Despite its title, which evokes the Red Sox' 1920 sale of Babe Ruth that has doomed Boston to 77 (and counting) titleless years, the book is not bound by geography: It will appeal to anyone interested in the game's beginnings. New England's rich baseball past includes many seminal moments, and Soos, a physicist and part-time umpire, renders an engaging history full of little-known material. On July 1, 1859, for example, Amherst and Williams played the first intercollegiate baseball game. Soos tells us that Williams had agreed to play only if the schools also played a chess match; Amherst swept the ballyhooed doubleheader of "muscle and mind."
One of the most compelling aspects of the book is Soos's mining of newspapers for accounts of baseball's early days. The Hartford Courant covered an 1875 game between the Hartford Dark Blues and the Boston Red Stockings under the headline THE HARTFORDS SUSTAIN THEIR FIRST DEFEAT, THE BOSTONS BEING THE VICTORS BY A SCORE OF 10 TO 5—A HOTLY CONTESTED GAME, AND ONE RATHER UNSATISFACTORY TO HARTFORD PEOPLE.
It was particularly unsatisfactory to one Samuel L Clemens, who later posted this announcement in the Courant: "At the great base ball match on Tuesday, while I was engaged in hurrahing, a small boy walked off with an English-made brown silk umbrella belonging to me.... I will pay $5 for the return of that umbrella...do not want the boy (in an active state) but will pay two hundred dollars for his remains."
Soos tells of the first night game, played in 1880, one year after Thomas Edison built his first electric lamp; of women's involvement in baseball, including a heralded game at Smith College in '92; and of the pre-big league careers of Hall of Famers such as Napolean Lajoie, who played in the semipro New England League to supplement his income as a textile mill worker.
Even when Before the Curse enters the 20th century and chronicles the Ruth-led champion Red Sox of '18, Soos maintains his grass roots tone with descriptions of barnstorming legends. You don't have be from New England to enjoy this book. You just have to like baseball.