History Professor Hits Homerun with MLB Research
January 12, 2011
Though the million-dollar paychecks, fame and extravagance that accompany the professional sports world seem to exist in a realm wholly unlike the one in which most “normal” people reside, Southern Utah University History Professor James Vlasich has used this over-the-top lifestyle as a cornerstone for his modern analysis of American society. And though the two may seem worlds apart, the parallels Vlasich discusses are gaining credibility and attention on a national scale.
Vlasich’s extensive research on the history of sports, including his book, A Legend for the Legendary, a history of the beginnings of baseball and the Baseball Hall of Fame, has taken Professor Vlasich in careful examination of baseball’s beginnings. Notably, Vlasich recently uncovered letters written to the Baseball Hall of Fame’s first director, Alexander Cleland, and with that, Vlasich rose to the top – a leading expert in America’s Pastime.
Though his findings didn’t throw the league any real curve balls, the letters were a dinger in clarifying the origins of professional baseball which, according to lore, began in 1839 in Cooperstown, NY.
Despite contradicting evidence brought by historians of the time, Major League Baseball officially recognized this history by opening the Hall of Fame there in 1939. Vlasich’s work finally put to rest the League’s buried discrepancies more than seven decades later.
A historian by trade and sports enthusiast by pastime, Vlasich viewed the opportunity to be the first to study new and important artifacts as “the holy grail of historical research.”
With a fairly unique expertise among academic historians, Vlasich has become a valuable cultural resource. In fact, Major League Baseball’s television network recently interviewed him for a documentary on the beginnings of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Vlasich was one of the top experts interviewed by the network for the documentary, which aired in July 2010.
And though he spent hours in an interview to discuss his most recent findings and general expertise, Vlasich expected only a few minutes of air time. When the show finally aired, he was amazed to find that he was heavily featured throughout the production – “the star of the show” as the show’s producer told him.
Vlasich, who teaches a course on the history of sports in America, says that for many in modern times, the study of sports is “almost like a history of religion course.” Indeed, his passion and conviction resemble that of a preacher as he lectures on how sports have morphed from simple games to one of the most important social institutions.
Despite the extraordinary drama, seven-digit salaries and larger than life personalities, Vlasich believes that in addition to acting as a reflection of our world and teaching important life lessons, now more than ever, sports serve as a significant force behind cultural change.
Though a fan of most sports, Vlasich grew up an LA Dodgers fan, and follows the game of baseball almost obsessively. His encyclopedic knowledge of the game and its history is astounding, even to the most sophisticated baseball fans. And the historical parallels he draws between all of American history and America’s game have drawn SUU’s young scholars eagerly into class discussions and course materials.
In addition to continuing his research into the history of baseball and other sports, Vlasich looks forward to many more years of teaching, research and World Series.