The Glory of Their Times
By Lawrence S. Ritter
High Bridge Audio, $29.95 for cassette volume ($39.95 for CD)
When Glory, subtitled The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It, was published in 1966, it was instantly and justifiably acclaimed as a classic of baseball literature, a brilliantly conceived oral history of the game's antiquity. Now, through the good offices of producers Henry Thomas and Neil McCabe (themselves baseball authors of repute), the oral history has turned aural.
When Lawrence Ritter, then a professor of finance at New York University (now emeritus), set off in the early 1960s to tape the recollections of ballplayers who starred in the early decades of the century, he envisioned not only a written but also a recorded version of his labors. In fact, Ritter did make a single-disc LP album that is now a collector's item. Alas, of the 100 hours of conversation Ritter had with the surprisingly glib old-timers, the technology of the time allowed only snippets to be heard above background clatter. Don't fault Ritter, who used a state-of-the-art Tandberg recorder that picked up sounds of all kinds. It is the current technology of noise reduction that allowed the producers to eliminate most of the jarring background clatter. Now, in this newly released audio book, more than five hours of these memorable interviews have been recaptured. For this, baseball fans and, for that matter, anyone with an interest in American history should be forever in the author's and the producers' debt.
On these tapes we hear a stentorian Smoky Joe Wood, then in his mid-70s, agonize over the sore arm that virtually terminated his amazing pitching career after a 34-5 season in 1912: "I used to love to throw; just rear back and let'er go." Here too is 84-year-old Sam Crawford deploring the bigotry of his teammate Ty Cobb and depicting the star's enormous ego. Cobb, he tells us, "wrote a book. Too much 'I' in there, I thought.... Cobb wanted to be the whole thing. All the time. All the time." Listen to Goose Goslin chuckling over the altitude achieved by even a routine Babe Ruth fly ball: "By the time it come down, you'd be dizzy lookin' for it."
Not all the ballplayers from the original book are included, but here is Chief Meyers reciting with theatrical gusto Casey at the Bat. And Fred Snodgrass, himself a 1912 World Series goat, sympathizing with teammate Fred Merkle for his "bonehead" play that cost the Giants the 1908 pennant: " Merkle was just a youngster."
There is a purity to these recollections, a pervading sense of joy expressed by men who, in contrast to today's plutocrats, proudly proclaim again and again, "I'd have played for nothing." These tapes are truly a found treasure.