RTO: The Field of Visibility

June 4, 2013 No Comments by AgonicaBoss

Y.S. Fing | E-MAIL | Roaming the Outfield Archive


Each week, author and poet Y.S. Fing looks at the state of baseball, the movements of the game, the ebb and flow and soul of America’s pastime in Roaming the Outfield. This week: “The Field of Visibility”

Because I am by nature a wanderer, and not a scholar — a squirrel, not a tree — I want to consider another great thinker, Michel Foucault. One of Foucault’s most famous writings is a chapter called ‘Panopticism’ in a book entitled “Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.” In it he identified a microcosmic example of all the discoveries of the Enlightenment:

“This enclosed, segmented space, observed at every point, in which the individuals are inserted in a fixed place, in which the slightest movements are supervised, in which all events are recorded, in which an uninterrupted work of writing links the center and periphery, in which power is exercised without division, according to a continuous hierarchical figure, in which each individual is constantly located, examined and distributed … all this constitutes a compact model of the disciplinary mechanism.”

This ‘field of visibility’, the pan-opticon, is the architecture of all modern disciplinary institutions of the state. It is applicable to schools, hospitals, armed forces, prisons, and, yes, baseball.

Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault.

There is an institutional aspect to baseball, the MLB, the American and National Leagues, the teams themselves with their hierarchy of Major and minor league squads, the agents, the money, the Business. But there is also the grass roots aspect of baseball: the players, the coaches, the fans, the Game. So the Business side provides the structure for the continuation of the Game, and the Game is played for the benefit of the Business.

“…this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it.” So people like George Steinbrenner, Marvin Miller and Scott Boras have outsized influence, but still the Game and the Business persist in their continuing power relations. And those power relations are enacted in the playing of the game. Those who play well, who achieve, and who look good doing it, are the winners. Winners are compensated very well, but pay isn’t equal for each player. All of them though are attempting to achieve an ideal, which is the maximization of their own potential in this field of endeavor.

Foucault suggests that the best of them is, “He who is subjected to the field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles [for our purposes, the Business and the Game]; he becomes the principle of his own subjection.” That is to say, that when one internalizes the requirements to play both the Game and the Business, one can achieve one’s ideal. And if a player doesn’t attain or sustain that discipline then that player will be marginalized eventually.

I see Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa in the middle of this fulcrum of power these days. He is being observed closely. From the top to the bottom of the hierarchical structure of the team, everyone wonders if Danny can become a decent, reliable professional hitter. Over this weekend on the West Coast, he has gone 1 for 23 with 11 strikeouts. He is the subject of the gaze of the pan-optic judges of the Business and the Game. And they are all putting pressure on him to internalize the discipline of a flat, level, left-handed swing. He has been benched for two games recently too. And he knows that his time is running out.

The struggles of Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa reveal the true nature of the Game.

The struggles of Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa reveal the true nature of the Game.

He can rely on his tremendous defensive skills to carry him a bit further in the Game. But in the Business, if his hitting doesn’t improve, the current situation will change. He’ll have to have the surgery on his shoulder that he’s been putting off, which will set him back for a whole season. And Danny knows quite well that his place will be taken by another professional ballplayer who will have his own set of skills which may render Danny’s superfluous. Then the relations of power are not so accommodating to the player, contract options not taken up, trades to Houston or Minnesota, low-interest on the free-agent market, etc. Players are left find ways to ride out their possibilities in the Business and the Game. Then they can become part of the media.

It is all of these institutions overlapping which constitute the pan-optic architecture, the power, and the continuance of baseball. It feels like an odd fit because, contrary to prisons and hospitals and schools, baseball is not actually disciplining anyone. But the way I read Foucault, any demonstration of individual power in the disciplinary society is a statement of freedom, of possibility, of moral uplift, of defiance, a call out to others that “It can be done!” Or, we can achieve our ideals.

Sadly, Danny Espinosa is just one man within a disciplinary institution. If he can’t be more productive, there are others who can help the Washington Nationals. All players are subject to the pan-optic architecture of baseball, and to the struggle for power between the Business and the Game. It was a shame to see Nomar Garciaparra traded from the Red Sox in mid-2004, but then the Red Sox won the World Series. The Fates of baseball are capricious. It’s the same human beings who compose the institution of baseball who would seek to regularize its ironies. Danny knows he’s in the field of visibility, and it may not last much longer. Such is life.


Y.S Fing loves baseball the way that his parents wish he loved Catholicism.

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