When Washington, DC Mayor Anthony Williams quoted Walt Whitman in his speech announcing the return of baseball to the DC area after a 30 year absence on September 30, 2004, Mayor Williams once again connected the poet to the game for me in a way I’d forgotten since remembering hearing Whitman’s writing featured in the now classic baseball film “Bull Durham.”
After catching the scene randomly on the television recently, I was determined to find the original text of the quote, since Susan Sarandon’s character Annie Savoy seems to be paraphrasing Whitman in the film, when she says in voice-over…”Walt Whitman once said, ‘I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.'”
I searched online and came up with several different versions of the quote, some longer, some shorter, often with lines and phrases cropped or rearranged. In an article by Frank Ceresi entitled “The Origins of Baseball,” Mr Ceresi sites a quote from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1846, “The game of ball is glorious…” elsewhere I’ve read the entire quote as “Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our closed rooms…the game of ball is glorious.”
Mr Ceresi also quotes an interview of Whitman, by Horace Trauble, in 1888, in which Whitman states, “I see great things in baseball…Baseball is our game, the American game. I connect it with our national character.”
A website called “Wikiquote” provides what is most likely the full text of Whitman’s quote which contains the emotion created by the paraphrased versions listed above, and also contains something bigger in how it describes the national character… “I see great things in baseball…It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism, tend to relieve us from being a nervous dyspeptic set, repair those losses and be a blessing to us.”
It’s interesting what is often omitted when Whitman’s words are referenced. The notion of baseball instilling a larger “physical stoicism” or an ability to learn to accept suffering and hardship without complaint and the notion that we as a people are a “nervous dyspeptic set” or a people susceptible to stomach distress, irritability or depression is often ignored as the full quote conveys a much different notion of Baseball’s place in America, a chance to suffer along with your team, which fans in Boston and Chicago seemed to revel in recently, and then eventually, “repair those losses and be a blessing to us,” when our faith is rewarded.