So to start with a silver lining counterfactual….
I’m driving to work late this morning on I-95 and there’s horrible traffic, so I’m cursing my bad luck. But then, thanks to the miracle of radio, I found that my delay allowed me to catch a story on NPR New York affiliate, WNYC, that I otherwise would have missed....
Brian Lehrer interviewing journalist Mike Pesca on his new edited anthology of sports counterfactuals, Upon Further Review: The Greatest What Ifs in Sports History.
I hadn’t yet heard of this new volume, so I’m glad today’s traffic jam allowed me to hear more about it.
Sports counterfactuals are ubiquitous. In fact, the concept of “Monday morning quarterbacking” epitomizes a core counterfactual reflex -- of regret leading people to pose “what ifs?”
So I’m not surprised that sports counterfactuals have finally gotten their own anthology
I’m quite impressed, however, with the prominent, if eclectic, list of contributors that Pesca has assembled to speculate on how sports history might have been different.
There are historians (Julian Zelizer), journalists (Robert Siegel, Steve Kornacki), and even Hollywood actors (Jesse Eisenberg). (A special shout-out goes to my old Bloomington, Indiana pal, Sports Illustrated writer, L. Jon Wertheim, who is among the contributors).
I don't yet have a copy of the book, but from the NPR discussion earlier today, it seems that they skew towards exuberant, long range counterfactuals. They may strain plausibility frequently, but they promise to be creative.
The list of topics is wide-ranging and includes questions, such as:
“What If the U. S. Had Boycotted Hitler’s Olympics?”
“What If Major League Baseball Had Started Testing for Steroids in 1991?”
“What If Title IX Never Was?”
“What If Nixon Had Been Good at Football?”
And one that I’m especially looking forward to reading:
“What If the Dodgers Had Left Brooklyn?”
(No, it’s not a typo, but rather a “nesting doll” counterfactual, in which a world that never was imagines our actual world).
For the record, the cover features great, digitally altered photographs of pivotal events that never happened.
The book’s appearance is one more sign that counterfactual history is alive and well.