Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Baseball: An Illustrated History

Baseball: An Illustrated History Review

This volume contains a lot that is very good. Its structure is a bit forced (nine innings, or periods, of baseball history). The 9th inning, as others have noted, covers a large time frame compared with earlier "innings." I'm not sure that the decade is the best way of organizing baseball history, either. Still and all, that's more a matter of taste than anything else.

The book's authors candidly observe that they will focus on eastern teams, e.g., Boston Red Sox and Brooklyn Dodgers, "because we felt their stories especially rich in the human drama that accompanies the history of every team." However, I agree with a reviewer (who bears the name of one of Detroit's best first basemen ever) who laments that this really does slight the deep baseball history that covers much more territory than New York to Boston. Again, though, certainly not a fatal flaw by any stretch in this book.

This book is seen as complementary to the documentary series on PBS, designed to elaborate certain issues in ways not possible in the TV medium. Some of the special features in both the documentary and book are the recollections of Buck O'Neil; interviews with historians, writers, managers, and players. Finally, essays by a number of "guests" represent an interesting twist. Roger Angell has a wonderful Introduction, "Hard Lines," in which he juxtaposes the apparent ease of playing baseball with the harsh realities of players often fighting just to stay in the big leagues or losing the joy for the game (note the brief discussion on Carl Yastrzemski). He observes that: "Once we understand how really hard it is, we become citizens of baseball, admiring its laws and just paths, even when the luck of the day hasn't gone our way." Other guest commentators include George Will, Bill James, and Doris Kearns Goodwin.

But the book is about baseball, so the nine innings are themselves the heart of this book. The early years, up until 1900, feature a strange game to us today, with very different rules--as well as the origins of racial segregation in the game (the issue of race is one of the main themes of the book). The second inning discusses the game as "Something like a war," when players played and fought hard. And so on. No need to provide a full chronology. Some special segments: the role of Babe Ruth, in the Fourth Inning, helping baseball dig out from under the disaster of the Chicago Black Sox, who threw a World Series. The Sixth Inning features the end of segregation in baseball, with Jackie Robinson's big league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

A final quotation from Buck O'Neil illustrates how the game can be addictive--to players (and even to fans), when he says: "There is nothing in life like getting your body to do all the things it has to do on the baseball field."

All in all, an ambitious work, trying to capture the spirit of baseball, its sins, and its contributions. While I do have some questions about this volume, as already noted, it ends up not quite being a home run, but it surely is extra bases.

Baseball: An Illustrated History Overview

The acclaimed nationwide best seller and companion volume to Ken Burns’s grand-slam PBS documentary—updated and expanded to coincide with the broadcast of a new, two-part Tenth Inning that lokos back on the age of steroids, home-run records, the rise of Latino players, and so much more.

With a narrative by Geoffrey C. Ward, a preface to the new edition by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, a new chapter by Kevin Baker, and an introduction by Roger Angell

Essays by Thomas Boswell, Robert W. Creamer, Gerald Early, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Bill James, David Lamb, Daniel Okrent, John Thorn, George F. Will

And featuring an interview with Buck O’Neil

Available at Amazon Check Price Now!

*** Product Information and Prices Stored: Oct 12, 2010 23:04:05

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