by Peter Joerss
To many Americans -- and some Canadians -- the baseball diamond is sacred, immune to the sins of other sports. To first-year Concordia professor David McGimpsey, that is the stuff of myth, not reality.
His book Imagining Baseball: America's Pastime and Popular Culture examines how books, movies, television and the game itself perpetuate these myths.
"Baseball has always prided itself as an industry above and beyond [the ordinary morality of sport]," he said. "That's why people are interested more in high baseball salaries than football salaries.
"Baseball has always represented the conflicts of American society. On the one hand, it is a game everyone can play -- fathers and sons and sunshine. On the other hand, in some books, the game is often about business, driving fathers and sons apart. It can exclude as often as include."
Imaging Baseball was five years in the making. It started as McGimpsey's PhD dissertation, but evolved into something bigger. "It struck me that the time was right to talk about baseball as a metaphor for American culture," he said.
McGimpsey started writing at an early age, but he didn't know it would become his vocation until after university. This is his first year teaching creative writing at Concordia. "It has given me an added appreciation for how difficult writing is," he said.
Can a degree in creative writing make someone a great writer? "No, not necessarily, any more than doing a degree in science means you'll be a great scientist. But you can teach details that will help [students] go forward, just like you can in any other discipline."
In his book, McGimpsey discusses, among other things, the racial and cultural integration of the game that started when Jackie Robinson stepped onto Ebbets Field in 1947. Before Robinson played in Brooklyn, he played here in Montreal.
"Robinson always thought it was important to come to Montreal," McGimpsey explained. "He always felt accepted and loved in this city. The late '40s were Montreal's heyday, and the city prided itself on its cosmopolitanism."
That acceptance is something not often found in the United States. Though baseball is considered "family entertainment," the racial harmony promoted by the game is largely a myth.
"[Former Expo] Tim Raines said that because the tensions [in Montreal] were always English/French, the black/white tensions weren't as played out as in the States," McGimpsey said.
Before writing his first book on baseball, McGimpsey wrote poetry, fiction, and criticism of popular culture, and he will continue to do so, regardless of how Imaging Baseball fares.
"I don't expect it to be a bestseller or have people talk about it in coffee shops," he said. "It's just not that type of book. But I hope this will allow me to write about different aspects of American popular culture."
Photo: David McGimpsey will read from Imagining Baseball on Tuesday, April 11, at 7 p.m. at Chapters Bookstore, 1171 Ste. Catherine St. W .
Copyright 2000 Concordia's Thursday Report.