The pitch: Official MLB historian John Thorne may sell you on this by this one with his back-cover jacket blurb: “This is the best baseball book you will read this year.”
There is a lot to learn from these pages upon pages of statistics and yarns compiled by Simkus, a Chicago-area Society for American Baseball Research member who did a whole lot of research on the Negro Leagues.
We now have the Toledo Swamp Angels on our radar. And the Treat ’em Roughs of New York City. The Page Fences Giants. The New York Bloomer Girls. The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (an actual baseball team). The Zulu Cannibal Giants (complete with grass skirts), the Brooklyn Bushwickes, Great Lake Bluejackets and, of course, the House of David teams that may have been fun to look at, but as Simkus documents, weren’t all that successful on the field. Through this process we also know of the legend of Jackie Mitchell (the female who once struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig), Buck Lai, Jimmy Clinton, Eiji Sawamura, Ben Benson, Eddie Gerner and Luke Easter.
But we also now know way too much about whether Cool Papa Bell could have possibly run the bases in 12 seconds or not, and who else might have come close. Or whether Josh Gibson really did hit more than 800 home runs (compared to the 1,031 that Babe Ruth really did hit when you add in his other barnstorming appearances).
The charts are off the chart here.
Simkus also spends much of the back end of this campaigning for the creation of a Universal Baseball Database, all of which seems like a neat thing, but …
If this is the best baseball book I read this year, or even this month, I will have shortchanged myself. This reads like an intense SABR project, mixed in with Simkus’ glee for research, to the delight of maybe only a few. While we thought we’d be more amused and entertained, there’s got to be a market for this kind of heady reading. It’s just not really here.