A Ball Player’s Career by Adrian C Anson: a review

An oddly interesting book. Now, more than a century later, Pop Anson’s remembered mainly for his racism, and because he had approximately 3,000 hits (the total depends on what you count, actually, and in this case it’s fair to debate the margin). In his time, he was considered a formidable player, and an excellent captain (manager), albeit grouchy and rough-edged. Neither is a well-rounded image.

Firstly: Anson’s racism was real, and shows in this book. He often calls black folks coons, and says nasty things about many people of color. (To be fair, he also says unkind things about many white folks, though they’re usually less offensive.) One question to ask is how different this was from his typical contemporary. (I’m not in a position to answer that.) Another question to ask is whether that fact alone is enough reason to ignore everything else in his life. I’d say not.

Secondly: Fully half of the book is devoted to describing the 1888 Baseball World Tour promoted by A.G. Spalding. Some of this portion of the book is interesting, other parts are not, except as they illuminate the author’s character. It’s definitely an unexpected feature in what is basically a fairly conventional autobiography.

Thirdly: While Anson denigrates his education, this is the work of someone who’s reasonably cultured and literate. The book is not formulaic in any way, shape, or form; instead, it’s an account of Anson’s playing career, with some asides to cover his non-baseball life. (There’s also a short digression about the origins of baseball which isn’t much different from the current consensus). While I presume there was a ghost writer, it’s clearly Anson’s book and the opinions are clearly his. So are the unexpected bits of cultural knowledge.

Finally: The last few chapters, which are mostly about Anson’s later career and his deteriorating relationship with Spalding, can only be called strange. A late chapter is about the founding of the American League, which perhaps pays for the mostly-unexpected bitterness of the preceding chapters.

All in all, a surprisingly interesting read.

I bought this nook ebook from Barnes and Noble; it was published by Quality Classics. Internally, it’s clear that the book was originally a Project Gutenberg effort produced by another project, called Lawson’s Progress. It’s a scan, and was poorly proofed–far weaker than the typical Gutenberg offering. The quality’s roughly equivalent to the best Google scans; easily readable, but annoying.

This review was also published on LibraryThing.

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