Baseball Judgments

Baseball Judgments |
'Field of Dreams' doesn't match 'Shoeless Joe'


By Roger Weber


Baseball is a great game, and all too often, it is criticized, or discussed incorrectly by unintelligent fans. This is what makes W.P. Kinsella's novel Shoeless Joe so refreshing and fulfilling. This is an excellent book, esoteric in what it describes, so that to a true baseball fan, it portrays a baseball setting that is accurate, inspiring, and even more satisfying than the excellent movie based on its contents. Kinsella's book at first doesn't seem like a beautifully written work, but as one reads through its sumptuous passages, one notices that it is a piece of sensations and feelings meant to express baseball as a hallowing experience, far more important and inspirational than mundane sport it so often portrayed as. This book is accurate in what it describes as historical information, inspiring in its metaphors for the sport, and for my tastes, it is much more appealing in what it describes beyond the game of baseball in comparison to its replication through film.


The basic story of this novel is known by most. The storyline of the movie Field of Dreams is ubiquitous in the minds of baseball fans. Yet, I feel that this book is even better than the movie. The basic themes are still in the book, as a voice tells Ray Kinsella "If you build it, he will come", and later "Ease his pain" and "Go the distance" (3, 100). Ray, a farmer, builds a baseball field for seemingly no reason, then sees the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson, and later his own father, whom he has lost many years earlier. Yet, the movie left out many of the most important scenes from the book. While the movie leaves the impression of baseball as a type of religion, the book actually does describe it as a religion. One of the most inspiring moments of the book involves Ray, and two of his friends found along his journey going to the Minnesota ballpark at night when Ray says "Let's go to the ballpark" (159). Two main characters, Eddie Scissons and Ray's brother Richard are also left out of the movie, but these characters play an important role in the book, as both are brought to Ray's field by compulsion of the voice, and Richard, who ran away from home at age sixteen, is finally able to meet with his father once again. Perhaps the most appealing difference between the movie and the book, though, at least for me, is how the book refrains from using many of the 1960s and 1970s anti-Vietnam characters and settings. Instead of using a fabricated 1960s writer, Terrence Mann, Kinsella in the book uses J.D. Salinger as the lonely author. "The picture was one of me and J.D. Salinger seated at Fenway Park," Ray reveals to his wife before setting out on a long journey to find the writer we just finished studying in class (32). I much prefer the storyline and characters of the book to those of the movie.


Inspiration for many people comes from a god or savior. For Ray Kinsella, inspiration is found through the church of baseball. "A ballpark at night is more like a church than a church," he tells his friends as he prepares them for a visit to the Minneapolis ballpark (160). It is clear he actually believes baseball to be like religion, and as a reader who finds so much inspiration from baseball, I found that pleasing. This book presents a challenge between those who can see the players on Ray's baseball field, and those who cannot. Those who can see the players finally convert those who cannot, causing them to believe in the power of dreams. So often I am told that baseball is boring, or that it isn't a sport. It made me very happy to read a story in which the baseball purists actually win. Ray says he feels "an awesome inarticulate love for this very stadium and the game it represents," and I felt the same way after finishing the book. As a reader who sometimes loses interest in baseball games, I found that this book gave me a renewed love of baseball. It had an even greater inspirational impact than even the excellent movie based on it.

Kinsella connected baseball and America once again, saying that "America has been erased like a blackboard, only to be rebuilt and then erased again. But baseball has marked the time while American has rolled by like a precession of steamrollers" (253). The book is full of inspirational quotes about baseball, and it does give a religious quality to the game. "The memories will be so thick that the outfielders will have to brush them away from their faces," Salinger says (252). I often quote the movie when arguing with someone over the validity of baseball as a sport, and in this book, I finally realize the satisfaction and truth to these statements, as "the cars keep arriving," allowing Ray Kinsella to keep his farm (254).


All too often, I find myself hearing or reading stories about baseball that simply use incorrect information. I find myself having to explain the truth to others, as the giver of fact. This book was refreshing in that it actually contained fact that I did not know, but that was true. Unlike the movie, the book depicts Joe Jackson as he was, an uneducated man who loved to play a game. It had bothered me that the movie portrayed him as such an intelligent figure. Other depictions and facts given in the book I also found to be true. Archibald Graham, a former player from Chisholm, Minnesota, is described to have been a player who was "patted on the head by a dream" (106). When I looked up his statistics in the Baseball Encyclopedia, which Kinsella taught me was first published in 1969, I found that in fact he did play one inning of a game in 1905, just as this novel says. J.D. Salinger, described as a lonely baseball fan in the novel, actually did give an interview in which he said "I wanted more than anything else in the world to play in the Polo Grounds," as the book says (95). It is also true that at the Baseball Hall of Fame, "among the larger relics is a turnstile from the Polo Grounds in New York," as the book says (111). So many books about baseball fabricate information, but Kinsella truly did do his research, and that makes this book even more respectable.


Shoeless Joe is a beautifully eloquent book that is better than the movie made based on it, very inspiring, and historically accurate. The movie based on this book has always been one of my favorite films, but I feel that in comparison, the book is even better. The novel is inspirational, and very moving, and it is historically intelligent. These aspects combine to make this a very satisfying work of literature. I look forward to reading more of Kinsella's writings. He seems to really love baseball, and understands how important it is to this country, and how inspirational it can be. He is a true baseball fan, and it is rare to find those.


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