Finalist, ForeWord Best Sports Book
of the Year Award
Finalist, Casey Award for the
Best Baseball Book of the Year
Finalist, Association for Humanist Sociology Book Award
"Bay Area Notable Book"
San Francisco Chronicle
From Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War to George W. Bush and the Iraq War, we see baseball’s role in developing the American Empire, first at home and then beyond our shores. From Albert Spalding and baseball’s first World Tour to Bud Selig and the World Baseball Classic, we see the globalization of America’s national pastime, and baseball’s missionary role in spreading the American dream. To maintain itself as the American national game, however, baseball has pursued a “national pastime tradeoff,” which has brought benefits but has come with a high price for the game. Is it still worth pursuing? The Empire Strikes Out addresses that question while providing a chronicle of baseball’s own foreign policy and the sport’s involvement in U.S. diplomatic and military history.
The Empire Strikes Out is a rare and wonderful combination of splendid scholarship and lively writing. Robert Elias’ affection for baseball illuminates its pages, even when he is unearthing episodes of organized baseball’s racism, jingoism, unbridled militarism and insensitivity to other cultures. Simultaneously, and gracefully, the book describes the development of baseball and its impact overseas as a sort of quasi instrument of American foreign policy. The recent internationalization of major-league rosters makes the book particularly timely. A truly fine work. Highly recommended.
- Roger Kahn, author of The Boys of Summer, The Era, Memories of Summer, October Men, Joe and Marilyn
Lively and provocative, this is the "big picture" look at the entangled, and sometimes nefarious, relationship between our national pastime and U.S. foreign policy. Well crafted, it is, at once, nuanced, imaginative, and provocative. Robert Elias' provides a riveting account of how our national pastime has been part and parcel of American diplomacy, militarism, and globalization. This is the definitive account of how baseball has been used to sell and export the American dream.
- George Gmelch, author of Baseball Without Borders, Inside Pitch, and In the Ballpark.
Sports have always been ripe for exploitation by those who would pump the politics of militarism through play. No one has ever broken down the history of this process in baseball like Robert Elias. The Empire Strikes Out should be required reading for anyone who considers themselves a baseball fan, or for anyone who has questioned the military misadventures of the past decade. It is an unqualified triumph.
-Dave Zirin, author of A People's History of Sports in the United States
Elias has written both fiction and nonfiction about baseball and his love for the game shines through. But he also doesn't hold back (or maybe steps up to the plate?), indicting America's pastime for aligning itself with political conservatives and the military, and becoming a tool for globalization. He tells a compelling story made more vivid by thorough research and authoritative writing.
- Will Weissert, Associated Press
Elias makes excellent use of numerous anecdotes [about baseball and U.S. foreign policy] . . . to enlighten baseball fans and students of the game . . . which makes it a perfect fit with the story of what William Appleman Williams has termed “the tragedy of American diplomacy.” Good stories and nimble prose along with original research . . . and shrewd analysis and appropriate historical revision— this book hits it out of the park.
- Robert Birnbaum, The Morning News
. . . an intriguing look at the game of politics and diamond diplomacy . . . The wealth of neat gems [in The Empire Strikes Out] provide a fresh perspective from many unique angles.
- Richard Cereno, The Sporting News
In this ambitious work, Elias reframes baseball history to show how the sport has abetted America's quest for global power. [He] excels when he examines the connection between baseball and America's tumultuous relationships with its beisbol-loving neighbors. [T]his contrarian book may come closest in spirit to [Jim Bouton's] Ball Four.
- David Davis, Los Angeles Times
In his terrific new book, The Empire Strikes Out, Elias traces America's pastime from its mythical beginnings and reveals baseball's prominent role in how America has projected itself abroad . . . Elias's book makes clear the long history of baseball and foreign politics. It's a fun read, full of great stories, characters and quotes.
- Eliabeth DiNovella, Cultural Editor, The Progressive
The Empire Strikes Out is, without question, a masterful piece of research and writing. Elias has been able to bring first rate insight and analysis into an area—baseball and foreign policy--that has never really been adequately covered. I was equally impressed by the quality and depth of research. It is hard enough to understand the past, and even a modest understanding of the present, let alone trying to predict the future. However, Elias has managed to bring new light into all three. The final chapter stands alone as an extraordinary analysis of where empire has been and is headed. Baseball history has a new mentor.
- George McGlynn, author of Dynamics of Fitness, Cross Training for Sports
The Empire Strikes Out is a provocative work of cultural criticism which clearly recognizes the politics of sport. Cloaking sport within the flag certainly does not de-politicize sport, and Elias is willing to question this hypocrisy. Elias’s work is carefully documented in an exhaustive survey of both primary and secondary sources on the relationship between American expansionism and Organized Baseball. Those who profess to love the sport of baseball and claim that it represents what is best in American life would do well to read Elias carefully and see if it is possible to rescue the game from those who would exploit it in the name of empire, militarism, and the search for markets abroad.
- Ron Briley, History News Network/thecuttingedge.com; author of The Politics of Baseball and All Stars and Movie Stars
The Empire Strikes Out is . . . interesting, entertaining and compelling . . . and the author argues convincingly relative to the game's historic ties to militarism, colonialism, and imperialism. . . [and he] is especially adroit in his treatment of the globalization of MLB. . . [Elias] has expanded the coverage, the analysis, and the interdisciplinary boundaries of baseball history in a book that should be added to personal, professional, and school libraries.
- Gerald Gems, Journal of Sports History
[In The Empire Strikes Out], cast[ing] baseball within the larger context of the United States’ rise and domination of global affairs is [Robert Elias's] overall mission. He succeeds in showing that baseball was much more than enlisted in the service of the nation; the sport has long injected itself into the world arena as a self-proclaimed carrier of the American imperial mission. Elias sees this as a problem and ultimate failure of leadership, vision, and purpose . . . Elias provides a tremendous (and well told) amount of substantive meat in his quest to show that the Major Leagues were, and are, complicit in pushing a nationalistic agenda that seeks profits and control at home and abroad, while harming its target audience . . . In this argument, he takes cues from many historians of foreign policy, as well as the game, and is largely right on the mark . . . The growth of the sport abroad is well drawn, as is an excellent chapter on World War II which includes the evolution of integration alongside the game played in theaters around the globe. The Cold War receives its due, with patriotism permeating the sport from Little League on up to the Majors . . . The most effective section focuses on the period from Vietnam - and baseball’s campaign to enlist volunteers for that ill-begotten war effort – through the Persian Gulf war and into our current conflicts . . . Over the past two decades, the country has been awash in patriotism, and baseball has unabashedly led the displays of nationalism. Few voices spoke out against these theatrics that cheapened the sacrifice made abroad, and, in fact, the jingoism has become commonplace.
- Thomas Zeiler, University of Colorado, author of Ambassadors in Pinstripes and Globalization and the American Century
Refreshing stuff. The Empire Strikes Out is an exceptionally ambitious history of the relationship between U.S. foreign policy and our national pastime. Elias provides a thoughtful and thorough demonstration of the ways in which professional baseball has served the interests of empire.
- Bill Littlefield, The Boston Globe; host of Only A Game, WBUR Public Radio, Boston
Any reader with a serious interest in both American foreign policy and the American game is going to love this book. . . If you’re the kind of baseball fan who has thought about both Leon Trotsky and Hal Trosky, [then] Elias just may have written the definitive reference book for you.
- Tom Gallagher, Senior Writer, Democracy.com
. . . by far my favorite sports book of the year [is] Robert Elias’ The Empire Strikes Out. Refreshingly, while clearly a baseball enthusiast, Elias does not defend the traditional patriotic fanfare typically associated with baseball; rather, he offers “a different story: American baseball’s projection of itself, for its own sake and also for spreading American influence around the globe.” The result: a thoughtful, anecdote-laden, exceptionally well researched and documented account of baseball as the backdrop (and, at times, the instrument of choice) of the United States civilizing missions of the 19th and 20th centuries . . . From episodes of intense militarism amidst conflict to the proselytizing efforts of early diamond heroes, from Kennesaw Mountain Landis to Bud Selig, from “Muscular Christianity” to the Steroid Era, in lively prose, Elias plumbs baseball lore to paint a full picture of the perils and draw-backs of imposing the American game—or culture for that matter—upon other unwelcoming nations . . . The sale of the American Way, even following a century of wars fueled by nationalism, has anything but slowed in the new millennium, which is precisely why Elias’ history of U.S. exceptionalism and ethnocentrism, as viewed through the prism of baseball, is ever so timely, forc[ing] the reader to reconsider our current position on foreign policy. Elias’ explanation of the steroid witch hunt in light of post-9/11 culture is equally enlightening and thought-provoking as it invites us to synthesize our relationship to baseball with that of global politics . . . [P]osing challenging questions, Elias turns the mirror on contemporary American society and asks “Has the Empire indeed struck out?” and, if so, what can we learn about our nation from our national pastime before it, too, is reduced to a mere vestige, reserved for nostalgia?
- Robert J. Hudson, Brigham Young University, thesportsacademic.com
Approaching the historical and analytical abilities of the late Howard Zinn . . ., Elias provides so many stories and examples of baseball's crossover into culture, economics, and militarism that were, until the publication of this book, only scattered footnotes in history . . . there is such a plethora of new information that picking the highlights seems like a daunting task as each chapter reveals riveting details about a particular time period . . . The Empire Strikes Out is not simply a cataloging of sports nostalgia but the systematic retelling of U.S. history and how it is intertwined with a sport as American as apple pie.
- Bennett Dewan, Cameron Collegian
Elias has written a very unusual and important book about baseball. One of the great virtues of The Empire Strikes Out is that it introduces us to intriguing characters inside and outside baseball, and in a sense sets the record straight about the game’s origins and uses. This book will make you think a lot, and will also entertain you like crazy.
- Jim Foster, Conversations on the Coast, Green960-AM, San Francisco
[In The Empire Strikes Out] Elias, who teaches a course on "Law, Politics and the National Pastime," [at the University of San Francisco], focuses on how baseball and international relations work together, [thus] provoking some deep thought . . . Some have compared Elias' work to the 2004 book by Franklin Foer, How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, as it questions whether baseball can play a positive role around the world. Top shelf.
- Tom Hoffarth, FartherOfftheWall.com; sportwriter, Los Angeles Daily News
[The Empire Strikes Out] illustrates the intimate networks of power wrapped in patriotism and cash that have positioned baseball and the U.S. government to benefit from one another . . . Sports and play are at their best when used in a spirit of peace, not warmongering. Elias begs the question concerning the real human condition: war or play? [Our] answer is [that] we culturally choose to celebrate a violent masculinity in America embodied more by football than baseball. Not only is the national pastime up for grabs, but also a vital public discussion about peace. Yet baseball helps that evasion by embracing warmongering, parading as patriotism. At the same time, like America, baseball holds seeds of peace, if we're willing to be patient and love that which often lets us down. [The Empire Strikes Out] serves as a valuable reference for scholars hoping to bridge the cultural and political foundations of peace.
- Paul Stock, Peace Chronicle
[Sports historian] Allen Guttmann has long argued that we must understand sports both in their extrinsic contexts and for their intrinsic qualities. [In The Empire Strikes Out] . . . Robert Elias . . . links his interest in the latter with his apparent love of baseball . . . [Elias argues that] from its time during the Civil War era as incipient national pastime, organized baseball, which eventually became MLB, "has tried to associate itself with the values of the American dream. It has also sought to equate itself with American masculinity and patriotism, and with U.S. military endeavors in particular." Elias' compilation of sources is awesome . . . The real value for readers is what [the book] suggests about the nature of the sport and its place in the larger American culture and imagination, thus providing context for writing and/or interpreting baseball fact and fiction.
- Joseph Arbena, Sports Literature Association; author of Sport in Latin America and the Caribbean
Baseball was an uncannily consistent accompaniment to US military incursions in Cuba, the Philippines, Nicaragua, and elsewhere. Not only did the American troops play ball in all these places, but, with varying degrees of success, spread baseball fever to the natives and in so doing co-opted them. . . Baseball continued to be a weirdly prevalent instrument of ideology, on through World War II, the Cold War, Vietnam, and up to the Gulf Wars, and The Empire Strikes Out does an excellent job documenting this history . . . [Elias] is passionate about his subject [and] The Empire Strikes Out is a book you can argue with, but there’s no denying that it is a valuable and accomplished addition to the large and constantly growing library of baseball history.
- Ben Yagoda, Pennsylvania Gazette, University of Delaware
The Empire Strikes Out . . . looks at how the sport has been used as an instrument of foreign policy—from the Revolutionary War to Afghanistan, and how baseball has changed in the process. The book’s politics aren’t subtle, but Elias’ analysis and anecdotes are compelling. You’ll enjoy yourself at the ballpark, but this year, you’ll watch baseball a little wiser. Recommended book.
- John Erik Pattison, Relevant Magazine; deputy editor, Burnside Writer’s Collective
The Empire Strikes Out isn't your typical baseball history, chock full of stats and charming anecdotes about baseball's greats, although it does have some of both. But Robert Elias's mission in writing it is to show American foreign policy's effect on baseball and the reverse as well.
– Steve Goddard, The History Wire
The Empire Strikes Out provides a unique perspective in viewing diplomatic and military events through the lens of America's relatively distinct cultural hallmark: baseball . . . Elias succeeds in his primary goal of articulating the substantial connection between America's national pastime and the historical role of the United States in the global community, and the book should be considered a worthy addition to one's personal or institutional library.
- Steven Bullock, Journal of American History, University of Nebraska
If you'd like a lively recounting of an "unauthorized" history of our national pastime, then this book is for you . . . Not just for baseball fans.
- David Lee Poremba, thePastinReview.com
In his latest book, The Empire Strikes Out, Robert Elias rips the tarp off longstanding myths about our “national pastime” and its peculiar place in American foreign policy. [The book] shows how America has used baseball to grand slam the world [or] to make it into one giant strike zone.
- Mal Karmen, Pacific Sun
Over the course of 12 chapters, as well as an opinion-laden 13th, Elias takes the reader through American history, from 1775 all the way up to 2009, bringing in baseball as a hand-holding partner of the United States' desire to expand throughout the world . . . The book is full of tidbits of baseball information that Elias has dug up to illustrate his points: "I didn't know that" moments that will enhance your appreciation for the game that you see on the field today. It is this hook that will keep the pages turning for the reader.
- Patrick Lagreid, BaseballBookReview.com
I strongly recommend Rob Elias’s important new book, The Empire Strikes Out. As Elias so effectively demonstrates, the sad saga of MLB’s involvement in international baseball is anything but a pretty story.
- Peter C. Bjarkman, baseballdecuba.com, author of Diamonds Around the Globe and The Other Red Machine
Professiorial baseball fanatic combines love the game with a clear-eyed evaluation of some of its propaganda uses.
- American History
- Michael Butterworth, The Agon: Rhetorical Contests of Sports, Politics and Culture
GREETINGS AND THANKS FOR VISITING MY WEBSITE (www.robelias.com).
In my recent novel, the protagonist, Debs Kafka, is a throwback who has some real reservations about modern technology. In that sense, he's my alter-ego.
Thus, as a "Luddite," I'm not supposed to have a website, yet here it is. I take consolation in the words of Walt Whitman:
"Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then, I contradict myself."
I'm a professor of politics (at the University of San Francisco) who's taken some detours in the last few years.
The first was to write a book about our national pastime, Baseball and the American Dream.
The second was to put aside non-fiction publishing to write my first (mystery) novel, The Deadly Tools of Ignorance, also (in part) about baseball.
Still not satisfied, the third is yet another book about our national pastime, back to non-fiction: The Empire Strikes Out: How Baseball Sold U.S. Foreign Policy & Promoted the American Way Abroad.
Given these deviations, my website menu might seem a little unusual, but I invite you to take a look.
Under "Writings" you'll find all of my fiction and non-fiction books, as well as some shorter works and some books I'm currently writing.
Under "Biography" you'll find out more than you'd ever want to know about me.
Under "Academic" you'll find information about my University life, including my courses and programs.
Under "Baseball" you'll encounter my not-so-secret passion, including my baseball course, writings, and interviews.
FINALIST: DARK OAK MYSTERY AWARD
For a literate, worldly Renaissance man at San Francisco's Fairmount University, Debs Kafka sure has a lot of problems. His relationship with his intoxicating girlfriend is on the skids. He’s plagued with doubt about the academic path he’s chosen, though he’s only a thesis away from a PhD in criminology. His department chair, a Catholic priest, has just been murdered. And he can’t stop thinking about baseball.
(For more, click at right)
"A stellar debut. Robert Elias is a fresh new voice in a crowded field.. . The writing is smooth and nuanced and the story is fresh and vivid. It makes you hope for a sequel--and soon.”
-Sheldon Siegel, New York Times bestselling author of The Confession.
Works in Progress