During World War II, military sentries in Europe would sometimes try to smoke out infiltrators by asking about Joe DiMaggio. American boys could talk baseball, foreign spies could not.
The days are gone when baseball was the national pastime because the majority of Americans passed so much time at the ballpark. Modern society has so many options and interests to it that likely no activity can pass as "the nation's" anymore.
Still, there is something about the World Series that speaks to unity. The whiff of nostalgia that accompanies the fall classic reminds Americans that some institutions — like the Series — have endured and adjusted and survived. And if America can still look back and see continuity, perhaps that bodes well for looking ahead and seeing continuity in the future.
Baseball today is not the game our grandfathers played. There is controversy about phony records, disputes over mega-salaries and the game itself is played, more and more, by a corps of international stars with names that are difficult to pronounce and personalities that seem seem different and even exotic.
But the World Series — if Americans pay attention — shows what the nation can do if it will try. The Series shows how a time-honored spectacle can evolve, embrace new aspects of America, and yet remain grounded in tradition and a legacy of accomplishments and heroes from another era.
Who plays in the Series is never as important as the fact the Series gets played. The history of the World Series is the history of America — from the integration issues in the 1940s to the growth, development and integrity issues of 2007. Some would say the Super Bowl has replaced the World Series as the most important sporting event. But the Super Bowl is a babe in arms.
Soldiers in the American Civil War played baseball.
Soldiers in Iraq play baseball today.
That alone makes the game a thread that runs through American life, a thread where everyone — man, woman and child — can hang the beads of their personal hopes, dreams, frustrations and memories.