18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2003
For some reason, 1900/1901 seems to be a magical boundary for baseball history books. There are two possible reasons for this. First, 1900 or 1901 (depending on how you look at it) marked the beginning of the twentieth century, and, in the eyes of many, the "modern era" of baseball. Second, 1900 was the inagural season of the American League, the renamed incarnation of Ban Johnson's Western League. In 1901, the American League elevated itself to major-league status, initiating the two-league format that exists to this day.
While those are certainly convenient benchmarks, they arbitrarily overlook what came before as somehow "irrelevant" or not "modern". David Nemec's book proves that baseball is a story of gradual evolution, rather than an overnight coming of age. It can be argued that modern baseball began in 1871, the year that the first professional baseball (or Base Ball) league began play. The National Association of Base Ball Players officially recognized baseball as a business -- even if the Supreme Court still refuses to do so. Players were openly paid to play what many had argued was an amateur sport of gentlemen, clubs, exercise, and grand feasts. The NA had its share of problems -- gambling, contract-jumping, rowdiness, and organizational chaos. Teams came and went -- Philadelphia had three separate teams in 1875. One team, the Boston Red Stockings, was dominant in a field of teams with questionable talent. All a team needed to do was pay a $10 fee and they were in the association. Hence teams from Chicago and Boston were forced to play squads from Middletown (Connecticut), Fort Wayne (Indiana) and Keokuk (Iowa).
The National League of 1876 changed all of that. Unlike its predecessor, it centered around teams, not players. It instituted reforms such as the hated reserve clause and territorial rights and market threshholds. Gambling was not tolerated. Nor were Sunday games or beer at the park.
Baseball evolved over the following decades into the "modern" game that historians pick up from 1900. Batters were no longer out if their hits were caught after one bounce. Three strikes -- not four -- resulted in an out, while four balls -- instead of nine -- lead to a walk. Home plate became five-sided, and the pitcher's box was replaced by the familiar mound. This compensated for the move of the pitcher from 45 to 60 feet, 6 inches from the plate.
Nineteenth-century baseball also had its share of heros and characters. Cap Anson, who became the first player to amass 3,000 hits, was the primary figure behind the drawing of the racial color line to haunt the game for decades. Other greats included Dan Brouthers, Cal McVey, "King" Kelly, Wilbert Robinson, and so on.
Nemec's book captures the development of the game quite well through his season-by-season accounts from 1871 to 1900, showing the evolution of the rules of the game and the major events of each season. The book is liberally peppered with rare team and player photographs. Most importantly, the book is a virtual clearinghouse of statistics for nineteeth-century players.
Now for a few criticisms. While Nemec's style is chatty, with plenty of sidebars detailing unusual characters and trivia about nineteeth-century episodes, the text clearly reflects Nemec's passion for statistics. Some episodes revolve around debates over batting averages or pitching numbers that occured over a century after the fact. Nemec focuses on his personal disputes with accepted statistics, which is fine to a point, but he gets carried away with his "findings".
Also, while he spends a good deal of time on the changing nature of the rules of the game from year to year -- which is quite eye-opening -- he spends little time on some of the other, more subtle changes off the record books that were equally important. No mention is made of the development of modern equipment, such as masks or gloves, or how this affected the game or led to the changing of the rules. No discussions involved the way in which ballparks evolved, how baseball coverage changed, or how baseball became a truly modern business with expanding numbers and types of fans.
Having said all this, this is the most comprehensive and systematic treatment of nineteenth-century baseball yet compiled. If nothing else, this book's significance may lie in forging the path for other books to follow and expand upon its scope.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2000
A tremendous work on the games beginings. This book containsnumerous photos of 19th century baseball which brings the game alive.Every season is reviewed with complete statistics of team standings and players. There are many side articles on individual players, teams and accomplishments. The rules of play for each year are updated and there is a player and pitcher register for all who played.
A historical and statistical must! END
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 1999
The season stories and sidebars are all excellent. So are the photos. This isn't really a criticism, but I do wish the season stats for each player had been a bit fuller. I'd be glad to take a smaller type size if it meant getting in stats like batter strikeouts, sacrifice hits, etc. The same with the career stats. I like the way the author sorts the players according to the most prominent positions they played, but it would help not to have to look up stats like doubles and triples in other encyclopedias. This isn't really a big deal, just a suggestion if the author ever does a new edition of this wonderful book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 1997
This is one of the few books I felt compelled to buy in hardcover, even though it's priced like an encyclopedia. 19th century baseball is one of the Dark continents of Baseball history, and it has sorely needed a book like this one. The book is well organized and readable. It is organized year-by-year, with text explaining the noteowrthy happenings of that year, and complete rosters of every team in every major league. The statistics are a little brief, but that gap is filled by Total Baseball. Anyone interested in 19th century baseball should have this on their shelf
on February 2, 2015
The period before 1900 is perhaps the most neglected era in baseball history, yet that's the period during which the game evolved into its present form. With some variations, what you saw at the turn of the 20th Century is pretty much what you see today but what passed for MLB between 1876 and 1899 is largely unknown among modern baseball fans. This volume (it's a little too large to simply call a "book") goes a long way toward telling the story of how baseball evolved.
David Nemec is one of the most readable and entertaining historians of the game's prehistoric days, and this is a great blend of Nemec's text, vintage photos and copious stats. Yearly standings and leaders plus individual and team stats resemble the same presentation seen in the later editions of the MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedias from the late 60's through the mid 90's, solid but not as thorough as Total Baseball. The reason I give this edition four stars instead of five is because the section listing individual player stats is very brief, with cursory info on each player and a single line of career numbers, very similar to the Neft/Cohen Sport Encyclopedia: Baseball...there's just not a lot of "there" there.
What separates the 19th Century Baseball Encyclopedia is Nemec's writing, which (as mentioned) is much fun to read. Neither MacMillan nor Neft/Cohen include such a great narrative as this, and it's enhanced by several sidebar charts and stories that help fill things out. It's not like reading one of Bill James Historical Baseball Abstracts, which are far more opinionated and even preachy at times, but Nemec loads up story after story to weave an impression of what the game and the men who played it were like over 115 years ago.
While the advent of the internet (including the superb baseball-reference site) has led to the death of printed sports encyclopedias like this one, it's worth buying because it's the best volume of its kind in combining stories and stats. It's not small, with 852 pages, but anyone who wants to REALLY learn about the formative days of the game should start here, especially since there are so many used copies selling for a fraction of its original 50 dollar pricetag.
And Pete Browning belongs in Cooperstown.