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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Book Review 1: The Glory of their Times

Whether it's the newspaper, Sports Illustrated, ESPN Magazine, or just baseball books, I am constantly reading something. A lot of people also know that I rarely listen to music when I am in the car. Instead, I either have on ESPN radio or MLB on XM radio. Between all the driving I do, I average about 2 hours in the car everyday. So, I take advantage of that time by advancing my knowledge of the game with the perspectives of others in sports, specifically baseball. If you are anything like me, you'll love the book I'm about to mention.

A few months ago I finished a book by Lawrence S. Ritter called, The Glory of their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It. It was originally published in 1966, but the book I have is a reprint from 2002. In the 26 chapters that encompass the book, you get a first person narrative from some of the greatest players to ever step onto the field. The ballplayers featured in this book were all honored players of their generations. What I love most about this book is the way it captures the pure essence of an entire era of baseball that I, nor my parents, where ever able to experience first hand. But, through each former players personal anecdotes, you can feel their sheer love for the game. You can actually feel the sacred entity of baseball; the ability to step on the field and play as a team, where individual statistics were ignored and managers ran the team without fear. Most the players featured in the book are deceased, but through Ritter's hard work to compile these stories, we have an opportunity to relive what baseball use to be like and hope for one day to have people like these men back as the majority in baseball.

Throughout the book, I underlined inspiring quotes, funny stories, and anything else I would ever want to share with someone else. My favorite chapter was Fred Snodgrass. As a player from 1908-1916, he chronicled his favorite parts of his baseball life when he played for the Giants under John McGraw. The very first excerpt of this story is this:

"I look back at my years in baseball with a tremendous amount of pleasure. Yes, I'd love to do it all over again, and that in spite of the fact that I had what might be called a rather stormy career in baseball. For over half a century I've had to live with the fact that I dropped a ball in a World Series... and for years and years, whenever I'd be introduced to somebody, they'd start to say something and then stop, you know, afraid of hurting my feelings. But nevertheless, those were wonderful years, and if I had the chance I'd gladly do it all over again, every bit of it," (pg 91)

The passion he has for the game is undeniable and I have an extremely high level of respect for him and the attitude he brought to the game. He made one of the greatest errors ever in baseball, but instead of dwelling on it he moves on- things happen, he says. Today, a lot players only want to talk about their success. They want to be praised for their protruding excellence. Snodgrass, like the other 25 men accounted for in this book, goes on to acknowledge everyone on his team who contributed to the Giant success that represented a better part of a decade while putting himself on the back burner. In the other stories of the book, each player does the same- they put everyone else ahead of themselves and they praise the efforts of the team.

Another thing that almost every player touches upon is the differences of baseball from their days in the game to now (but keep in mind when this was written, the 1960's not 2009). The difference even then was incredible; I couldn't even imagine what they would say about the game today.

"You see, it was a different game then compared to today. Now they're all trying to hit the ball over the fence. It's mostly brute strength. They're always trying to get a flock of runs at once. But in my day a home run was a rarity. You couldn't hit balls over the fence in most parks in those days, because the ball was too dead! So we were always playing for small scores, for one run or two," (pg 99).

There are some great stories in his excerpt, detailing fan interactions, player conversations on the bases, and playing under McGraw. He finishes the story with a paragraph that shows his love for the game. Despite making the most well known error in World Series play, he still would do it all over again.

"Well, life has been good to me since I left baseball. my lovely wife, Josephine, and I have enjoyed success and things have gone well, very well, through these many years. In contrast, my years in baseball has their ups and downs, their strife and their torment. But the years I look back at most fondly, and those I'd like most to live over, are the years when I was playing center field for the New York Giants," (pg 118).

I recommend this book to anyone to plays for love of the game and not the paycheck; to anyone who watches games with love and represents their team with pride; to anyone who has ever been humbled by the game... I promise you'll enjoy it. Back then there was a lot more respect in baseball than you see now. True, there are some players that still hold strong values like these men did, but nothing compares to that raw style of baseball played back then, when individual statistics took a back seat to the name on the front of the jersey.


1 comment:

Chris said...

I have a book store in the lobby of the building where I work. Needless to say, I've used that place as a personal library for the better part of the decade.

I'm always looking for interesting books. I haven't read a good baseball one for a while. Probably not since "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty" actually (and I only got a couple par. in until someone bought the final copy at the store, lol).

I'm definitely gonna check out this book. I like the excerpts you chose. I like reading about people who played way back when before it came with a big financial bonanza.