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January 10, 2008

The Glory of Their Times

I'll probably expound on this later, but for the past ten years I have avoided everything and anything about baseball. I would not see any movies, I would not read any books, I would not watch any TV shows about baseball. I would watch the Twins religiously, don't get me wrong, but anything with even the slightest hint of nostalgia about the grand game of baseball I avoided at all cost.

Unfortunately for me, it would make me depressed, even angry. You see, I never thought in my wildest dreams that a new Twins stadium would ever be built. My Scandinavian pessimistic ancestry convinced me that the Twins would either move or be contracted. For that reason, I could not bear to think about baseball beyond the Twins need for a new stadium. Any time I thought about baseball, invariably my mind would wander to that cheap bastard Carl Pohlad, the Humpty Dome, and the thought that at some point in the future the Twins would be no more. Man that made me angry.

I thought baseball was about to abandon me and I didn't like it one bit.

Now that the Twins are definitely getting a new stadium it is like a huge weight has been lifted from me. In the past couple of months I have consumed as much about baseball as I have time for. I have started to watch Ken Burns's documentary about baseball (avoided it like the plague for years), and I have watched The Natural and Field of Dreams with my kids. I recently watched Eight Men Out and I read Moneyball by Michael Lewis. For years watching and reading this stuff would have gotten me so worked up my wife would have kicked me out of the house, but now I am really enjoying myself.

One book I have recently picked up is The Glory of Their Times by Lawrence Ritter. The book is a series of interviews he conducted with players who played from about 1900 to the 1940s. I haven't gotten too far into it yet, but I am enjoying it immensely. It was obviously a different time and a different game back then, and yet the timeless nature of baseball becomes quite apparent as these old players describe the game they love. For example, take this interesting story told by Davy Jones who was most famous for playing with Ty Cobb and the World Series Detroit Tigers teams of 1907, 08, and 09. He beings:

It was during those years, I think about 1908, that I saw Germany Schaefer steal first base. Yes, first base. The say it can't be done, but I saw him do it. In fact, I was standing right on third base, with my eyes popping out, when he did it.

We were playing Cleveland and the score was tied in the late inning. I was on third base, Schaefer on first, and Crawford was at bat. Before the pitcher wound up, Schaefer flashed me the the sign for the double steal -- meaning he'd take off for second on the next pitch, and when the catcher threw the ball to second I'd take off for home. Well, the pitcher wound up and pitched, and sure enough Schaefer stole second. But I had to stay right where I was, on third, because Nig Clarke, the Cleveland catcher, just held on to the ball. He refused to throw to second, knowing I'd probably make it home if he did.

So now we had men on second and third. Well, on the next pitch Schaefer yelled, "Let's try it again!" And with a blood curdling shout he took off like a wild Indian back to first base, and dove in headfirst in a cloud of dust. He figured the catcher might throw to first -- since he evidently wouldn't throw to second -- and then I could come home same as before.

But nothing happend. Nothing at all. Everybody just stood there and watched Schaefer, with their mouths open, not knowing what the devil was going on. Me too. Even it the catcher had thrown to first, I was too stunned to move, I'll tell you that. But the catcher didn't throw. He just stared! In fact, George Stovall, the Cleveland first baseman, was playing way back and didn't even come in to cover the bag. He just watched this madman running the wrong way on the base path and didn't know what to do.

The umpires were just as confused as everybody else. However, it turned out that at that time there wasn't any rule against a guy going from second to first, if that's the way he wanted to play baseball, so they had to let it stand.

So there we were, back where it started, with Schaefer on first and me on third. And on the next pitch darned if he didn't let out another war whoop and take off again for second base. By this time the Cleveland catcher evidently had enough, because he finally threw to second to get Schaefer, and when he did I took off for home and both of us were safe.

This book is full of stories like this. It is a book of great memories and I just have a huge smile on my face the whole time I am reading it. Some people call it the greatest baseball book ever written. Since I haven't read too many I'll have to make that judgment at a later time, but for now I am loving it.

If you are interested, this book is probably sitting on a shelf at your local library. Just sitting there waiting to be read. It was written in 1966, so I don't think too many people are clamoring for it.

Anyway, that is my spiel for today. Have a good one!

Posted by snackeru at January 10, 2008 6:23 AM


That book is sitting on _my_ shelf and I haven't read it yet. I'm a loser!

Posted by: bjhess at January 10, 2008 9:30 AM

I read it about 20 years ago. From what I recall it is very interesting, but one really needs to have a reference alongside you to know exactly who these players were and who they played for. That's my recollection, anyway.

Posted by: SBG at January 10, 2008 11:01 AM

Other Baseball Books to read:

In the Cool of the Evening - Book about 1965 MN Twins

Boys of Summer - Kahn
Ball Four - Bouton
The Natural - Malamud
Baseball 1941 - Creamer(?)
Summer of 1949 - Halberstam
On to Nicollet! - Book about Nicollet Park, home of the Minneapolis Millers

Posted by: Freealonzo at January 10, 2008 11:37 AM

Don't forget "Slouching Toward Fargo!"

Posted by: bjhess at January 10, 2008 11:05 PM

To add to freealonzo's list, don't forget:

Weaver on Strategy - aka Gardy is a Moron
The Lords of the Realm - that will get you pessimistic in a hurry; the definitive history of the owners (through early '90s)
Veeck, As in Wreck - a counterpoint to the previous book
Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders - bad trades, bad hires, bad decisions in general

Posted by: Will Young at January 12, 2008 7:06 PM

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