Course overview
Reading list
Required viewing
On Writing
Grading policies
One other thing
Course calendar

Writing Seminar:  Inside Baseball

Brian Mooney

Tuesday and Friday 3:30 - 4:50, D42

Office hours: Thursday 10:00 - 11:00, Friday 1:00 - 3:00




Well it's our game; that's the chief fact in connection with it; America's game; it has the snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere; it belongs as much to our institutions; fits into them as significantly as our Constitution's laws; is just as important in the sum total of our historic life.


-- Walt Whitman

Throughout the years, social commentators as politically polarized as Sinclair Lewis and George Will have consistently agreed that in order to understand America we must first understand baseball. Generally, such thinkers are talking about The Great American Game, in which time is measured out in innings, in which players take their positions here and there on a great, green field called a "diamond," and in which catharsis occurs in that golden moment when bat meets ball (or fails to do so). But consider this: Major League Baseball is a billion-dollar industry in which the baseballs used in the games are hand-stitched by offshore workers making less that $3 a day. Yes, we are going to talk about baseball in this class, but we are not going to discuss the merits of a sacrifice bunt, nor will we rehash yesterday's Red Sox game. We have bigger fish to fry than that, and there are enough fish for everyone, whether you love the game of baseball or hate it. Baseball will be the lens through which we examine history, class, race, assimilation, labor, scandal, and the changing notion of "hero"---or, if you're a physics buff, you can try to figure out how a curveball curves and knuckleball knuckles. We will, of course, write about all of this, because, as poet Marianne Moore reminds us, "Writing is exciting / and baseball is like writing."

This is first and foremost a writing class, and as you read about baseball, you should always be asking yourself, “How can these readings make my own writing better?” You must be vigilant about pursuing the answer to this question; a serious writer has no compunction about poking around under the hood to see how everything works. Throughout the semester I will help you get under the hood of the assigned readings and your own essays, as will your classmates. Remember: writing is like any other discipline, and you improve through lots of practice, experimentation, and reflection. In this class, not only will you be writing and reading every day, you will be thinking about your writing and reading everyday. And that’s a fine thing indeed.

In particular, this class should help you:

  • compose essays in which you not only narrate and explain but also interpret and analyze
  • move effectively between generalizations and particulars
  • develop your ideas by vigorously questioning them and considering other perspectives
  • understand and manage your own composing process (drafting, revising, copy-editing)
  • revise drafts with attention to development, organization, style, voice, audience, and mechanics
  • be a constructive reader or your own work and the work of others.

Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.

-- Yogi Berra

Required Reading

  • Michael Mandelbaum, The Meaning of Sports: Why Americans Watch Baseball, Football, and Basketball and What They See When They Do
  • Eric Rolfe Greenberg, The Celebrant
  • Ring Lardner, You Know Me, Al
  • Bernard Malamud, The Natural
  • Robert Coover, The Universal Baseball Association, Inc.: J. Henry Waugh, Prop.
  • Michael Lewis, Moneyball
  • Class Packet (available in bookstore)
  • Booth, Colomb, Williams, The Craft of Research (Booth)
  • A Pocket Style Manual (Diane Hacker)
  • Handling Sources: a Guide for Marlboro College Writers (online at
  • Additional materials to be passed out in class

Optional Reading

  • Jim Bouton, Ball Four
  • Steve Kluger, The Last Days of Summer
  • Bette Bau Lord, In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin, Wait Till Next Year

It’s not a text, but I’d also like you to get a three-ring binder that you can use to organize your work throughout the semester (see Portfolio Review).

Required Viewing

We will have scheduled screenings of three movies:

  • The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (winner of the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Documentary of 2000)
  • The Natural (directed by Barry Levinson, with Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, and Glenn Close)
  • Field of Dreams (based on W.P. Kinsella’s book Shoeless Joe, starring Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones)

If you cannot attend these screenings, you must make arrangements to see the movies on your own. Also, the library has a copy of the Ken Burns’ baseball documentary. It’s on reserve, and I strongly recommend watching at least part of it.



"I would like to take the great DiMaggio fishing," the old man said. "They say his father was a fisherman. Maybe he was as poor as we are and would understand."

– From Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea


You will write four papers in this class:

  • One 3-4 page personal essay
  • One 5-6 page close reading of a single text
  • One 5-6 page critical comparison of at least two texts (“texts” for this assignment can mean “film” as well as “book”)
  • One 8-10 page research paper

You will also create a portfolio of your writing throughout the semester, and you will re-visit your portfolio at the end of the semester when we do a portfolio review, which will be approximately six pages long.

You will also write nine email commentaries (more on that in a moment), as well as complete some short in-class and take home assignments.

About the Papers

Sure, sometimes it’s possible to crank a paper out the night before it’s due. You know that; I know that. However, that sort of last-minute sprint towards the due-date is not what this class is about. The central aim of this course is to teach you a longer and more thoughtful writing process that invites more development and evolution in your thinking. You will be required to write at least two drafts of each essay. This process lets you explore and take risks early in your writing process, and it allows you to be more focused later on. Also, as you work from one draft to the next, you’ll have the chance to assess your goals for yourself, and you’ll also receive feedback from your classmates (peer review) and from me.

With that in mind, all final drafts must also include all your preliminary work: notes, drafts, peer responses, teacher responses… everything. If you don’t include these things, I can’t get a sense of the progression of your thinking, and I’ll have to give you a zero. And you don’t want a zero.

And now a few words about how to format your papers:

  • Assume that everything you hand in (with the exception of work done during class time) should be typed, stapled in the upper left-hand corner, and in a readable 12-point font. Times Roman (or Times New Roman, which I’ve used here) and Courier New are good fonts to use. Don’t use a quirky, funky, isn’t-this-kooky kind of font. That stuff drives me up the wall.
  • Set your margins at 1” on all sides. In Word, you make this change under Page Set Up. If you use extra-wide margins I will assume two things about you: you have it in for trees, and you’re padding your paper.
  • Double-space text, but single-space footnotes and bibliographies. And no, your bibliography page does not count as a page for the length requirement. And not that you ever would, but don’t even think of triple-spacing your papers.
  • Put your name and a page number on each page. These go in the upper right-hand corner header. In Word, the header is under View.
  • Use a title page. Make sure this has the paper title, the date, the name of the class, and your name. And no, this page doesn’t count towards length either.

Consult the Chicago section in Hacker for what your paper should look like.


About Your Portfolio

Don’t throw any of your work away! At the end of the semester you will do a portfolio review in which you perform a self-analysis of your work throughout the semester. If you don’t have your work, you won’t be able to do this assignment. And then you’ll get a zero. And you don’t want a zero.

Your portfolio includes all the major essays, the drafts and preliminary work that accompany the final draft, the additional in-class and out-of-class writing exercises you do, the written feedback from me, and the written feedback you give to your classmates.

About the Email Commentaries

Email commentaries are brief (200-300 words), semi-formal writings in which you respond to the readings. Commentaries are this length because I want you to get to your point quickly. To give you an idea of how long 300 words is, this section is exactly 244 words.

You will write nine commentaries. Your commentaries can take several forms. Occasionally I will assign a topic, but often the commentaries are open. When writing an open commentary you might be moved to review or analyze some element of craft within something we’re reading (the way a writer uses certain specific similes to create a nostalgic feeling, perhaps), or you might relate something we have been talking about in class to a recent news story. You might want to compare the themes of two or three different writers, or you might want to respond to a previous commentary… You have lots of choices available to you. The important thing to keep in mind when writing commentaries is to actually comment on something.

You will e-mail your commentaries to everyone in class, and you will read what is e-mailed to you before we have class. See the schedule for due dates.

Did you catch that? Commentaries are due BEFORE we have class. Not after. Before. They are due before class because your commentaries will provide a foundation for class discussions. They also can serve as catalysts to longer papers.

Did I mention that the commentaries are due before class?


Although I will not require it, I strongly suggest you maintain a journal and write at least five pages a week. Journals are catch-alls for your creative process. Thoughts and ideas can be fleeting, and your journal is a place to save these precious things before they vanish. It’s a place for you to think about your own work, to reflect on your reading, and to record ideas for essays, stories and poems before they disappear. Use your journal to jot down cool words and their definitions, or to save bits of dialogue you’ve overheard in the dining hall. Make lists of questions you have so that you can actively participate in class. Dreams, fantasies, descriptions that suddenly come to you… put them in your journal. Keeping a journal helps you reside in a creative place, and it is very difficult to write creatively if your mind isn’t in that place. When an idea comes to you, you must be ready for it.

Is it not very wonderful that Catherine who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback and running around the country at the age of fourteen, to books.

--  From Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey (1798)

When Things Are Due

Drafts are due at the beginning of class, no exceptions. If you don’t have a preliminary draft when it’s due, you will be unable to fully contribute to our peer review sessions, and will therefore be considered absent (see the Attendance and Absence Policy section for what this means). If you don’t have a final draft when it’s due, it’s a zero. And like I said before, you don’t want a zero.




Attendance and Absence Policy

It’s a simple policy: show up on time.

You get two absences without seeing your grade change, though I will most likely ask you why you are having difficulty making it to class. Save those absences for when you’re sick, or if you have an emergency. Except for exceptional circumstances, being sick does not entitle you to an extra absence. Being absent does not change due dates, and it is your responsibility to make sure you turn in work on time.

For each absence beyond the allowed two, you will lose a half-grade for the semester. That means that a B turns into a B- if you miss three classes. Miss four, and a B turns into a C+, and so on.

You will be considered absent if you come to class without the work that is due, if you are so late that you cannot actively participate in the work of the day, or if you miss a conference. Chronic lateness will also affect your final grade.


There's not an American in this country free until every one of us is free.

-- Jackie Robinson


Conferences and Office Hours

I will hold short (20 minutes or so) conferences every 3 weeks or so to discuss your current work and your progress through the course. These conferences are important because they enable us to talk one-on-one about your work. I’ll send around a sign up sheet a couple of classes before the conferences so you can sign up at a time that is convenient for you. Failure to attend a conference equals an absence. Since conferences may occur outside of regularly scheduled class time, I will probably cancel a class or two.

My office hours are Thursday, 10-11, and Friday, 2-3. This is time set aside for you, and I encourage you to use it.

Grading Happens

You are guaranteed a B for the final grade if you meet the following conditions:

  • Follow the guidelines stated herein regarding attendance, due dates, and assignments.
  • Be a good citizen of the class. Work cooperatively in your peer review groups. Share your writing. Listen supportively to the writing of others and provide full and thoughtful responses.
  • Hand in papers that demonstrate your effort, involvement, and thinking. Papers should be revised and free of errors. Here are the specifics:
  • Effort. Your papers must show solid effort. This doesn’t mean you have to suffer. What effort means is solid, diligent practice at writing.
  • Involvement. Find a way to involve yourself or put yourself into your papers. This means concentrating, finding a topic that interests you and committing yourself to the task of communicating this interest to your audience.
  • Thinking. Your papers need to show a process of trying to figure something out, trying to think something through and learn about it. Let’s see those mental gears turning.
  • Revise. Do more than just correct commas and fix spelling. Use the drafting process to challenge your thinking, complicate or substantively clarify your ideas or relate your ideas to new things.
  • Error Free. When the assignment is for a final draft, it must be well copy-edited–that is, free from mistakes in spelling and grammar. It’s fine to get help in copy-editing (just about every published writer has an editor). Use Hacker, use friends, use the tutoring lab.

To get a higher grade (A/B or A) you must fulfill the B contract and demonstrate throughout the semester that you are actively using what you are learning, that you are putting time and energy into your writing, that you are giving full and thoughtful responses to your peers’ work, that you are participating in class discussions, and that you are using your conference time with me so as to best benefit you.

In order to give you a yardstick by which to measure your work throughout the semester, I will mark assignments with a Ö, Ö-, Ö+, or 0, based on three criteria. I will then average these scores and give an overall letter grade. The criteria are content, revision, and mechanics.


Here I’m looking for a few things. I want to see how interested you are in your topic (because if you aren’t interested, how can you expect your readers to be?), and I want to see how thoroughly you examine your topic. I’m interested in seeing what kinds of risks you’re taking: how difficult and challenging a task have you undertaken? Put simply, I want to see if you are genuinely interested in your topic, or if you are desperately trying to crank out a few pages so you can call it a day.


When you finish your first draft do not sit on your hands until the final draft is due– continue working on your ideas. Look at your essay again (that’s why it’s called re- vision). What else can you do to make this an even better paper? Your peers and I can help you with this.


You must be serious about the work you hand in. What this means is what John Gardner in The Art Of Fiction calls, “grammar and syntax, punctuation, diction, sentence variety, paragraph structure, and so forth.” This is what I’m looking for in terms of mechanics:


Do you have a clear focus/purpose (even if your purpose is to explore your own confusion)? Is the essay coherent? Does it move the reader smoothly to the conclusion/focus/purpose?


Appropriate? Consistent? Interesting? By “voice” I mean that there is an actual person revealed in the words, and not just an anonymous typist.


Did you spell everything correctly? Is documentation cited correctly? Are your pronoun references clear? Is faulty grammar getting in the way of your meaning? You get the drift.

A check-minus in any of these categories means that:

  • You have not written enough to explore your thinking (remember, you must submit 20 pages in order to pass the writing requirement).
  • You did not turn in all previous drafts, notes, peer comments, etc. with mid-process and final drafts.
  • You did not incorporate worthy peer review comments.
  • Your final draft has not been copy-edited well.
  • Your drafts and peer responses don’t show that you put considerable effort and thinking into them.

A check means that:

  • You have fulfilled all the formal requirements (i.e. turned in all drafts, notes, etc.)
  • You’ve incorporated peer review comments.
  • You have a minimum of copy editing mistakes (2 or 3 per page).

A check-plus means that:

  • You have fulfilled all formal requirements and effectively used peer feedback to improve your final draft.
  • You have striven to thoroughly examine your topic.
  • You have a nearly error-free paper.
  • You have shown excellent effort at pushing for your best writing and thinking.

If assignments are not turned in on time I will record them as a zero. If at any point it appears that your ship is sinking, there will be a formal review of your progress, and I will encourage you to drop the class and take it when you are better prepared.



Reading through several pages of policies about grading, attendance, and homework can make any course sound daunting. But don’t be intimidated. Keep this fact in mind: we’re gonna encounter some really interesting issues in this class. Writing about them will be interesting and provocative, and we’ll have fun as we read and write.

And remember that there are many resources available to you besides your classmates and me. There is a tutoring lab on campus, and on the Web there are excellent sources of information at


I’d walk through Hell in a gasoline suit to play baseball.

-- Pete Rose


(this is all subject to change)


Commentary Due


Tuesday, Jan. 17

  • Introduction to class.
  • First paper assigned.
  • Begin Mandelbaum

Friday, Jan. 20

  • Due: mid-process of essay one.
  • Workshop and peer review of draft.

Tuesday, Jan 24

Monday, 5:00

  • Mandelbaum

Friday, Jan 27

  • Due: Final draft of essay one
  • Douglass (packet)
  • Labor statement (packet)

Tuesday, Jan 31

Monday, 5:00

  • Neugeboren (packet)

Friday, Feb. 3

  • Booth (pages TBD)
  • Hacker (Clarity and Chicago sections)
  • Second paper assigned.

Tuesday, Feb 7

Monday, 5:00

  • The Celebrant

Friday, Feb 10

Thursday, 5:00

  • Poetry (packet)

Tuesday, Feb. 14

  • Due: mid-process of essay two.
  • Workshop: peer review.

Thursday and Friday, Feb. 16-17

  • No Class: Conferences. Bring all drafts, all peer review

Tuesday, Feb 21


  • Due: Final draft of essay two.
  • Writing Workshop

Friday, Feb 24

Thursday, 5:00

  • You Know Me, Al
  • Third paper assigned.

Tuesday, Feb 28

Monday, 5:00

  • The Natural
  • MOVIE NIGHT: The Natural (6:30, place TBD)

Friday, March 3

  • Due: mid-process of essay three.
  • Workshop and peer review.

Tuesday, March 7

  • NO CLASS: Town Meeting Day

Friday, March 9

  • Due: Final draft of essay three.
  • MOVIE: The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg

March 14 - March 24


Tuesday, March 28

Monday, 5:00

  • Essays (packet)

Friday, March 31

  • Writing Workshop

Tuesday, April 4

  • Research Prospectus Due.
  • Discussion of research projects.

Friday, April 7

Thursday, 5:00

  • Coover: Universal Baseball Association
  • MOVIE NIGHT: Field of Dreams (6:30, place TBD)

Tuesday, April 11

  • Due: mid-process of essay four.
  • Workshop and peer review

Thursday and Friday, April 13-14

  • No Class: Conferences. Bring all drafts, all peer review.

Tuesday, April 18

Monday, 5:00

  • Lewis, Moneyball

Friday, April 21


  • Writing Workshop

Tuesday, April 25

  • Due: Final draft of essay four.

Friday, April 28

  • Portfolio Review

Tuesday, May 2


  • Due: Portfolio Review




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