February 25, 2017

“Pages From Baseball’s Past” Is a Real Treat For Fans of All Ages

December 1, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

pagesfrombaseballspastI’ve known Craig Wright for a few years now and have known of him since I read The Diamond Appraised when it came out almost 25 years ago, so I was thrilled to hear that he wrote a new book.  I’m also well aware of Wright’s work at his website “Pages From Baseball’s Past,” so it’s no surprise that he compiled his excellent stories for a book of the same name.  Pages From Baseball’s Past contains 52 short articles about some of the men and women who shaped baseball over the years.

Wright covers a wide range of topics from the 19th century—Buck Ewing and Cap Anson to name two—to the 20th—Babe Ruth’s mascot, an in-depth look at the creation and popularity of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” the Juan Marichal/Johnny Roseboro fight in 1965 and Cal Ripken’s complete game streak among them.  While I consider myself extremely knowledgeable about the game, I was pleasantly surprised to learn some things I didn’t already know.  And even those topics I do know were enjoyable in the retelling.

The book’s essays are short, well-researched and easily digestible, and are followed by what became my favorite feature—“Research Notes.”  Rather than cram everything into several pages, Wright expertly chopped topics into a few pages and then ended each essay with lists of interesting tidbits.

For example, he describes the Marichal-Roseboro fracas in which Giants pitcher Juan Marichal smacked Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro over the head with a bat, touching off a 14-minute brawl, and how Marichal’s subsequent suspension might have cost the Giants the pennant, and Marichal the ERA title.  Wright completes the story with a handful of facts that complement the previous pages— how Roseboro performed after the incident, Sandy Koufax’s reluctance to throw at batters and his record 323 innings in 1966 without hitting a batter, and a civil suit brought by Roseboro that resulted in a $7,500 settlement are among the facts included in the “Research Notes.”

Except in a few cases, the stories aren’t presented in any particular order and the book can be read in small doses or from cover to cover.  When I first opened it the article that immediately caught my eye was “Baseball’s Most Undeserved Batting Title,” about Cap Anson’s .407 batting average in 1879 and how he was credited with too many hits and too few at-bats.  Even though that chapter is in the second half of the book, starting there didn’t spoil anything for me.  I simply tracked back to the beginning and read from there.

There are some passages that are better read in order—pages 18 to 32 are broken up into five essays devoted to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” and later there are consecutive articles devoted to writer Frank O’Rourke and how some of his books eerily predicted the future—otherwise “Shoeless Joe” Jackson is next to Ripken, the Miracle Mets are next to Frank “Wildfire” Schulte, etc.

Whether you’re someone like me who’s been researching baseball for 40 years, a casual fan or someone who has a son or daughter who wants to learn more about the game, I can’t recommend Pages From Baseball’s Past enough.  It’s an entertaining and informative read that will keep you warm until pitchers and catchers report early next year.

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