It's 3015, and you're an archaeologist studying the ancient Midwest, and it is still true, 500 years after the Third Postal War, that the only people who send paper letters anymore are the cranks. You've gotten a couple of them a week ever since your article came out, written edge to edge in handwriting like Arial Black's bow-legged nephew, a few too many American flag stamps on each one.
They all say the same thing, basically: What kind of asshole do you have to be to believe Stan Musial didn't exist?
You grew up living and breathing archaeology and it is hard for you to remember a time when you didn't understand the scholarly consensus on Stan Musial, but your wife saw the eye-rolling response you planned to send and threatened to leak it to a talk radio station if you actually did. Now you stay quiet, but you open every one, and you read it from the beginning, the Dear Asshole, to the end, where they still have so much to say and seem only to have run out of paper.
Now that you're back in the field, at the dig, they come once a month, in thick bundles. (Tell Busch is deep inside the Flyover Lands, and the roads don't open very often, not even for the United States Postal Service of the Permanent Revolution.)
Here's what your wife says you should say: Stan Musial was not a real man, sure, but that does nothing to invalidate his teachings or the stories we tell about him, and how important all that is to people. As the mythical founder of the Cardinal Way he's had an undeniable impact on the way we take the extra base, and run out every groundball, and carry ourselves with an unselfconscious dignity.
And okay, sure, on a press release, maybe. But archaeologists owe it to each other to put up a united front about these things, whether it's to cranks or undergraduates. Here's how you put it in ARCH 101: Lots of cultures have mythical founders, and those mythical founders have a lot of things in common.
They live forever, their exploits stretching back into a period the real founders of the society only hazily remember.
They embody not just one but every cultural norm that separates their society from their neighbors. At work they behave with all the culture's fetishized dignities; at home they avoid every taboo and inhabit every generosity that binds the culture together. They are the walls that surround the culture and the soil it grows in.
They are—if not the biggest and the strongest—the best, the shrewdest, the fastest and the hardest-working, and they oversee a miraculous flourishing unlike anything actually discernable in the historical record.
They're overloaded with meaning, is the point, and if you are not a member of a culture it is trivial to distinguish between its actual historical figures—its prickly and severe Bob Gibsons and Alberts Pujols—and its mythological heroes. People who believe in the Cardinal Way—the hardliners, that is, there are good, modern apples in every bushel—know as well as anybody else that Baseball Bugs Bunny was not a real person. It's just their own heroes they can't stop believing in.
You're a good archaeologist and a good, reasonable man. But there's just nothing you're going to do to make them shut up about Stan Musial.