Tuesday, April 21, 2009

1860s: Baseball

I wanted to linger a little more on the pivotal Civil War era before jumping into Reconstruction issues. And it was time for something lighter, because the country could not have been fully focused on the horrors of war and divisive moral issues all of the time, every day. There must have been fun, too. In fact, this was the time that baseball evolved into a standard game and the sport very quickly spread across the country, creating the first, true national pastime craze. One that has had quite the longevity. I knew a little about baseball's origins, that it was originally a city game and became professional fairly early on. And I figured advancements in transportation and communication had a role in its spread. So to learn more I read Peter Morris' "But Didn't We Have Fun?: An Informal History of Baseball's Pioneer Era, 1843-1870." Most of the book focuses on the peak of the game's popularity among amateurs in the 1860s and its transition to a professional sport by the end of the decade.

My review of the book: 2/5 stars.

Histories tend to fall into two categories based on the author's skill: great research with so so writing; great story telling but no special insights. This book is clearly the former. The topic was really compelling to me: I love baseball and I love history. And it had enough information to satisfy my curiosity and keep me reading. The quotes and stories from original sources he found gave a great color and sense of the game as it developed, spread across the country, became standardized, and transitioned into a professional game. You can understand how baseball was developing at the right place at the right time to become what it became.
The first half of the book is a little awkward, reading more like a college thesis than a trade book. The author spends a lot of time telling us what he is going to say and repeating his points than actually saying anything. But he seems to find a groove in the second half, which is where the real story takes off.

(Read April 2009)

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