It’s nothing new, of course, to point out that baseball has lost much of its luster in recent years, and no longer enjoys the status of America’s favorite sport. Still, and this may be equally obvious, baseball’s long and lore-filled history continue to lend it an air of romance that, culturally, will not be surpassed any time soon. If that’s in any doubt, you need only check out Willard Mullin’s Golden Age of Baseball, a staggeringly rich and fascinating collection of the cartoonist’s work that has a pub date in mid-August. So how can you check it out now? Well, Fantagraphics has made available a free 27-page preview that amply confirms Mullin’s artistry as well as the prominent place that the book deserves on school library shelves.
Why schools in particular?
A good question to which there are several answers. First, visual literacy and the existing curriculum: political cartoons are already taught in classrooms, so I’ve always wondered why the closely related art form of sports cartoons aren’t included as well, even if just as a satellite topic to the former. Could it be because we’ve decided that sports in general are too lowbrow? Okay, but aside from the anti-intellectual stance inherent in such a position, did it ever occur to anyone that marginalizing sports as the sole domain of coaches and PE instructors constitutes a form of self-fulfilling prophecy? To clarify, many students don’t know of the critical and aesthetic lenses that can be applied to sports because, by and large, we don’t model the process for them.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, student sports fans (in this case, baseball fans specifically) can leverage their outside-of-school literacies to comprehend and appreciate the sophisticated cartoons and high-level text in Willard Mullin’s Golden Age of Baseball. Some of the cartoons don’t require much to interpret: the Dodgers and Yankess meet at opposite sides of a mountain peak, which represents how the teams kept confronting each other in the World Series over a span of many years. But another cartoon, one that reads brilliantly like a monologue, shows the retired Joe DiMaggio struggling with his play-by-play broadcasting. That’s harder to understand without some context, but with both of these cartoons and indeed with all of those in the book, editors Hal Bock and Michael Powers have provided some brief explanatory captions that clear things up quite helpfully.
And if they hadn’t, well, that’s where research and/or the prior knowledge of sports fans come into play. See, there’s really no losing here.