No sport traffics in and thrives off nostalgia more than baseball, which doesn’t just rely on its own history, but the shared stories of glory and failure that define what it means to follow the game. One of the best sports movies of all time is about literal ghosts playing the game, visages of a time gone by. And what other group of fans can just as easily recall great teams of the 1920s or recount precise replays of plays 50 or 60 years old?
In some ways, there’s no better metaphor for baseball fandom than Don Draper knowing every word to “Meet the Mets.”
It’s not just a history of professional baseball that fuels this collective recall. Many of us have clear memories of Little League games followed by Pizza Hut or ice cream. Years later, we can still smell the fresh-cut grass of the outfield, see the infield dirt sparkling in the early evening summer light, tingle at the euphoria of filling our lungs following a slide into second base. And there’s no bigger cliché than playing catch with a parent in the backyard, but there are few more lasting images for any son or daughter.
More cliché still, perhaps, is the reenacting of stepping to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with two outs to win the World Series. For the overwhelming majority of us, that will never be more than a fantasy. Watching the actual championship fought over, there’s something almost experiential about it, with our own tragedies and triumphs played out on the field, our own personal ghosts to remember.
And there’s something unique to the sport simply in the act of conveying such bygone feelings. In most sports, it would seem saccharine. With baseball, it works.
This emphasis on history is also the greatest flaw of America’s pastime. Think about stodgy old white dudes talking about when the game was better, ignoring advanced stats, and bemoaning the game’s unwritten rules not being upheld.