I love baseball. Oh, on the conventional scale where Simon Cowell is zero and George Will is 10 (he once wrote, “All I remember about my wedding day in 1967 is that the Cubs lost a doubleheader”), I’m at best a 3. I couldn’t tell you the starting lineup for anybody. I have no idea whose pitching is strong this year or which teams are considering drafting 50 Cent (at least until Obama is eligible). I like going to games because it’s a really good excuse to drink beer during the day.
But what I love about the game is that it stands athwart history (“It has a long tradition of existence,” as Hoover from Animal House might say). It’s an ill-suited game for the TV age, but one that TV has had to make room for. It’s the only sport where the defense controls the ball. It is a “timeless institution,” and the game itself is timeless too, in the sense that there’s no clock. It just goes on until someone wins. But the next day there is another game that starts over. At the end of the season, there’s a winner, but there’s always another season to start over. As T. S. Eliot would say, there are no truly lost causes because there are no won causes.
Despite the occasional bench-clearing brawl, it’s not an angry game but a joyful one (as George Carlin famously elucidated
Anyway, why am I talking about baseball? Well, first because I’ve done so many of these pitches, I kind of needed to reach for a new approach. And, more to the point, because I think baseball offers a pretty good analogy to what National Review is all about. We’re not as old as baseball, but for a magazine, we’re getting up there. For a conservative magazine we’re definitely elder statesmen, and in Internet years we are flat-out ancient (and I am Methuselah). When we started (both in print and, in a way, online too), we were pretty close to the only game in town, for what we do.
One of the things that impressed me the most about National Review when I joined the team was how much it is a team. This is a point NR’s publisher, Jack Fowler, strikes home every year with his motivational speech about the balancing of individual achievement with team effort. “What is that which gives me joy? Baseball! A man stands alone at the plate. This is the time for what? For individual achievement. There he stands alone. But in the field, what? Part of a team. Teamwork. . . . Looks, throws, catches, hustles — part of one big team. . . . ” [Click here for video.]
I don’t mean we’re a team just at any given moment; we’re a team over time, too. We wear the same uniform — figuratively speaking, of course (though I am wearing Willmoore Kendall’s socks; long story) — as the titans of American conservatism. Bill Buckley’s legacy matters to us as much as Joe DiMaggio’s or Babe Ruth’s matters to the Yankees. More, even. Because DiMaggio and Ruth didn’t invent the game, or even change the rules. But Buckley in a sense did the former and clearly did the latter.
There’s a nostalgic tendency to always think that America is speeding up faster than ever before. That doesn’t mean it’s not sometimes — or even always! — true. But it’s definitely the case when it comes to National Review’s corner of the world. We have more competitors, more beats, and more platforms than ever before. And that’s great. But National Review endures — and that’s largely because of people like you.
One constant of our storied franchise is that we depend on our readers. That’s always been the case, and until or unless someone ponies up an endowment, it will always be the case. From Bill Buckley on, we’ve taken it on faith that if we put out the best work we can, if we swing for the fences as often as possible, and give our best season after season, people will value what we do. It was the same with National Review Online. We’d put it out there and, to paraphrase James Earl Jones’s baseball speech in Field of Dreams, people would come.
James Earl Jones said: “Ray, people will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up in your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it.” Ray was supposed to charge people $20 per person: “They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it.”
And that’s where the similarities start to fall away. People know why they come to National Review. Yes, some come for the tasteful nudity. But most come to find out what thoughtful and committed conservatives can, should, or might think about the pressing issues of the day — or the century or the millennium. They also might come to find out what we thought about the latest episode of The Walking Dead or the finale of Breaking Bad. They also come to share what they think about such things and, not too infrequently, to explain why we’re a bunch of fools (why, right at this moment someone is saying something unkind in ALL CAPS in the comment section to this plea!). But day in and day out, people come to National Review because they know this storied franchise takes its obligations to both the past and the future seriously. Yes National Review is only a magazine, and there are lots of magazines out there. But to quote former National Review Washington editor George Will one more time: “Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.” So it is with magazines.
We want National Review to be timeless the way baseball is timeless. There’s always another issue, there’s always another season, there’s always a need for us to do what we do, and there’s always a need for your help.
— Jonah Goldberg is editor at large of National Review Online. You can write to him by e-mail at [email protected], or via Twitter @JonahNRO.
Editors’ Note: This article has been revised since its initial publication.