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All I Thought About Was Baseball: Writings on a Canadian Pastime

by William Humber and John St. James, eds.

In All I Thought About Was Baseball, editors William Humber and John St. James make reference to the intimate relationship this country has with “the game.” Their insight that this connection stems from the “longing for a tribal community” that baseball satisfies is but the first in a series of epiphanies that this anthology of writings on the Canadian game of baseball offers devoted fans – or kranks, as they were called.

However, only a handful of the 56 contributions reach this magical playing field of the soul. And the reason this is so may have something to do with the way in which the essays are ordered. There is no doubt the editors have done their homework; some of the contributions point to sleuthing of the first order. And the anthology spans the country, from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island. Yet, the contributions are arranged alphabetically by author, leading the reader on a journey that more resembles the roller coaster ride than a level playing field. Surely a chronological ordering would have made more sense, one that served to illustrate the development of the game in Canada from its inception in 1837.

All contributions are prefaced by a paragraph or two, which provides a helpful context for what follows. Several power hitters of Canadian prose are here, and they make a formidable line-up: W.P. Kinsella, Mordecai Richler, George Bowering, Morley Callaghan, and Paul Quarrington (though the selections from the first four might have been better chosen).

But can any anthology lay claim to authenticity without Allen Abel, the finest sportswriter in this country? Surely the editors could have found room on the roster for something from his But I Loved It Plenty Well (1983).

I most enjoyed Mark Kingwell’s philosophical “Colonialism, Civility, and the National Team,” though Marshall McLuhan’s long-forgotten “Baseball Is Culture,” first broadcast on the CBC in the early ’50s, ranks high. And Adam Gopnik’s essay may be the best writing in the book. Then there’s Scott Feschuk who follows the path of an outfielder chasing a fly ball who trips on a caribou hoof in the land of the midnight sun.

The cancellation of the 1994 World Series is covered by Stephen Brunt in an excellent essay entitled “Breaking the Heart of the Game;” few write about the game as well as Brunt. Here he captures the essential fantasy, that shared experience between player and fan and their common motivation of wanting to win for the place where one lives. Brunt outlines the self-affirmation that comes from this, the synthesis of passions that is achieved, and the teamwork that leads to such a consensus.

In the heaven of books on baseball, what would we have? A volume approximately half the size (and half the price) comprising only the best that Humber and St. James have unearthed. Then we’d have an anthology that would truly celebrate the game we invented.