Infinite Baseball: Notes from a Philosopher at the Ballpark
Baseball is a strange sport: it consists of long periods in which little seems to be happening, punctuated by high-energy outbursts of rapid fire activity. Because of this, despite ever greater profits, Major League Baseball is bent on finding ways to shorten games, and to tailor baseball to today’s shorter attention spans. But for the true fan, baseball is always compelling to watch — and intellectually fascinating. It’s superficially slow-pace is an opportunity to participate in the distinctive thinking practice that defines the game. If baseball is boring, it’s boring the way philosophy is boring: not because there isn’t a lot going on, but because the challenge baseball poses is making sense of it all.
In this deeply entertaining book, philosopher and baseball fan Alva Noë explores the many unexpected ways in which baseball is truly a philosophical kind of game. For example, he ponders how observers of baseball are less interested in what happens than in who is responsible for what happens; every action receives praise or blame. To put it another way, in baseball — as in the law — we decide what happened based on who is responsible for what happened. Noe also explains the curious activity of keeping score: a score card is not merely a record of the game, like a video recording; it is an account of the game. Baseball requires that true fans try to tell the story of the game, in real time, as it unfolds, and thus actively participate in its creation.
Some argue that baseball is fundamentally a game about numbers. Noe’s wide-ranging, thoughtful observations show that, to the contrary, baseball is not only a window on language, culture, and the nature of human action, but is intertwined with deep and fundamental human truths. The book ranges from the nature of umpiring and the role of instant replay, to the nature of the strike zone, from the rampant use of surgery to controversy surrounding performance enhancing drugs. Throughout, Noe’s observations are surprising and provocative.
Infinite Baseball is a book for the true baseball fan.
Praise for Infinite Baseball
“Did you know that baseball is uniquely a ‘forensic’ game about allocating credit or blame? Or that performance enhancing drugs are no more disreputable than Tommy John surgery? Alva Noë, a philosopher in the bleachers, is not always convincing but is invariably interesting. And he does what a philosopher should do: When you finish this slender volume you will have a new way of seeing familiar things.”
— George F. Will
“Whether it’s his contention that baseball isn’t slow enough, his logic on the fallacy of PEDs or his thoughts on why it’s OK for adults to crave a ball tossed into the stands, Alva Noë wields a philosopher’s wit and wisdom to cut through modern sports’ recycled rhetoric and arrive at a place we all should be: that baseball is life, it’s love and it’s damn near perfect.”
— Jeff Passan, ESPN MLB Insider and author of The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports
“America’s national game is an invitation to philosophical reflection. Berkeley professor Alva Noë takes up the challenge with insight and wit and shows how baseball casts light on life, language, history, and being bored. This book will delight baseball fans and the philosophically minded in equal measure.”
— David Papineau, University College London and author of, Knowing the Score: What Sports Can Teach Us about Philosophy
“This is a delightful book. If you love baseball, or if you want to love baseball, you will love this book. Noë thinks hard about baseball and shows us just how important thinking is to this beautiful game, and how much thinking through baseball can inform our lives. His reflections call to mind not only Roger Angell, but C.L.R. James on cricket.”
— Jay L. Garfield, Smith College
Interviews and Discussion
The Mets Made a Mess of the Catching Situation ➞
- A Pod of Their Own
On Infinite Baseball: An Interview with Alva Noë ➞
- Los Angeles Review of Books