Image of A Philosophical Game: An Interview with Saul Steinberg

The artist Saul Steinberg, who immigrated to the United States in 1942, was deeply preoccupied with identifying the essential threads of American life. For him, baseball was rich material. In 1954, he traveled with the Milwaukee Braves, taking them as subjects for his deft, sharp linework. The sketches from that trip are some of Steinberg’s most recognizable work, and were published in LIFE magazine in 1955.

In 1972, The Paris Review began an interview with Steinberg that was never published. The manuscript of some thirty-odd transcribed pages was catalogued by the Morgan Library archive staff and then left alone, until the Review recently rummaged through some folders and pulled it out.

Like Steinberg, this magazine has always had a soft spot for baseball. In 1958, our founding editor George Plimpton took to the pitcher’s mound to try out his fastball on the MLB’s All Stars, the first of his “participatory journalism” forays for Sports Illustrated. That experience would eventually become the book Out of My League. Though this transcript does not name an interviewer, we can guess with confidence that it’s Plimpton.

In his account of entering the field, Plimpton observed that it is “unbelievably vast, startlingly green after the dark of the tunnel. In the looming stands the stark symmetry of empty seats … after the reverberating confines of the corridors, the great arena seemed quiet and hollow, and you felt you’d have to talk very distinctly to be heard.” I can’t be certain that Saul Steinberg ever set foot on the field at Yankee Stadium from the players’ tunnel, but his drawings of stadia evoke the same effect: bright oases situated in the muted hodge-podge and discord of the city.       

Here Steinberg lays out for Plimpton (or whomever) what he has gleaned about nationhood through watching sports. Their conversation makes its way from whether American baseball is doomed to whether the eye grows weary of symmetry.

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