(The introduction to the newest
publishing effort of Harvey Frommer appears below - enjoy)
" I see great things in baseball; it's our game, the American
game." -- Walt Whitman
This book is a trip back to another America in another century. Yet
for me, it is bracketed by a different era: the time between 1975 when
I wrote my first book A Baseball Century: the First Hundred Years of
the National League and an evening in April 2005 at Yankee Stadium
when the Yankees battled the Red Sox in the initial series that year
between the age old rivals.
In 1975, my appreciation of the game of baseball deepened and expanded
from the wonderful and rare privilege I had of flying across the
United States with the Philadelphia Phillies and going from ballpark
to ballpark interviewing players and other baseball personnel. Those
full days and nights spread over much of the summer of that year made
me acutely aware of the hold of the game on America, of its roots, its
idiosyncrasies, its magic. The experience confirmed my sense that
writing about sports was something I really wanted to do.
The Yankee Stadium experience, on the other hand, gave me pause.
Baseball in 2005, especially in that huge ballpark in the Bronx and
involving the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, which I have written and spoken
about in depth, was many years away from baseball in 1975 and a more
than a century away from the "Old Time Baseball" that is the subject
of this book.
"Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave
our closed rooms...the game of ball is glorious." - Walt Whitman
The blaring rock music, the private boxes filled with people who too
often have scant knowledge of and even less feeling for the game, the
extravagant prices for food, souvenirs, programs reveal a sport that
has exploded into crass commercialism fueled by print and electronic
media providing more facts and factoids than anyone could reasonably
need or deserve.
In 2005, 390 major leaguers earned a million dollars or more for the
season. The average opening day salary was a record $2.6 million. The
payroll of the New York Yankees was a tad below $200 million, more
than the combined payrolls of the bottom five teams.
And the Boston Red Sox, second to the Yankees were, with a payroll of
$121.3 million, not too far behind. No one could have imagined what
the game would become in the middle of the first decade of the 21st
century back in the 19th century when it all began.
"Old time baseball," was a time of amateurs in pre-Civil War America,
of Abner Doubleday, Alexander Cartwright and the Knickerbocker Club,
the National Association of Base Ball Players, Harry Wright and the
Cincinnati Red Stockings -- the first real "professionals," the
National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, rivals like the
American Association, the Union Association, the Players League. . .
All that is in place now was seeded in that earlier game the box
score, earned run averages, free agency, the reserve clause, unions,
records, stats, organizations, spring training, post season play,
stars, big business, media's non blinking eye.
"The game of baseball has now become beyond question the leading
feature of the outdoor sports of the United States ... It is a game
which is peculiarly suited to the American temperament and
disposition; ... in short, the pastime suits the people, and the
people suit the pastime." -- Charles A. Peverelly, 1866.
It is fashionable, some might say mandatory to delve deeply into the
origins of baseball. The debunking of the Cooperstown myth
notwithstanding, there are those who go a step further and question
whether Alexander Cartwright did in fact set down the parameters of
the game as we know it today and in doing so become the Father of the
Game. Yet, even Cartwright's plaque at the National Baseball Hall of
Fame at Cooperstown refers to him as the "Father of Modern Baseball."
Baseball's origin detectives/archaeologists have come up with a range
of flashes over recent years: 1344, a group of monks and nuns in a
French manuscript are shown playing a game with a strong resemblance
to coed softball; 1791, the first known record in America of the term
baseball traced to Pittsfield, Mass; 1744, an English children's book
made what some construe to be a reference to the game; 1937, an
Italian demographer came upon blonde-haired Berber tribesmen in the
desert in Libya playing a game that resembled baseball . . .
It would seem, with apologies to Robert Frost, these theorists are
claiming the game was ours before we were the game's.
Still OLD TIME BASEBALL exerts a pull, a fascination. Figures from
that long ago time peer out of faded photographs, some with mustaches,
others with beards, others with the clean-shaven faces of innocents
playing ball in a less sophisticated time. They were the pioneers, the
By the end of the nineteenth century, baseball was a sport that
provided a step up, a glamorous career opportunity for youth coming
out of lower socioeconomic origins. Few of them ever attended college.
For the most part, their playing careers were short, and afterwards
they moved into blue-collar jobs.
Many of the players came from big cities, especially the booming
northeastern metropolitan areas. In 1897, for example, just 3 out of
168 National League players came from as far south as Virginia. Only 7
players came from the west, while more than a third of the athletes
were born in Pennsylvania or Massachusetts.
All of them were white (with a couple of short-lived exceptions), most
were of German or Irish backgrounds. Fun-loving, generous spenders,
the nineteenth-century baseball players were a lively assortment of
athletes who brought a verve, a daring, a love to the game that
enabled the sport to surmount obstacles and to prevail.
So come, let us celebrate "Old Time Baseball."