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Base Ball Pioneers and Base Ball Founders by Peter Morris et al, editors: a short review

Here are two impressive, and rather bulky, companion books, written by a couple dozen authors who’ve been researching the origins of the sport. Both concentrate on the years when base ball was developing from its New York roots into the National Pastime. Both books are excellent, and the overall project is a delight. These books begin around 1850 and end around 1870, though those dates were clearly treated as guidelines rather than boundaries. Base Ball Founders considers the development of the game in the northeast, while Base Ball Pioneers covers clubs in the rest of the country.

Generally speaking, both books are organized geographically. For each city or region considered, there’s an overview essay about development of the sport in the area, followed by notes about clubs that played in that vicinity. While there’s some slight variation in format, the typical club essay begins with an overview describing the club’s beginning, its ending, the social origins of its membership, the most important members, a number of specific games and/or seasons, and an assessment of the club’s importance in the sport’s development (or, in some cases, in local society). Most club essays are followed by biographical sketches of the club’s members. All have short bibliographical notes, and sometimes-interesting footnotes.

Each club essay is designed to be self-contained, which generates a certain amount of redundancy, but that turns out to be relatively painless. Although the books have a large number of authors, there are no jarring stylistic or organizational changes from essay to essay, which speaks well of the editors. The important differences between the club sections result from varying documentation–while some clubs are extensively documented, others left only light paper trails. (There are similar differences in the biographical essays, which is aggravated by the difficulty of researching the lives of folks with common names.) For those interested in such things, watching these researchers cope with varying resources is part of the enjoyment; these folks are quite aware of their sources, and discuss some of them at great length. And a surprise: The authors’ extensive use of quotation shows that “national pastime” became part of the sport’s lexicon much earlier than I’d expected.

These books are primarily about clubs who played early baseball–that is, the New York game. The Massachusetts game gets some coverage as many New England clubs began playing that version before accepting the national consensus, and other varieties of the sport get occasional mentions, but except in a couple club essays there’s little discussion of the reasons the New York game prevailed. This is a book about clubs and regions, and only incidentally about the sport’s roots and rivals.

All in all, two excellent books. Both should be in the library of anyone with a serious interest in the early history of the game baseball.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

Revision History:

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The Baseball Analyst Issue 8, edited by Jim Baker: a review

The eighth Baseball Analyst, dated October 1983, is quite strong. It featured six analytical pieces and a delightful “letter to the editor” by Dallas Adams commenting on Issue 7 (more favorably than I did, by the way). And this is the issue that Bill James launched Project Scoresheet, which eventually wrought a revolution in baseball analysis. All in all, it’s a difficult issue to fault.

The Baseball Analyst Issue 7: a review

The seventh Baseball Analyst, dated August, 1983, has to be called a disappointment. Not only was there no outstanding piece of research in this edition, what did appear can mostly be characterized as either uninteresting or as rehashes of issues already discussed in earlier editions. It happens that the seventh issue was the first edited by Jim Baker, but it’s certainly not his fault that the submissions were so weak. This issue, as do many, begins with a plea for more material. Young Jim was perhaps too polite to ask for better material.

Baseball Research Journal 1981 edited by Bob Davids: a review

The tenth Baseball Research Journal, published late in 1981, is perhaps a step down from the previous edition, largely because it doesn’t contain any classic research essays. What it does contain is mostly solid research, well presented, on a wide variety of topics.

Nature and Revelation by Jeanne Halgren Kilde: a review

All that to say that there’s room for another book about Macalester, with perhaps more emphasis on the changing structure of the curriculum, the faculty’s ever-evolving membership, and changes to student life (and the student body’s makeup) which occurred over time. Nonetheless, Kilde’s book is valuable as written, and quite a gratifying read.

Portrait and biographical album of Barry and Eaton counties, Mich. by Chapman Bros: a review

The Chapman Brothers mass produced similar books for many Midwestern counties by selling subscriptions and sending out questionnaires. If you paid the subscription fee and returned the survey your biography would be printed in a book, which would arrive for you to place on your bookshelf. Chapman’s staff members in Chicago turned the questionnaires into very formulaic biographies, which were gathered into the book in no evident order. The resulting bios are as reliable as their sources–which varies, of course–and as interesting as the information the sources provided. Any impression one might get of local history or local geography is incidental and unintentional. That does not much meet my interest.

Pretty Good for a Girl by Murphy Hicks Henry: a short review

Banjo player Murphy Henry looks at women in bluegrass, and discovers that there are, and always have been, more woman players than everyone thinks. She also reports that they’re not exactly accepted, as most have either been related to another member of the band or have belonged to all-woman ensembles. The author’s particularly concerned that few women have ever been supporting musicians (dare I say “sidemen”?) with major bluegrass bands. She mentions this matter regularly, and examines it fairly thoroughly in the chapters profiling Missy Raines, Alison Brown, and (especially) Kristin Scott Benson. She sees change, but less change than she’d like. But the book’s far more about the biographies of specific performers than about how things might be differently arranged.

Deckhand by Nelson “Mickey” Haydamacker and Alan D. Millar: a short review

This is a short (100+ pages) “as-told-to”, with Haydamacker the storyteller and Millar the transcriber/editor. Both did excellent jobs, and produced an interesting book about the day-to-day life of deckhands on Great Lakes freighters in the early 1960s.

The Burlington Fire

The recent fire at West Michigan’s ballyard set me to searching for coverage of the only comparable event in Midwest League history, the fire at Community Field in Burlington, Iowa, on June 8, 1971. The best treatment I could locate was in the Des Moines Register on June 10.

Weaver on Strategy by Earl Weaver & Terry Pluto: a very short review

An extremely readable book describing Earl Weaver’s approach to managing the Baltimore Orioles. To all appearances the intended audience was mainly fans. Best read in March, methinks.

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