Monday, August 27, 2018

Books: "America's Game" On Baseball In The Early-20th Century




America's Game: A History Of Major League Baseball Through World War II
By Bryan Soderholm-Difatte
Rowman & Littlefield; hardcover, $45.00; eBook $42.50

In a comprehensive survey of major league baseball, Bryan Soderholm-Difatte looks at the national pastime’s legendary figures, major innovations, and pivotal moments in the beginning of the twentieth century in America's Game: A History of Major League Baseball through World War II.


Soderholm-Difatte details pivotal moments—including the founding of the American League, the 1919 Black Sox scandal, and navigating the Great Depression and two World Wars—and concludes with a chapter examining the exclusion of black ballplayers from the major leagues.

Central personalities covered in this book include baseball executives Judge Landis and Branch Rickey, managers John McGraw and Joe McCarthy, and iconic players such as Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.

America’s Game isn’t simply about celebrating the exploits of great players and teams; it is just as much about the history of Major League Baseball as an institution and the evolution of the game itself.

With significant changes taking place in baseball in recent times, this book will remind baseball fans young and old of the rich history of the game.

Soderholm-Difatte wrote of the early American League, including the 1904 pennant race between New York and Boston, "It was a wild ride for the American League in the first decade of its history. The lack of a dominant team made for thrilling pennant races. After Boston finished 14-1/2 games ahead of second-place Philadelphia in 1903 and gave the infant league first bragging rights in a postseason World Series by defeating the NL champion Pittsburgh Pirates, every American League pennant race from 1904 to 1909 was decided by 3-1/2 games or less.

"Although it would be wrong to say this was the beginning of the New York-Boston rivalry that captivates us today, the new league's first great pennant race in 1904 was in fact between two East Coast cities. It was Boston's Americans, occasionally called the Pilgrims, as the future Red Sox were then nicknamed, against New York's presumptuous Highlanders, as the Yankees were then known. Shades of the compelling drama that unfolded exactly one century later in the American League Championship Series of 2004, the team from Boston stunned the team from New York to win the pennant in a most tortuous way. Boston repeating as AL champions ultimately turned on a wild pitch by Highlanders pitching ace Jack Chesbro that allowed the pennant-winning run to score in the ninth inning of the next-to-last game (it was a doubleheader) on the last day of the season.

"Led by player-manager Jimmy Collins, whose defection from the Beaneaters gave the new American League team in Boston instant credibility, the Americans had left the rest of the league in the dust the previous year, taking a 9-1/2-game lead into September. They scored the most runs and had the best pitching staff in baseball. Paced by Cy Young leading the league in wins for the third straight year with a 28-9 record, following 33-10 and 32-11 in '01 and '01, three Boston pitchers won 20 games. One was former Beaneaters pitcher Bill Dinneen, who bolted from the National League team in Boston the year before to win 21 games for the American League team in Boston and did so again in 1903. The third was Tom Hughes, whose 20-7 record gave him the second-best winning percentage in the league after Young. Outfielder Buck Freeman, who jumped from the Beaneaters along with Collins in 1901, was the power bat in the lineup, with 39 doubles, 20 triples, and a league-leading 13 home runs and 104 runs batted in. Shortstop Freddy Parent, however, was Boston's best position player based on wins above replacement.

"Trying to become the first American League team to follow up a pennant with a pennant in 1904, the Americans faced stiff resistance from the Highlanders - a franchise in only its second year of play made possible by AL founding father Ban Johnson's determination not only that his new league needed a franchise in the most important city of the country, but that the team needed to be good. In 1904, with Clark Griffith transplanted from Chicago to manage the Highlanders, they were. Willie Keeler had the last outstanding year of his storied career, batting .343 - second in the league. The Highlanders had their own star shortstop in the feisty Kid Elberfeld. The generously listed 5-foot-9 Jimmy Williams, the only player of consequence to come over from Baltimore when the Orioles franchise was abandoned by the American League in favor of New York, complemented by the Kid in the middle of the infield...

"New York and Boston dueled fiercely for the top spot in the final two months of the 1904 season in a heated race that had included Griffith's former team in Chicago until the White Sox faltered at the end of August and beginning of September. After August 11, when the Americans trailed the White Sox by 1-1/2 games and the Highlanders were 2-1/2 games behind, both teams played 62 games in the final 60 days of the season, including games that ended in ties because of darkness or weather. The Americans spent 20 days in first place, the Highlanders 21. Neither club was ever more than two games out the rest of the way - Boston twice and New York just once, after a doubleheader loss to Cleveland in late September. Most days began with the two clubs no more than a game ahead or a game behind in the standings."

It's rich, detailed stories like this that make America's Game a remarkable read.

These illuminating tales reminds us of the pivotal role that baseball has played in the history of this country and why the game should be cherished.

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