Just in time to fill those empty days between the end of the World Series and the start of spring training, here's a handsome reissue of one of the most delightful sports books ever published, The Glory of Their Times, by Lawrence S. Ritter (William Morrow, $15.95). No baseball fan's home should be without it, though I hate to suggest any limit to its appeal. If you missed the book its first time out, in 1966, you can now make up for a critical error of omission in your reading, and you'll receive a bonus besides: All of the original text and photography is here, and four new chapters have been added, bringing to 26 the number of ballplayers interviewed by Ritter. The additional material alone—interviews with George Gibson (1905-18), Babe Herman (1926-45), Specs Toporcer (1921-28) and Hank Greenberg (1933-47)—is worth the price of the book.
Glory, as Ritter describes it in his subtitle, is "the story of the early days of baseball told by the men who played it." Since the book's initial publication, it has become fashionable to observe that these eloquent evocations—tributes, all, to Ritter's interviewing skill—are far more than a compendium of baseball lore; that they constitute a rich lode of American social history.
Fair enough: Mine these pages for what you will, you won't be disappointed. But here, most of all, is a sense of what it was like to be a kid bursting with athletic talent and ambition and eager to play with the best, at a time when the U.S. was starting to feel its oats in the international league as well. At 16 Rube Marquard rode freights and hitched rides for five days and nights from Cleveland to Waterloo, Iowa for a chance to pitch with the pros; Smokey Joe Wood got his chance when the touring Bloomer Girls team came through Ness City, Kansas in 1906. (Not all the Bloomer Girls were girls; four were boys wearing wigs.) What happened next, to them and all the others—in the wonderful stories they have to tell—is one of the glories of sports literature.