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by John Wilson


After the Sweep

Some reading for the Hot Stove League.

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Congratulations to the Red Sox. A dynasty in the making? Only time will tell. But it was marvelous to see a very fine team working on all cylinders. And best wishes to the gallant but overmatched Rockies, who might just have another shot at the Series in the not–too–distant future.

Here as promised are some suggestions for baseball reading between now and Spring Training. Last week I mentioned Bill Felber's splendid A Game of Brawl: The Orioles, the Beaneaters, and the Battle for the 1897 Pennant. That would make a perfect beginning, to be followed by a doorstopper of a book, Norman Macht's Connie Mack and the Early Years of Baseball, another title from University of Nebraska Press.

Consider this: Although Macht's book runs to more than 700 pages, it concludes in 1914, when Mack was only 52 years old. He managed the Philadelphia Athletics from 1901 through 1950, and perhaps his greatest teams were from 1929 to 1931. (After that came a long and miserable two decades of futility.) The period that Macht does cover includes the formative years of modern baseball, in which Mack (christened Cornelius McGillicuddy) figured as a player (he was a gifted catcher), manager, and owner.

Macht has a dry wit that goes nicely with his encyclopedic thoroughness. I wish the selection of photos had been more ample, but this is book that will keep you company for a couple of weeks or more of bedside reading.

Do you remember Nicholson Baker's essays some years back about the destruction of old books in order to "preserve" them on microfilm? (These pieces were later collected in his book Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper.) Another side to this story was the ongoing issue of how libraries weed out books to make room for new acquisitions or for "new technology." Obviously libraries can't simply keep everything, but the decisions that are made in weeding out are often driven by flawed assumptions.

Years ago in Pasadena, my friend Bill Tunilla and I were shocked to discover that the main library had gotten rid of the classic series of team histories published by G. P. Putnam in the mid–20th century. When we inquired about this decision, we were at first simply brushed off with haughty contempt—what business did we have questioning the judgment of Trained Professionals? But we persisted, and finally got an answer: the books were deemed "out of date" and hence dispensable. Arrgh.

So I am particularly happy to report that Kent State University Press has reissued three of the volumes, each with a new foreword: The Cincinnati Reds, by Lee Allen; The Chicago White Sox, by Warren Brown; and The Cleveland Indians, by Franklin Lewis. The books in this series were popular histories. They were not written with the scrupulous—indeed, sometimes fanatical—attention to accuracy and detail that characterizes the current crop of baseball historians. But they are delightful nonetheless, not least for their period flavor. Bless Kent State for bringing out these three volumes—and may we see the whole series in due course.

You might try one or more of these during the off–season. Also: consider asking your library to order the volumes.

John Wilson is the editor of Books & Culture.

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