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A detailed look at one baseball season
on October 5, 2007
Cait Murphy observes that 1908 is an important season in the history of baseball in America. She closes the book with the statement (page 288): "In the sweep of baseball's history, 1908 is not the end of an era, nor the beginning of one. It is, however, the end of the beginning." She starts the work by answering why she explores 1908 (page xiii): "The best season in baseball history id 1908. Besides two agonizing pennant races, it features history's finest pitching duel, hurled in the white heat of an October stretch drive, and the most controversial game ever played." I'm not sure that I buy 1908 as the apogee of baseball; however, Murphy does make a nice case.
The book begins with some context, looking at the earlier years of the National League and American League just after the turn of the century. She also looks at the evolution of gloves and bats and the other artifacts of the game. There are glimpses of stadia of the time.
Also nicely done are the character sketches of some key figures from 1908--from Manager John McGraw of the Giants to John Evers and Frank ("Husk" or "The Peerless Leader") Chance of the Cubs to Honus Wagner and so on. The book takes a chronological look at the season thereafter, from opening day through the great replay of the tie game (when Fred Merkle didn't touch second base, leading to a tie score) to a brief afterword on the World Series (not much time spent on it, since it was a blowout, with the Cubs winning their last World Series over the Detroit Tigers).
Some interesting tidbits are scattered throughout: the seemingly large number of players who committed suicide (pages 66-67), the amazing variety of interests of Cubs' players on one train trip (if accurately portrayed by a reporter)--"Doc" Marshall reading a book on dentistry, Johnny Evers reading a biography of Savonarola, two players discussed how to raise alfalfa, Ed Reulbach reading a chemistry book, five playing poker, and so on.
There is the portrayal of some of the great moments of the season, for instance, Young Fred Merkle not touching second base after an apparent game-winning hit against the detested Cubs (pages 189-191).
There are also several "time-out" inserts that provide interesting side-bar discussions. One of these looks at Chicago and its bawdy politics of the early 1900s; another examines the howler that Abner Doubleday invented the game of baseball. An Epilogue briefly describes what happened to key players after the 1908 season, including Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown (there is a picture of his misshapen hand in the volume, suggesting how he might have created interesting movement on his pitches), Frank Chance, Hal Chase, Fred Merkle, "Cy" Young, and so on.
All in all, a nice detailed view of a fascinating season in baseball history.