[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
Today, we are joined by Stephen Partridge, one of the editors of The Cambridge Companion To Baseball.
Have I mentioned recently that I love baseball? I fit the definition of “avid fan” (pg 35) in that I follow the sports statistics but have not gone the route of the fantasy league fan (described as “rabid”). I can watch a baseball game at any level of play from Little League up to the Major Leagues and enjoy the game as it is. I have multiple shelves on my bookcases with both fiction and non-fiction baseball books. I own and re-watch a number of baseball themed movies.
The Cambridge Companion to Baseball is a bit different from most of the baseball themed books I own. It is a mix of history and analysis built around essays by various authors. The essays cover everything from the rules to the worldwide baseball presence. There are essays on the Negro Leagues, Japanese and Mexican Americans, and the global presence of baseball in both Asia and Latin America. Baseball in and as Literature and Baseball at the movies.
While using History as a starting point for many of the essays, the history itself is usually just a starting point for some interesting analysis. For example, the second essay (co-authored by our guest) is titled “Baseball in Literature, Baseball as Literature.” One of the book series covered is the Baseball Joe Children’s series. To be honest, I have no re-collection of ever having read or even heard of these. Yet, I absolutely devoured the John R. Tunis which are also discussed. Part of the overall analysis includes a designation of the Tunis books as “darker juvenile fiction.” This rather surprised me a bit as I’m sure I had never thought of the Tunis books as particularly dark; they just told stories that seemed to be a reflection on struggling to make our way through life. (Of course, by the time I read these books, I was already aware of Lou Gehrig and Roy Campanella so that might have been how I missed the Baseball Joe books.)
At this point, let me make clear that the analysis offered within The Cambridge Companion to Baseball is not anywhere near the “lyrical bandbox of a park” or “the ivy covered walls of Wrigley” so common to baseball books. The essay on “Cheating in Baseball,” while touching on some of the “traditional” forms of baseball cheating, concentrates on the Performance Enhancing Drugs issue. For the unaware, by “traditional” forms of cheating, I mean things like stealing signs, corking bats, and scuffing/loading up the ball. While being against the rules, these forms of cheating have long been considered just a part of the game whereas the use and abuse of performance drugs has seemed to strike at the heart of the game.
As another example of the analysis, there is the final essay on “Baseball and Mass Media” which spares nothing in its look at how baseball has fallen from being the number one sport in the US with everyone pretty much everywhere following the World Series to being supplanted by professional football. If for no other reason than this final essay, I would recommend this book to all of major league baseball. By their short-sighted decisions in many areas, baseball management continues to give football the opening to continue their mastery of the media.
The book sprinkles “interchapter” stories throughout, offering specific examples reinforcing the essays. I almost thought I had caught an error with the interchapter on Pete Rose after the essay on Cheating in Baseball where there’s a mention of Mickey Mantle being blocked from lending his name to a casino years after his retirement as an example of how seriously baseball takes the “no associating with gamblers” prohibition. I didn’t remember that about The Mick but did remember that Willie Mays had been banned for some years for being a casino host. Well, it appears, we were both correct – Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were both banned (Mays in ’79 and Mantle in ’83) by then commissioner Bowie Kuhn for becoming casino hosts/greeters. Peter Ueberroth reinstated both in March of ’85, a move that purportedly did not make Mr Kuhn happy.
With that, please join me in the comments as we talk Baseball with Stephen Partridge. The new season is only three days old; everyone still has a chance to win it all, so time is wasting.