The Super Bowl is behind us. Pitchers and catchers are yet to report. In the meantime, grab a seat on the front porch rocking chair. Pour yourself a glass of lemonade from the pitcher sitting on top of the ice box. You might even want to open up the pie safe and cut yourself a slab of rhubarb pie. Spring training starts in a few weeks and it is time to read about baseball. Best of all, if you read Lawrence Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times; The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told By the Men Who Played It, you can read about the early days of baseball in the voices of the men who played it.
In the 1930s, historian Alan Lomax lugged a massive reel-to-reel tape recorder around the South and recorded conversations and the music of the early pioneers of the blues. Inspired by Lomax’s efforts and the death of Ty Cobb in 1961, NYU professor of economics Lawrence Ritter traveled 75,000 miles to meet with major league baseball’s early stars. Over several years in the early 1960s, Ritter visited dozens of players, recorded interviews with them, and transcribed his tapes into a living document that brings life to the men who played our “National Pastime” one hundred years ago. Even better, a later edition has been published which contained audio CDs of the interviews themselves.
Baseball at the turn of the 19th century was a different game. It was a rough game, played by rough men, who loved the game enough to play for near-starvation wages. During the the 1950s and 1960s, baseball dominated the national sports conversation in the US. Players made big money. Owners shifted teams to maximize profits. Baseball sprawled across the newly minted television landscape. The Glory of Their Times caught these men as they reflected back upon their version of the game. These men, born in the 19th century, who came to the Majors via the Sod Shanty and Three-I leagues, saw it all, and told Ritter their stories.
Do these names sound familiar?
- Wahoo Sam Crawford
- Rube Marquard
- Chief Meyers
- Smokey Joe Wood
- Ed Roush
- Fred Snodgrass
If you say you are a baseball fan, they should. These men are the Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob of baseball’s early days. Are you familiar with Snodgrass’s muff? You can hear Fred defend himself. Do you remember hearing of “Merkle’s Boner?” When you read of how a nineteen year old kid was tossed out there to the wolves, it becomes a tragic story. You may recall hearing that Ray Chapman, beaned by Carl Mays, remains the only Major Leaguer to have died during a game. Ritter offers up an interview from a man who was there.
These are just a handful of the men who brought baseball into the 20th century. Read The Glory of Their Times and you hear, in their own words and voices, how America’s Pastime was created. First published in 1966, and never a best-seller, Glory remains baseball’s greatest history book.
Are you a baseball fan? 3 Nods. Absolutely, positively do not miss.
Not a baseball fan? 1 Nod. Give it a go, the history alone is worth the trip.
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