Our National Treasures columns tell the “story behind the story“ of some of the great artifacts that you will see in our museum, and our Historian’s Corner columns are penned by some of the leading baseball historians and writers in the country.
I know, I know . . . you should always read the book first. Everyone knows that movies based on books often disappoint the readers who loved those same books. Right? Or at the very least the movies distort their book-based stories. But sometimes the movies cannot be avoided first.
Less than a year into his tenure as commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred gave a definitive answer to a question that had been evaded or ignored by every one of his predecessors: Would baseball finally consider reinstating Shoeless Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver, who were handed lifetime bans by Kenesaw Mountain Landis in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal?
My early baseball education came mainly from Topps’ baseball cards and Random House’s “Big League Library” series (Jim Brosnan’s Great Baseball Pitchers, George Vecsey’s Baseball’s Most Valuable Players, and a dozen others). The late 1960s and early 1970s was a great time for young baseball readers, and my school libraries had a fair sampling of books on such heroes as Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays. I read all I could find.
When I went to a Yankees-Tigers game in August 1962, it was exciting because it was the first Major League game I’d seen in person. My second game, on July 28, 1963, provided a different kind of excitement, along with a lesson in geopolitics. The Yankees were playing the Twins at Yankee Stadium and the opposing pitchers were two of the best in the American League: Whitey Ford of the Yankees and Camilo Pascual of the Twins. Both were in excellent form that year; Ford won 24 games while Pascual won 21 and led the league with 202 strikeouts.
Seasons Past is a cult book. Many voracious consumers of baseball literature don’t even know of it, and even among them, fewer have read it. Lawrence Ritter, though, had included it in his 50-Book Essential Baseball Library with good reason.
Mine was a roundabout discovery.
Dominic DiMaggio was a star distinctly separate from Joe. A lifetime Boston Red Sox for 11 seasons, Dom was a favorite in Beantown. To local fans, he was just as good a center fielder as Joe, and just as graceful, although he lived in the shadow of his older brother as well as his Sox teammate, Ted Williams.
The images are grainy and in black and white, like some distant dream. And to most Yankees fans, the stadium—the old stadium, the original building—barely exists except for what’s depicted in the history books.
Sure, everyone knows it was called “The House That Ruth Built,” but the memory banks are bare beyond that single factoid. Too bad, because the present-day stadium traces its roots directly to the structure that opened in 1923 and officially liberated the Yankees from the New York Giants.
When I reflexively chose the Chip Hilton baseball series written by Clair Bee as the book(s) that most influenced my love of baseball, I wasn’t sure why, I just knew viscerally it was right. As I tried to transport myself back in time, the reasons started to feel familiar. I now have nothing in common in a practical sense with the kid I was at nine years old, but I figured once a dreamer, always a dreamer. At least that might be a starting point, a mutual frame of reference. I needed to ask that nine-year-old pudgy kid what made Chip Hilton so memorable.
In the first quarter of the twentieth century, few photographers framed baseball’s early legends as cleanly and classically as the Cleveland-based pioneer Louis Van Oeyen.