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American History Book Reviews: Take Me Out to the Ball Game

By Allen Barra
6/6/2017 • American History Magazine

Pitching in a Pinch: Baseball From the Inside

By Christy Mathewson,  Penguin Classics

For starters, there’s Christy Mathewson’s 1912 classic Pitching in a Pinch. America’s first great professional sports hero dishes on “The Most Dangerous Batters I Have Met” (Honus “Hans” Wagner tops the list) and “Jinxes and What They Mean to a Ball-Player” (Hint: If you wear a particular necktie to a ballpark and win, wear that same necktie every time you’re scheduled to pitch). This new edition includes a 1977 afterword by the great sportswriter Red Smith, who reminds us of the esteem in which the New York Giant was held: “Contemporary literature gives us the impression that there was a quality of majesty about the man. Certainly he was regarded as a deity to his fans, who were by no means confined to New York.” Mathewson’s book is a treasure, one of the three or four best ever written by a major league player.

Inside the Baseball Hall of Fame

 Simon & Schuster

Among the offbeat gems preserved in the photographs of Inside the Baseball Hall of Fame are the caps worn by Nolan Ryan when pitching his seven no-hitters (four Angels, one Astros, two Rangers); Dizzy Dean’s Stetson hat; the “Wonder Boy” bat from the film The Natural; the Presidential Medal of Freedom presented to catcher Moe Berg for his work as a spy during World War II; the promissory note from Babe Ruth’s sale from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees; the Ted Williams GI Joe doll wearing an Air Force bomber jacket and holding a Louisville Slugger; and the suitcase used by Vivian Kellogg, who played first base for the professional women’s team the Fort Wayne Daisies from 1944 to 1950, and bearing stickers from every state in which the Daisies played—and Cuba.

The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America’s Game

 by Edward Achorn, PublicAffairs

Funny, quirky and way out of baseball’s vast left field, The Summer of Beer and Whiskey is set in 1883. That’s when an enterprising German-born brewer bought a baseball team for the sole purpose of selling more beer. The result was a match made in heaven.

Color Blind: The Forgotten Team That Broke Baseball’s Color Line

 by Tom Dunkel , Atlantic Monthly Press

Color Blind tells one of baseball’s great hidden stories, about an integrated semipro team in Bismarck, N.D., during the Great Depression. “These men,” writes Dunkel, “gravitated one by one to a baseball diamond scratched into the dark soil of the Great Plains some 1,500 miles from Brooklyn,” where Jackie Robinson would break the color barrier in the major leagues in 1947. They were “a crop of ball players the likes of which this country had never seen.” Now their story is unearthed for the wonder of us all.

The Victory Season: The End of World War II and the Birth of Baseball’s Golden Age

 by Robert Weintraub, Little, Brown

The Victory Season is a splendid account of 1946, when America’s World War II wounds began to heal. It leaps off the page like a newsreel. The new postwar stars, like Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio and Jackie Robinson, have never seemed more vivid.

 

Originally published in the August 2013 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here.

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