Past Time: Baseball as History
By Jules Tygiel
Oxford University Press, $25
In these nine chapters--the book doesn't go into extra
innings--Tygiel accomplishes what many baseball scholars have
promised but rarely delivered by situating the game in the
context of U.S. history: He shows how the game has adapted to
larger changes in the world around it.
As a professor of history at San Francisco State and the author
of Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy,
Tygiel brings impressive credentials to the task. He shows us,
for example, how wary the game has been of anything that smacked
of the new. First radio, then television scared the bejesus out
of team owners. The notion of racially integrating the game
induced paranoia. And most managers in recent times looked on
computerized data with suspicion. But the game was capable of
adjusting to change. At first baseball magnates responded to the
Great Depression by cutting salaries, but out of desperation
they also gave us night baseball. Player shortages during World
War II spurred Branch Rickey's historic signing of a black man.
In response to tectonic shifts in population and economic power
in the second half of the century, the game expanded not only
nationwide but also into Canada.
Tygiel may be at his best describing the tumultuous events of
the 1951 season, which was "played out against the backdrop of
Cold War and Korean War tensions." Bobby Thomson's homer that
won the National League pennant for the Giants was called, with
deference to Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Shot Heard Round the
World. Actually, writes Tygiel, this was not hyperbole, since
that playoff series with the Dodgers was the first to be
televised nationally and was heard by thousands of servicemen
overseas. It also coincided with President Truman's announcement
that the Soviet Union had detonated a second atomic bomb. In its
lead editorial the next day, The New York Times deplored this
frightening development; an editorial immediately below passed
on the news that "the Giants exploded a bomb, too." There are
times, obviously, when the world must adjust to baseball.
By Tim Kurkjian
Crown Publishers, Inc., $29.95
Here, too, is a different kind of baseball history, not in text
but in presentation. What we have, according to the publisher,
is a "three-dimensional interactive book." In other words, a
scrapbook. Inside, we find not only Kurkjian's concise prose but
also, thanks to the Hall of Fame, removable objects, such as
reproductions of newspaper clippings, scorecards and tickets,
and replicas of famous pieces of correspondence, including Curt
Flood's declaration to commissioner Bowie Kuhn that he no longer
considered himself "a piece of property to be bought and sold"
but a free agent.
This obviously is not a children's book. Too bad it looks so
much like one.