By Janelle Yahne
“Put me in coach! I’m ready to play today!” – “Centerfield” by John Fogerty
Now that the playoffs are over in basketball and hockey, we can move onto baseball. I know, I know, baseball is not as hip as either of those sports but I like baseball mostly because of the leisurely pace of the game. Many of us grew up singing the chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the 7th inning stretch, though it is a longer song. The pace may not be as fast as more popular sports, but the plays are just as astounding. The reaction time needed to hit a 90 mph pitch coming at you is a bit ridiculous, but being able to hit the ball where you want? That takes talent and practice.
(Weird thing, I was a decent hitter in my little league softball career, but could not hit a stationary golf ball. That is a talent.)
As we approach the MLB All-Star game on July 10th, let me share a few books to get you up to speed. The history of the game is a reflection of the American cultural changes whether it is Jackie Robinson showing professional baseball’s need for integration to the end of the reserve clause in 1975 opening the door to the large salaries superstar baseball players earn. Though baseball does not dominate American sports the same way as basketball and football, it will hold a place in American history as a sport that is as American as apple pie. And we still ask, “Who’s on First?” all these years later.
Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns – One the best documentaries about baseball starting at the very beginning, includes the formation of the Negro Leagues, women’s professional baseball during World War II, and a bit about its present place in American society.
Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball, by Lawrence Hogan – Jackie Robinson may have been the first to successfully cross the color line, but African Americans had a rich tradition before Jackie.
Women in Baseball: The Forgotten History, by Gai Ingham Berlage – World War II briefly put a stop to the male dominance of baseball. Check out this interesting book about the fight to keep women’s professional baseball afloat and then watch A League of their Own to see the Hollywood version and learn the truth about crying in baseball.
The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, by Bill James – Bill James is an amazing author who breathes life into baseball statistics. This book is periodically updated, but the 2001 edition we have is an excellent introduction to the history of baseball and the statistics fans relish.