Lecturer revives history of baseball class

History of Baseball

History lecturer Mark Sigmon will be teaching the baseball history class starting Spring 2013 at SF State. Sigmon's class will be a revival of the class formerly taught by Jules Tygiel until 2008, when Tygiel died of cancer that year. Photo by Godofredo Vasquez / Xpress

The smell of freshly cut grass, the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd as the ball flies over the outfield fences are all familiar to baseball aficionados, but will soon be the subject of lectures and exams.

For the first time since 2008, University history lecturer Mark Sigmon will revive the course this coming spring semester.

“Jules (Tygiel) had probably forgotten more about baseball than I’ll ever know,” Sigmon said. “They’re really big shoes to fill. I don’t know nearly as much as he did.”

Tygiel, a celebrated historian and SF State professor, was regarded as an expert in baseball history and Jackie Robinson. His book, “Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy,” is ranked 50th in Sports Illustrated’s list of 100 greatest sports books.

Tygiel taught the history of baseball course at SF State until he died of cancer in 2008.

Sigmon’s affinity for baseball started as a young boy in a foreign country. Growing up in Norway as the son of a U.S. Navy pilot, he was only able to get a newspaper once a week. That newspaper was the only way for him to keep up with his favorite sports team, the Boston Red Sox.

He poured over the paper checking stats and calculating them himself, as a way to participate from thousands of miles away.

Sigmon said he was never much of a player, but always loved the game. As an 8-year-old boy playing Little League, he wrote a letter to Red Sox Hall of Fame outfielder Carl Yastrzemski asking for tips — and to his surprise, received a letter in response.

“I’ve been hooked on baseball ever since then. I’ve been a student of the game and I’ve always just enjoyed reading about the game,” Sigmon said. “I was an avid Red Sox fan until about 1980 when I switched over to the A’s; it got hard being a Red Sox fan.”

Sigmon plans to teach how the politics and social constructs of each era molded the game of baseball’s policies. He said that the game shows America’s racial trends and how the shifts in the country’s demographics are mirrored in baseball.

“I think the class is just going to teach itself when you get to talking, ‘Well what about this and what about that?’” Sigmon said.

The momentum is there and students are excited.

“By offering a class on the history of baseball, San Francisco State introduces a new generation of students to the great work of Jules Tygiel, who taught at SF State for over 20 years,” Joe Stancer, a teacher’s assistant in the history department, said. “His book on Jackie Robinson helped legitimize sports history as an academic pursuit, and I almost wish that I was not graduating this semester so that I could take professor Sigmon’s class!”

Sigmon plans to go through a timeline where he examines and analyzes how the evolution of the game that started more than 100 years ago and how baseball was once considered a nonprofessional sport.

The class will be available for the Spring 2013 semester, and will fulfill an upper division requirement for an upper division history class for both history majors and minors.

“Many of the great themes in American history have woven through baseball,” Barbara Loomis, chair of the history department, said. “You get the big scenes of American history, but sugarcoated with the fun of baseball.”

Although Sigmon is worried about registration numbers and being able to provide a solid learning experience in the class, he sees the enthusiasm and feedback his students are giving him.

“I know that with Jules it was a popular class, so we’ll see,” Sigmon said. “You hit a few home runs and you strike out a few times, but it’ll be fun.”

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