cover image The Ball: Mark McGwire's Home Run Ball and the Marketing of the American Dream

The Ball: Mark McGwire's Home Run Ball and the Marketing of the American Dream

Daniel Paisner. Viking Books, $22.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-670-88776-7

Paisner (The Imperfect Mirror, etc.) believes that Mark McGwire's 70th home run ball just might hold part of the secret to what it means to be American today. From the moment it was stitched in a Rawlings plant in Costa Rica to the moment it sold for just over $3 million to comic book publisher Tod McFarlane, this one particular baseball provides a kind of cultural looking glass. (The idea that a home run ball could carry America's cultural DNA will be familiar to readers of Don DeLillo's Underworld, the prologue to which follows the trajectory of Bobby Thomson's 1951 pennant-winning blast). The ball, as Paisner traces it, infects its possessor and those who wish to possess it with a particularly American kind of greed. Everybody, of course, wants it, but Paisner sees America as having passed a new threshhold in the transmutation of emotional value into market value. McGwire's home run ball is a good example of the phenomenon, but it's an awfully small object to carry all the implications of the cultural criticism with which Paisner tries to stamp it. Paisner is most interesting when he digs behind the scenes with his reporter's pad in clear view--for example, when he talks to regular people who thought they hated baseball but were nonetheless swept up by the 1998 season, or to Major League Baseball officials who were in charge of organizing security details for McGwire and Sammy Sosa. (Sept.)