Martin Aronson describes baseball as the sport which is the most closely associated with natural time. This is because unlike a sport like football which divides its playing time into equal periods of humanly measured time, baseball’s playing time is open in a manner which reflects nature’s rhythm.

My basic premise is that in many rich and subtle facets of the game, baseball is a metaphor of life, mirroring its tempo, rhythm, and essential character. The most basic illustration of this is probably baseball’s association with the season of spring – indeed it may certainly be considered the prime rite of spring in our culture. Spring is, of course, the season of rebirth, and baseball renews itself each year in the popular consciousness just when the crocuses are poking their tips out of the earth in the first stirrings of the revival of nature after winter’s end.

One need not belabor the point that spring is also associated with youth and innocence, conjuring up a whole magical world of childhood memories, of which baseball is a great part for many of us. There is a natural connection among spring, youth, and baseball, recapturing that carefree time of simple heroes, boyhood cheerfulness, and the capacity for pure joy before all the worldly woes of adult life dulled our sensibilities…

The basic association of baseball with spring and youth has further implications in terms of life and, indeed, cosmic cycles, so I should like to consider baseball as related to the phenomenon of time. Baseball, it could be argued, is the sport that reflects the truest expression of natural time in its tempo and texture. Unlike football and basketball, for example, it is divided into innings and half-innings (not fixed, measured quarters), retaining natural breaks and shifts from offence to defence. In its actual pace, it accelerates at points of action and excitement, then reverts back to a relaxed, casual undertone, very much like the great game of life itself. Some may criticize it as boring, and perhaps at times it is, but that is the balance and rhythm of nature…

In keeping with this theme of the essential naturalness of baseball, I’d like to direct your attention to the basic open-ended structure of the game. Baseball transpires in a timeless world; you can throw out the time clocks, scorning them as reality does. There are no set periods for the duration of action, no artificial time constraints. Like nature, a baseball game takes the amount of time it needs to run its course and complete itself. It will not be hurried, circumscribed, or aborted (hence the extra-inning game). It is interesting to note that the course of action during an afternoon game will often follow the rhythms of the day, reflecting the phenomenon of time passing from the bright cheer of the late morning, to the sharp focus of midday, to the shadowy light of late afternoon. And even after the last out of the game has been recorded, the ghost of time lingers, for win or lose, good day or bad day, there is always tomorrow – and the next day, and the day after that – always the promise of a new beginning, a new time to redeem and develop. That is Life, friend, if you learn how to master the mystery of time (Aronson 2006, 12-14).

Aronson, Martin. 2006. Cogito: A collection of essays. New York, Lincoln, Shanghai: iUniverse.


Edward Thompson observes the transition in the relation between labour and time. According to Thompson, labour goes from being connected to the tasks associated with natural rhythms, to the apparently more efficient use of labour time as it is measured by the clock.

It is commonplace that the years between 1300 and 1650 saw within the intellectual culture of Western Europe important changes in the apprehension of time…I do not wish to argue how far the change was due to the spread of clocks from the fourteenth century onwards, how far this was itself a symptom of a new Puritan discipline and bourgeois exactitude. However we see it, the change is certainly there. The clock steps on to the Elizabethan stage, turning Faustus’s last soliloquy into a dialogue with time: “the stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike.” Sidereal time, which has been present since literature began, has now moved at one step form the heavens into the home. Mortality and love are both felt to be more poignant as the “Snayly motion of the mooving hand” crosses the dial. When the watch is worn about the neck it lies in proximity to the less regular beating of the heart. The conventional Elizabethan images of time as a devourer, a defacer, a bloody tyrant, a scytheman, are old enough, but there is a new immediacy and insistence…

However, this gross impressionism is unlikely to advance the present enquiry: how far, and in what ways, did this shift in time- sense affect labour discipline, and how far did it influence the inward apprehension of time of working people? If the transition to mature industrial society entailed a severe restructuring of working habits – new disciplines, new incentives, and a new human nature upon which these incentives could bite effectively – how far is this related to changes in the inward notation of time?

In a similar way labour from dawn to dusk can appear to be “natural” in a farming community, especially in the harvest months: nature demands that the grain be harvested before the thunderstorms set in. And we may note similar “natural” work-rhythms which attend other rural or industrial occupations: sheep must be attended at lambing time and guarded from predators; cows must be milked; the charcoal fire must be attended and not burn away through the turfs (and the charcoal burners must sleep beside it); once iron is in the making, the furnaces must not be allowed to fail.

The notation of time which arises in such contexts has been described as task-orientation. It is perhaps the most effective orientation in peasant societies, and it remains important in village and domestic industries It has by no means lost all relevance in rural parts of Britain today. Three points may be proposed about task-orientation. First, there is a sense in which it is more humanly comprehensible than timed labour. The peasant or labourer appears to attend upon what is an observed necessity. Second, a community in which task-orientation is common appears to show least demarcation between “work” and “life”. Social intercourse and labour are intermingled – the working-day lengthens or contracts according to the task – and there is no great sense of conflict between labour and “passing the time of day”. Third, to men accustomed to labour timed by the clock, this attitude to labour appears to be wasteful and lacking in urgency (Thompson 1967, 56-57, 60).

Thompson, Edward. 1967. “Time, work-discipline, and industrial capitalism.” Past & present 38: 56-97.