Ralph B. Sipper, 47, and Larry Moskowitz, 47, noted rare-book dealers in Santa Barbara, Calif., are trying to collect first editions of every book of baseball fiction ever published in English. And after five years of searching, they have amassed a library that ranges from Our Base Ball Club by Noel Brooks (Dutton, 1884), believed to be the first novel principally devoted to the game, to a recent soft-porn paperback called Making the Team.
Despite the 124 baseball volumes in their shop, which is called Joseph the Provider in honor of Sipper's grandfather, they are a long way from their goal. The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. owns slightly more than 300 fiction titles (many of them not first editions). Anton Grobani's Guide to Baseball Literature (Gale Research Co., 1975) lists thousands of such works, but Sipper has found that Grobani's bibliography overlooks a number of volumes.
One of Sipper's prizes is a first edition of You Know Me Al by Ring Lardner (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916), with a well-preserved dust jacket. "I don't remember where I found it," says Sipper, "and it probably didn't cost us more than $20. I've seen several Lardner collections, but I've never seen this book in a jacket before."
Though Sipper and Moskowitz were baseball fanatics as kids, their collection is more a reflection of their interest in books than in sports. "Baseball has always been the game I liked best," says Sipper, "although I won't say I'm a sports nut anymore. In my travels I would see turn-of-the-century books with a baseball motif embossed on the cover. And one day I bought a couple. I decided to limit the collection to novels and short stories, although I'd love to get a first edition of Casey at the Bat. But I can't find one.
"Larry and I want all our first editions to be in fine condition. We're not merely historians of baseball literature; we're rare-book dealers with standards to uphold. After, say, 1930, if a book was published in a dust jacket, as it almost certainly was, we'll pass up a jacketless copy, even if it's otherwise in mint condition.
"I would like to build a collection and see it placed somewhere, so that 100 years from now people can see the cumulative effect all those baseball games had on the imagination of the writers who watched them."
Joseph the Provider, 903 State St., Santa Barbara, Calif. 93101.