Thursday, September 27, 2012

Director's College Event - Baseball Is More Than a Sports Season

On Wednesday, September 26, we kicked off the Fall 2012 season of the Director's College with a talk from Steven Wisensale, Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Connecticut.  Professor Wisensale has been teaching Family Law, Family Policy, and Comparative Family Policy at the university for the past twenty-nine years and in the spring of 2012 offered a new course: Baseball and Society.

He asked students to petition for entry into the course, and he received an unexpected 180 applications.  He accepted 60 students into the course and, through attrition, had a class size of 50 students, divided equally between male and female.

A main reason for the attrition was the amount of rigorous work required for the course.  Given its name, it's not just a class about baseball.  Throughout the semester he covers:

  • Origins of the Game - Sorting myth from fact from Cooperstown to Hoboken
  • Baseball as Business - From an amateur game to a professional sport
  • The Deadball Era- The game amidst labor conflicts and scandal
  • The Long Ball Era - Babe Ruth’s America
  • Baseball and War - From World War I to 9/11 and beyond
  • A Parallel Universe - Racism, Jim Crow laws, and the Negro Leagues
  • Addressing Racism - Jackie Robinson, Hank Greenberg, and Roberto Clemente
  • Baseball and Economics - Expansion, relocation, and the financing of ballparks
  • Labor Wars- Collective Bargaining and the Rise of Free Agency
  • Steroids, Gambling, Sabermetrics and Moneyball
  • Women and Baseball- A League of Their Own?
  • The Closet in the Locker Room - Gay athletes in a macho world
  • Baseball and Globalization - The game in Latin America and Asia
  • The Future of the Game - The pros and cons of proposed reforms

Examples he shared in last night's talk included:

...The community impact on Brooklyn and Los Angeles when the Dodgers moved from one location to the other...
...How a copy of Ebony magazine with a photo of Jackie Robinson on its cover somehow made its way to South Africa, where a young fourteen year-old boy saw the picture of a black man in a group photo with his white teammates. This revelation started a new way of thinking for this boy . . . who grew up to help overturn apartheid. We know him as Archbishop Desmond Tutu...

...How Marvin Miller, executive director of Major League Baseball in 1966, broke the reserve clause and made the way for free agency -- a move that proved the strength of collective bargaining and created the powerful baseball players union...

...How the use of economics and statistics has helped smaller market teams be competitive against the baseball giants. This applied science, known as sabermetrics, was featured in the books Moneyball and The Extra 2%...

In short, he relates the sport to the social issues of our time, giving meaning to these historical and significant events through something relatable to his students: baseball. Audience members can tell when a subject is near and dear to a speaker's heart, and this was the case with Professor Wisensale.  He is a walking encyclopedia and enthusiastic ambassador of the game, with a knowledge that transcends statistics and the history of player personnel. He appreciates the game as a true reflection of the broader issues facing our country.  He loves the game and explores its implications; in our brief introduction last night we could see that love and his true skill as a teacher shine through.

Samples of memorabilia he brought for display include a baseball hat of the Silver Bullets, the last professional women's baseball team; a baseball hat of the Brooklyn Dodgers; a baseball hat of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (located in Kansas City, MO); a baseball hat of the Pittsburgh Crawfords of the Negro Baseball League; the children's book, Teammates by Peter Golenbock, telling the story of Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson; and the children's book, Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki, which tells the story of what baseball meant to children in the Japanese internment camps.

For more information on Professor Wisensale and his course, visit the UConn web site.