The book: “A History of Baseball in 100 Objects: A Tour through the Bats, Balls, Uniforms, Awards, Documents and Other Artifacts that Tell the Story of the National Pastime.”
The author: Josh Leventhal
The vital statistics: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 496 pages, $29.95
Find it: At Amazon.com, at BarnesandNoble.com, at Powells.com
The pitch: The objective of this book of objects is based on history.
That is, the history of books like this that have done well for the readers.
The 736-page “History of the World in 100 Objects” back in 2011 by British Museum director Neal MacGregor was stunning in its dual simplicity, presenting the importance of the Rosetta Stone to David Hockney paintings in both visuals and the written word.
The Smithsonian’s” History of America in 101 Objects” in 2013 went 784 pages – apparently there’s more to what’s in the U.S. than in the world to cover.
A “History of New York in 101 Objects” that arrived in 2014 was much more readable and eclectic in 336 pages — starting with the introduction to the Fordham Gneiss, the oldest rock known in the area which the island of Manhattan has as a foundation.
The sports world, especially baseball, has plenty to choose from in a visceral display of its life story, and those selected by Leventhal, who has previously produced high-quality books such as “Take Me Out to the Ballpark, “The World Series: An Illustrated History of the Fall Classic” and “Baseball Yesterday & Today,” go a wide range for obvious reasons.
As he writes in the intro, this isn’t just sifting through the basement of Cooperstown and finding stuff that interests us – although that could be a whole other reality TV show for the MLB Network.
“This book is not the history … of objects. Rather it is an exploration of the game of baseball as told through the equipment, documents and other artifacts that illustrate its key eras and events.”
Take Item No. 72 in your program, under the “Expansion” collection: There’s Tommy John’s elbow, “circa 1974.”
No, not something on Dr. Frank Jobe’s cutting room floor, or even a photograph that explains why the surgery that the Dodgers’ lefthander endured has changed the game as far as medical breakthroughs. It’s just a photo of John throwing. Which is comfortably fine.
But when you pinpoint that as a seminal moment in the sport, then it somehow becomes an “object” up for closer examination, which is the purpose of this exercise. In the four-page explanation, there is much more detail, including a look at the modern-day thinking that this surgery has become an “epidemic.”
Since it takes a lot of imagination to decide what items to pull versus what may just seem plain obvious, we’ll give Leventhal the benefit of the doubt for coming up with not just John’s elbow, but also the lyric sheet of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” from 1908 (item No. 26), a hot dog vendor’s medal bucket (No. 27), “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s shoes (No. 36), Ray Chapman’s gravestone (No. 38), the Pittsburgh Crawford’s team bus photo (No. 45), the paperwork from Westinghouse to light Crosley Field in Cincinnati for the first time in 1935 (No. 46), Hank Greenberg’s war department ID card (No. 51, with a shout-out to a previous book review on “The Game Must Go On”), the Comiskey Park scoreboard pinwheel (No. 59), a piece of Astroturf (No. 64), a 1969 pitchers’ mound, which was 10-inches high, lowered from the 15-inch mound of that crazy 1968 season (No. 65), the 39-cent pen that Catfish Hunter used to sign a 1974 free-agent contract (No. 73), a “Reggie!” candy bar (No. 75), the Dodgers’ 1981 World Series trophy to signify the split season and “Fernandomania” (No. 76), the roof of the SkyDome (No. 81), and, sadly, a syringe from the “late 1990s” (No. 92).
There’s a Underwood Model No. 5 manual typewriter, circa 1910 (item No. 34), a KDKA Radio Microphone, circa 1921 (item No. 39) and an RCA television set from 1939 (item No. 48), representing the major media moments from sportswriters and broadcasters who described the game, to radio and TV taking its exposure to a whole new level. No iPhones or laptops included here, however, as we reach the chronicle progression toward triple digits.
Two ticket stubs from the Dodgers and Giants rivalry are equally important enough to include here – from Oct. 3, 1951, the Bobby Thomson “Shot Heard ‘Round The World” (item No. 54) and from April 15, 1958, when the Dodgers played the Giants at Seals Stadium in San Francisco, the first West Coast game (item No. 58).
For starters, to really get you thinking way back, there’s also a 1301 Ghistelles Calendar that shows the earliest known illustration of “people playing a game that clearly evokes the modern game of baseball.” The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore actually houses this piece of work produced in a Belgian monastery, even if they people portrayed are more likely playing a game known at the time as “stoolball.”
For those of us who could spend hours in a Hall of Fame or other museum trying to imagine what it was like to have these items tangible at the time they were produced, this self-guide to the game’s artifacts far exceeds our expectations for visual gratification as well as background context.
Would we have included some other things? Perhaps. But that’s also the entertainment value it provides.
There isn’t anything that signifies the first Hall of Fame class at Cooperstown in 1939 – which, without the Hall, a lot of this material might be lost for the ages.
There’s a piece of the Forbes Field wall from 1960 (which still exists in Pittsburgh) but nothing particular to Fenway Park (a green monster, perhaps?), Yankee Stadium (maybe a photo of Brendan Fraser standing on the roof in a Yankee uniform about to get lifted onto the mound by a helicopter?) or Wrigley Field (just a small snippet of ivy?)
Could we also maybe interest you in Vin Scully’s scorebook?
More to know:
== In January, a reprint edition of the Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player from 1860 by Henry Chadwick (item No. 10 in the book above) was made available on the CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform in San Bernardo and offered up for sale on Amazon.com. This enlarged paperback edition is a mere 26 pages but includes what would be the foundation of today’s modern rule book. The “Game of Base Ball,” as it states, starts with: “The ball must weigh not less than five and three-fourth, nor more than six ounces avoirdupois. … It must be composed if india-rubber and yarn, and covered with leather, and, in all match games, shall be furnished by the challenging club, and become property of the winning club as a trophy of victory.”
From the form “Rules for the Formation of A Club,” there is a constitution and bylaws that, when you reach Article IV, clearly state: “SEC 1. Any member who shall use profane language, either at a meeting of the club or during field exercise, shall be fined ____ cents.”