At home at fenway

Keeping on eye on Dustin, Papi, Youk & a few good books

The History of Base Ball in 211 pages

Posted by athomeatfenway on February 11, 2012

I picked up a crisp new copy of George Vecsey’s 2006 book, BASEBALL, at a bargain book sale.  An intoxicating black & white vintage Yankee Stadium photo beckoned from the dust jacket.

It is a pathetically short book of just 211 pages.  The Glen Stouts and John Thorns of the world crank out BB history books 2 or 3 times that length as fast as Kevin Youkilis changes wives, legal or otherwise.  I wasn’t expecting much.

I met Mr. Vecsey at a SABR function at a time when I had read the first 40 pages of BASEBALL.  Looking like a bearded monk or philosophy professor and in jacket & tie, Vecsey smiled warmly when he recognized which title I was asking him to sign.  “Oh, god !  This little book.  Great.”, he gushed.  He signed the title page, “To Karl, Thanks for caring about my history book.”

I did not start out liking the book.  By the time I was done I was connected to George Vescey’s personal family link to Our Game, and enlightened with a concise view of where Baseball now resides with Bud Selig and the owners.

BASEBALL is organized into 20 chapters.  Each tells a significant part of baseball’s narrative, from the origin of a bat and ball game by the nomadic Berbers of Libya to the four scandals that rocked the game between 1980 and 2010.

The writing is elegant and concise.  Vecsey covers ground quickly.  He reveals that Baseball evolved rather than being invented.  He tracks A.G. Spalding’s entrepreneurial rise. Doubleday is dismissed. The Deadball Era explodes with roughnecks and the occasional gentleman.  And then…The Black Sox.

Vecsey’s opens his chapter on the 1919 White Sox with 53 words straight from heaven.

“They are the lost boys of baseball, lashed together, eight of them, in a ship that can never return to harbor.  Even today, as the eight exiles from the 1919 Chicago White Sox bob outside the boundaries of the sport, they are a living reminder of what can go wrong when leadership fails.”

The author spends just 6 pages on the big fix.  Anyone who has read the Eliot Asinof book and seen the John Sayles film will recognize this summation of all the players and parts.  This is the Cliff Notes.  It is not satisfying, but is still pretty good, and wonderfully written.

The author moves onward, focusing on the Babe, Branch Rickey, the Negro Leagues, Radio broadcasters, WW II, Integration, Westward Expansion, Free Agency, the historical context of the Yankee ballclub, the International game, labor-management strife, four scandals (recreational drugs, Pete rose, Collusion, and P.E.D’s.), and finally, the reversal of an 86 year-old-curse, and others.

George Vecsey brings it home in the end with a story about how his kid brother Chris, a distinguished Professor at Colgate, plays Town Ball on July 4th  in Hamilton , N.Y..  The annual game is played for fun with loose rules and teams made of men, boys and girls.  On one occasion, a batter was chased far from the diamond into a wooded stream in order not to be soaked, i.e., hit with the ball and made out.  After a wet crossing, the batter stood on the far bank, taunting his pursuers, who finally gave up and walked back.  The play that day on Colgate’s rugby lawn was all in fun, just as it was all in fun for Vecsey 50 years ago when he and his brother played the game as boys on the back lawn of their childhood home.

Vecsey has covered the game for 50 years.  He has lived with the game for 70 years.  He has shown us where the game lives in his heart.

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