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David Hart and the Perfect Game


In the new number of First Things (the second of a bold and, in my judgment, inspired redesign of that venerable magazine) includes an essay by the Orthodox philosopher David Hart on the game of baseball. It’s simply marvelous. Read it.

In fairness, I may be biased on this one. I read the piece the morning after watching one of the most extraordinary comebacks in all of baseball history, when the Colorado Rockies, down 9 – 3 going into the bottom of the ninth inning, reeled off a series of brilliant at-bats, culminating in an electrifying walk-off homerun by Seth Smith, to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals.

Now when your team is down 9 – 3 in the ninth, the normal tendency is to turn off the TV and mutter “it’s a long season, we’ll get ‘em tomorrow night.” But in this case we had a gathering of people in the family room, all absorbed, as it happened, in a game of Risk. (My daughter was on the verge of sweeping across Asia in a positively Napoleonic march.)

The baseball broadcast was muted and basically ignored — until Chris Iannetta ripped a three-run homer to bring the Rockies to within two runs. That got our attention; and ten minutes and five batters later we all were hootin’ and hollerin’ in my parents’ family room like a bunch of triumphant Viking raiders.

Nor is that all. Only a few days before we had piled into three separate cars and taken a sizable contingent of family and friends down to Coors Field to watch a game. On a beautiful Colorado evening, we saw another Rockies win, less thrilling in its game details, but perhaps moreso in its personal touches: two of my daughters, having worked hard with my brothers to decorate big, colorful posters, were rewarded for their efforts with appearances on the stadium’s Jumbotron.

So you could say I had been duly primed to embrace Prof. Hart’s delightful argument for baseball as “the perfect game” when I opened First Things the next morning. My heart soared at his eloquent lines:

And surely some account has to be given of the drama of baseball: the way it reaches down into the soul’s abysses with its fluid alternations of prolonged suspense and shocking urgency, its mounting rallies, its thwarted ventures, its intolerable tensions, its suddenly exhilarating or devastating peripeties. Even the natural narrative arc of the game is in three acts—the early, middle, and late innings—each with its own distinct potentials and imperatives. And because, until the final out is recorded, no loss is an absolute fait accompli, the torment of hope never relents. Victory may or may not come in a blaze of glorious elation, but every defeat, when it comes, is sublime. The oblong game is war, but baseball is Attic tragedy.

Prof. Hart’s claims for the greatness of baseball can surely be disputed from a dozen different angles. His analogizing to Platonic philosophy is too clever by half; he neglects the recent scandals that have marred the game; he overlooks the countless games which turn out to be squalid and boring; etc, etc.

Well, phooey, I say. Baseball is a great game, for all the reasons he lays out. Moreover, his emphasis on its emphatic American character is well taken.

My hope, when all is said and done, is that we will be remembered chiefly as the people who invented—who devised and thereby also, for the first time, discovered—the perfect game, the very Platonic ideal of organized sport, the “moving image of eternity” in athleticis. I think that would be a grand posterity.

Indeed it would. And go Rockies.

Comments (7)

At which point eleven angry cricketers pick up their bats and march to the podium. “This is our show,” they chant. “This is our show.”


I just love the fact that people still play Risk! I spent countless hours with friends in high school trying (and sometimes succeeding) to conquer the world...while I don't approve of women in combat, based on your description I think your daughter would make a formidible general ;-)

I thought this

These—and I shall close on this thought—are the great moral lessons that only a game with baseball’s long season and long history and dramatic intensity can impress on the soul: humility, long-suffering, dauntless love, and inexhaustible faith in the face of invincible misfortune.

was spot-on. Who needs Purgatory when we already have baseball?

Of course, set against this Platonic ideal are the images of guys spitting and adjusting their cups. Let's be honest.

And although Hart belittles those "oblong games," as a young basketball player even I came to a similar conclusion -- this game already existed before Naismith; it HAD to exist! Who doesn't play basketball with his wastebasket, after all??

Good stuff.

I was watching the late-night rerun of the nine-run 9th Rockies game but turned it off in the eighth. Turning off my computer just before bed, I noticed an internet headline giving the final score. So of course I rushed down and watched the inning. Knowing the outcome took the edge off.

Last Friday I was at the Rockies game for their first Grand Slam of the year. I never truly followed the team until their 2007 streak. We've had three good years of baseball here in Denver.

I've been following the Rockies all along. I went to many games at the old Mile High. I remember opening of Coors Field and the captivating if futile Blake Street Bombers years. It's great to have some real pitching finally.

Too bad baseball is boring.

"Too bad baseball is boring."

Well, it certainly is in Pittsburgh, anyways.

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