17 April 2007

Capt. John Smith on baseball

In "Our Town," a most edifying article in the April 2 New Yorker, Jill Lepore considers the reputation of John Smith, one of the founders of Jamestown, the first successful English colony in what we once innocently termed the New World. Summing up at the end, she addresses the idea some scholars have that Smith was one of early America's best ethnographers. "After all, compared with his contemporaries, Smith was a keen observer," she says, "although it's worth remembering that most of what he saw... was altogether new to him, stranger than strange, and he wasn't always able to make sense of it. Two historians, James West Davidson and Mark Hamilton Lytle, once tried to imagine how Smith might have reported a July afternoon spent at Yankee Stadium:
Being assembled about a great field of open grass, a score of their greatest men ran out upon the field, adorned each in brightly hued jackets and breeches, with letters cunningly woven upon their Chestes, and wearinge caps... upon their heades, of a sort I know not what. One of their chiefs stood in the midst and would at his pleasure hurl a white ball at another chief, whose attire was of a different colour, and whether by chance or artifyce I know not the ball flew exceeding close to the man yet never injured him, but sometimes he would strike att it with a wooden club and so giveing it a hard blow would throw down his club and run away.
In other words, you can count on Smith for abundant detail, and admirable accuracy, but he's fairly likely to leave out what you most want to know: 'Yankees 10, Red Sox 3.'"


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