Religion in Modern Baseball Fiction


Allen E. Hye

Mercer University Press, 2004, 192 pp.  ISBN 0-86554-939-7


Allen Hye is professor of German and Danish at Wright State University.  He is a great baseball fan and a member of The Society for American Baseball Research.


The Great God Baseball is a clever analysis of the religious themes in the best baseball novels of the 20th Century.  Hye’s theories are well thought out, and unlike most academic treatises, the text is VERY readable.  (W. P. Kinsella, author of Shoeless Joe, on the back cover)


Fan rating scale:

1.      My Grandmother – She smiled and thanked me for trying to explain the game.

2.      My wife – She could understand the game, but doesn’t care to.

3.      Non-fan – Will attend games for food and fellowship but doesn’t know who won.

4.      Casual fan – Roots for the home team.

5.      Knowledgeable fan – Knows which games are going on, is familiar with more sophisticated strategies, and can identify most key players

6.      Serious fan – Has a sense of history and aesthetics, keeps score

7.      Fanatic – Consumed by stats, trivia, minutiae.  A danger to the mental health and stability of himself and his family.  (5)


“Baseball is more than a game to me—it’s a religion.” 

Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem (8)


In serious adult baseball fiction, “religious themes serve a practical, literary function.  The writers are first and foremost storytellers….”  (12)


Religious motifs vary greatly.  Some are “mere literary gimmicks, plucking the reader’s heartstrings or tweaking the fans’ quasi-religious devotion to the game, while other themes may reflect the author’s own spiritual situation.  Nonbelieving writers may be neutral or critical, respectful or profane.  Believers may be Christians or Jews, Protestants or Catholics, monotheists or polytheists, firm in their faith or wavering on the edge.  There use of religious motifs may be purely functional or ornamental…, or may involve the novelists’ encounter with faith.” (12)


“Religion in the great baseball novels is both devotion and parody of devotion.  It illustrates social history and social criticism, family bonds and family tensions.”  “The religious dimension in baseball fiction draws us into an encounter with the wonder of life—our society, our national pastime, our imagination, and our sense of spiritual awareness.” (12)


“The appeal of serious baseball fiction is that it addresses both the eternal qualities of human existence—life and death, love and hate, family and loneliness, fathers and sons, beauty and ugliness—and the social concerns that baseball increasingly raises by virtue of its being our national pastime….”  “Religious allusions are surprisingly prominent in baseball fiction, even in the works of nonbelievers.” (13)