. For instance, the Victorian English middle class was surely as in love with accumulation as its American counterpart. In the last century or so, however, Americans have risen quite above their fellows around the North Atlantic rim when it comes to a reputation for voracious consumption of all kinds of “stuff.” I could be quite wrong, of course, but this is how much of the intellectual discourse sees things. And I doubt it’s all wrong.

  7. The Rabbit - Aug 25, 2009 at 3:27 PM

    I generally dread to read the postings at this site. I’d just like to thank you for your articulate and informative comments.
    As you know, Thorstein Veblen described this behavior in several publications in the early 20th century. Other than the expansion of this “norm” to other cultures within our society (which may be due to affluence, “brainwashing”, and/or some type of DNA hardcode that may suggest that this is natural human behavior if circumstances permit), it doesn’t appear that much has changed.

  8. Grant - Aug 25, 2009 at 4:33 PM

    Thanks for the compliment. The comments, indeed, are often rather lowest-common-denominator. It’s worth striving, sometimes at least, to bring the level up.

    In fact, this phenomenon of American acquisitiveness is so commented upon that it might be ripe for debunking. Maybe this is more Americna exceptionalism at work, or something. But, then again, just because we live in an age of debunking doesn’t mean everything has to be debunked. I doubt de Tocqueville, Veblen, Galbraith, and so many others were all wrong, at least not in the basics of their theories.

  9. Paul McC - Aug 25, 2009 at 5:30 PM

    Ah yes, de Tocqueville, Veblen, Galbraith – I remember them playing the outfield for the Brooklyn Dodgers back in the old days…

  10. Travis Ladewig - Jan 2, 2010 at 3:08 PM

    Aw, this was a really quality post. In theory I’d like to write like this too – taking time and real effort to make a good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate alot and never seem to get something done.

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