Last year, I wrote a book about the export of baseball around the globe in the nineteenth century—an Editor’s Choice selection of the NYTBR, I might add—so, as you can imagine, the expansion of the game to foreign shores remains a subject of considerable interest. Last year the World Baseball Classic, for all its flaws and detractors, was a tremendous and inspirational success. (The Boston front office was clearly paying attention to the champion Japan squad.) It is thus with great pleasure that we learned today that the Yankees have signed an agreement with the Chinese Baseball Association by which the team will send coaches and training personnel to China to assist with the development of the game in that nation, and also welcome members of the CBA to Yankeeland back in the USA, so they can see how things are done here. There will, no doubt, be some nattering nabobs complaining of American cultural imperialism, and carping that the Yankees only interest is a mercenary desire to exploit a vast open market. Those arguments are only so fair. When does a healthy desire to share our national culture with others become an act of imperialism? Not all cultural exchange is hegemonic. Like it or not, our capitalistic system means that culture is business; the development of the two naturally go together. More than 100 years ago, the great baseball impressario Albert Spalding set off to plant baseball’s flag around the globe. Like the Yankees, he was acting to a large degree on his own behalf—wherever the game could be established, he would have a new market for his nascent sporting-goods empire, and his team, today’s Cubs, would be in the news.* But he knew well that the trip would lose money in the short run, and genuinely believed there was no greater good then spreading the American game, and through it the American way. If he were alive today, I suspect he’d be proud.
* Yankee fans can be forever grateful for Spalding’s efforts to establish baseball in Australia. That late 90s dynasty may never have happened without Aussie Graeme Lloyd.