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Great American Baseball Stories Review

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  • Great American Baseball Stories Review

    My knowledge of the game, for the most part, is pretty good, but only from about 1950 to the present. Prior to 1950, I am familiar with names, World Series winners and some information about major stars, but I knew little of the context of the game: the values, language and attitudes of the people who were the forerunners. Jeff Silverman’s Great American Baseball Stories presents selections from Henry Chadwick’s “The Model Base Ball Player”, originally written in 1867 to Gerald Beaumont’s “The Crab”, written in 1921. These folks may look and sound different, but I believe the reader will find their personalities and experiences as interesting and relevant today as they were then. And there are times you will simply be amazed. The selections include non-fiction, fiction and even poetry: the familiar “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer and the less known follow-up: “Casey’s Revenge” by the immortal sportswriter Grantland Rice.

    There are some very illuminating non-fiction selections including an 1894 account, near surreal in its telling, of baseball as played in Alaska’s Arctic Circle. Sol White’s 1907 “Color Line” reveals the struggles to break baseball’s color line in the early days of the game. This selection is particularly valuable not only because it names some of the early heroes and villains in this struggle, but also reveals the full tragedy of those who tried and failed at an effort that, had it been successful, would have changed the succeeding game (and America) for the better, a lost opportunity that did not re-present itself for another forty years. Ralph D. Blanpied’s account of the 26 inning tie game played between the Brooklyn Robins and the Boston Braves (each of whom used only one pitcher for the entire game), “The Longest Game” is interesting because it is a matter-of-fact, low key presentation of an event that was remarkable in its own time, but the author makes no attempt to light up the sky with purple prose: let the event speak for itself. Today if a pitcher goes nine innings, we are probably talking instant Hall of Fame candidate. And he will be talked about. For days. By many. With StatBlast data (powered by Epsom Salts) to your heart’s delight.

    The book’s fiction selections include stories by P. G. Wodehouse, Zane Grey and Ring Lardner’s masterpiece “My Roomy”. These are rich in humor, but also reveal the language, both realistic and invented, that displays a range imagination lost to most of today’s writers, commentators, players, etc. who for the most part, employ an “arsenal” of two dozen clichés to batter a reader or listener into a fugue state. Try to get through a day without hearing or reading the word “iconic”. I dare you.

    Perhaps most interesting are the firsthand accounts of events that do as much to reveal character and attitudes as they do to enlighten events. An account of the 1919 Black Sox World Series, by famed Chicago sportswriter Hugh S. Fullerton (featured as a character in the movie Eight Men Out) not only provides an insightful firsthand account, but also reveals a perspective seemingly lost to time: that the Cincinnati Reds played well enough and gritty enough to earn their victory, despite possessing far lesser talent than the White Sox. Side Note: Ring Lardner wrote a satirical piece on this World Series by remaking a popular song, “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” into “I’m Forever Blowing Ball Games” (not in this volume, but readily available in collections of Lardner’s work, or on the net).

    Grover Cleveland Alexander’s account of “How I Lost the 1915 World Series” (touching in an odd way) and Christy Mathewson’s ghostwritten “Jinxes and What They Mean to a Ballplayer” (entertaining superstition behaviors) are intriguing in that they show a side to superstars that we would be unlikely to see today: the unscripted human side. In this book, you will not find interchangeable personalities.

    Henry Chadwick’s “The Ideal Base Ball Player” is an idealized portrait (I’m sure it was regarded as such even then), but what makes this short piece interesting is the range of human attributes and player skills that define a complete ballplayer. I don’t think anyone actually interested in people (vs. “pieces”) could write anything more accurate or meaningful today. And perhaps that is what makes this book (and the baseball portrayed in those all but forgotten times) so valuable: we owe it to ourselves to remember both our heritage (beyond marketable MLB selections) and view today’s game through a perspective not solely defined by today’s endless drivel talk of money and stats. This book is about people and you will meet people (warts and all) in Jeff Silverman’s Great American Baseball Stories.

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