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, men 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.