This is one of the greatest books I've ever read and may well be the best non-fiction book I ever read. The book is actually a collection of reminiscences of old-time baseball players compiled by their interviewer, Lawrence Ritter. The original book was written in 1966 with additional chapters added for the revised 1984 version that I read. What comes across first and foremost in all the recollections is the joy and dedication of the long-retired players. At a time when labor strikes, hold-outs and escalating salaries are standard sports stories, this book takes Baseball nostalgia to a new level. It isn't just about the joy of the game, however. This book brings to light a lot of forgotten Baseball history. I fancied myself a bit of a Baseball historian but there were a number of major events in Baseball's early history that I had never heard of before. I think the most memorable was Fred Merkle's "bonehead" play that cost the Giants the pennant in 1907. That was a situation where he forgot to touch second base and thereby cost the Giants the winning run. It is told (and referred to often) with better embelishment than I just gave it but, then, that's the point of my praise; the whole book is a poetic look backwards at the game we sometimes take for granted these days. It's no accident that the best parts of the book are the earliest recollections. You can almost see the corrupting effects of popularity creep up on the game in the 1920's. The stories that these veterans tell and the details that they give make you feel like you've been there yourself. If you're a Baseball fan, you'll love this book. If you're not a Baseball fan, reading this book might just make you one.
This is a book that is near and dear to the hearts of most baseball fans, frequently cropping up on lists of the best baseball books of all time. Inspired by the example of Alan Lomax, who recorded old blues singers down South in the 1930's, and motivated by the recent death of Ty Cobb, Lawrence S. Ritter, an economist and New York University professor by trade, spent several years (1961-66) tracking down and interviewing old ballplayers, recording their memories of the game for posterity before they too passed away. The book presents these sessions as extended monologues, alternately amusing, proud, defensive, and wistful recollections of their own careers, of the times they played in, and of the characters they knew.
But now, as if the book weren't enough, the tape recordings of the actual interviews are available in audiobook form. Each is introduced by Ritter, who came to know many of the players quite well. And in his introduction, Ritter reveals that it was only years after the project that it occurred to him that one of the things driving him was the death of his own father. Recapturing the memories of the players his father had loved served as a final filial connection.
The interviews include those with : "Wahoo" Sam Crawford, "Rube" Marquard, "Chief" Meyers, Hans Lobert, "Smokey" Joe Wood, Davy Jones, Ed Roush, and Fred Snodgrass. The stories they tell range from Hans Lobert racing a horse around the bases while barnstorming through Oxnard, California, to Fred Snodgrass defending his infamous muff; to a first hand account of the beaning death of Ray Chapman at the hands of Carl Mays; and finally a wonderful recital of Casey at the Bat by Chief Meyers. At the end of many of the interviews Ritter asked the old timers if they had any regrets, and not a single man did : of how few professions would this be true ?
I can't recommend the book highly enough and even if you've read it several times, be sure to give the audio a listen. This is oral history at its very best and an invaluable resource for baseball fans. It does for all of us what Ritter only belatedly realized it was doing for him, it provides a vital connection to an earlier time, to the world of our fathers and grandfathers. It is truly wonderful.
GRADE : A+
on October 15, 2002
Being a die hard baseball fan, I am always on the look out for great baseball books. And after reading numerous lists of favorite baseball books by Amazon.com readers, it seemed that there was one unanimous choice, The Glory of Their Times, by Lawrence Ritter. And let me say, that I wasn't dissapointed in the least. The beauty of this book is that you feel like you yourself are sitting down with the different players interviewed and having them regale you with stories about playing baseball in the early 20th Century or earlier. The players interviewed are not all household names which adds so much to it. Most of us know the exploits of Cobb and Ruth. Not as many know the stories of Harry Hooper, Wahoo Sam Crawford, and Paul Waner to name just a few. This book is a pleasure to read through and all I can say is thank God that Mr. Ritter wrote this book when he did as all of the players interview here have since passed on I believe. Don't miss this book!
on August 24, 2006
The names Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner don't resonate as much as they used to. As the decades go by even the old-timers among us haven't been around long enough to remember them. They've pretty much become historical, iconic figures, like the stoic-looking George Washington on a dollar bill. It's a bit of a sad reminder of the inexorable march of time, but what a great relief to know that this treasure chest of a book is around to keep their memories alive.
The author got the idea for it in 1961 when he read that Ty Cobb had died. Realizing that many of Cobb's contemporaries would soon suffer the same fate, he set out to meet as many of them as he could and record--literally with a tape recorder--their stories for posterity. Twenty six of them are recounted here. Some of these guys are hall-of-famers, some of them not even close, but all of them--every single one--had a load of interesting tidbits to share. Baseball was a different game back then. America was a different place.
The first great thing about the book is that you get at least several takes on the great ballplayers. One of the fellows, for example, playing Detroit, talked about being a little nervous about Cobb, whom they had all heard would sharpen his spikes. A Detroit player, however, mentioned that Cobb never sharpened his spikes. Not that they didn't discourage the other team from thinking so.
Walter Johnson had an arm like a bullwhip, but he was a nice enough guy and a friend of Sam Crawford. Late in the game, if his team was ahead by enough runs, he'd toss a meatball in to Crawford and let him belt it. He never did that for Cobb, though, who he hated. Cobb could never figure out why Crawford was able to hit him.
Honus Wagner is recalled by many as the best of all of them, with great quickness, great hitting and great fielding. A couple of the fellows recall that you could usually count on bits of gravel to be flung at you along with the ball he had just scooped up. Tommy Leach described him as the best fielding third-baseman, shortstop, first-baseman and outfielder in the league--he played all of them--and since he won the batting title eight times between 1900 and 1911 you couldn't really argue that he wasn't the best hitter in the league, either.
For some odd reason, there aren't that many memorable gems about the great Babe Ruth, although there are at least a few. Harry Hooper (a guy I'd never heard of and a hall-of-famer) remembers Ruth in the first year he came up with Boston as a, "big, overgrown, green pea." "Nineteen years old, poorly educated, only lightly brushed by the social veneer we call civilization, he was gradually transformed into the idol of American youth and the symbol of baseball the world over . . . If somebody had predicted that back on the Boston Red Sox in 1914, he would have been thrown into the lunatic asylum."
Along with these detailed sketches, including a ton of characters I haven't even mentioned--Germany Schaeffer, Rube Waddell (who didn't like to wear underwear), Lefty O'Doul, Dazzy Vance--the book is also, naturally, loaded with baseball anecdotes. Some of the more famous plays of the time, for example, are recounted in different ways and with different perceptions.
Take the "Bonehead" Merkle play. For those of you who don't know, what happened was this. The Giants were tied with the Cubs for first place with one week to go in the season. In a game against each other, in the bottom of the ninth of a 1-1 game, the Giants had men on first and third with two outs. Merkle was on first. Birdwell hit a single to center, McCormack scored from third, and Merkle . . . ran to the clubhouse. Without touching second. The Cubs retrieved the ball from center field, Evers tagged second, and the run didn't count. Because of the crowd on the field the game had to be replayed on a later date. The Giants lost it, and lost the pennant. From then on and forever more, Fred Merkle became "Bonehead" Merkle.
But it's actually a little more complicated than that. For one thing, Merkle was only nineteen. It was the first game he'd ever started for the Giants. And running into the clubhouse when the game was over was something all the guys did--whether touching second was necessary or not--because of the crowd pouring onto the field after the ushers opened the gates at the end of the game. The players ran off to get away from them. And Evers never did tag second base with the ball that was hit out to center because someone had heaved it into the left field stands. Fred Snodgrass doesn't think he ever tagged second with any ball at all. The umpires weren't around to know this, though; they had already left the field! Funny how the mists of history tend to simplify things. The detail in this book brings these stories back to life. And there are a ton of them recounted.
Along with all of this baseball lore, you get a pretty good glimpse of America a hundred years ago, too. People were more humble, but in general confident, and much more direct. It's fascinating just to consider their nicknames: "Wee Willie" was the nickname for a short guy, "Specs" was the guy who wore glasses, "Chief," (at least two of them) were American Indians, and, "Dummy" was the guy who was deaf and dumb. Nobody meant anything by it; nobody apparently took offense. Stuff like these speaks volumes.
Here's Jimmy Austin: " . . . they didn't have clubhouses in most parks, especially not for the visiting team. We'd get into uniform at the hotel and ride out to the ball park in a bus drawn by four horses. They used to call it a tally-ho in those days. We'd sit on seats along the sides and ride, in uniform, to the ballpark and back.
"That ride was always a lot of fun. Kids running alongside as we went past, and rotten tomatoes once in a while. Always lots of excitement when the ball club rode by, you know."
Yep. Thanks in part to this book, we know all right.
on November 28, 2001
I had the pleasure of first listening to the Cds during a car ride summer of 2001. We were heading for the AAABA National Baseball Tournament in Johnstown, PA. and was amazed that these existed and I did not know of them. I got myself a set and then came across the 1984 New and expanded book. I had met several of the gentlemen at different times at Old Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC. I remember going home in the late 50's and telling my Dad I had met an old ballplayer at the stadium who said he was "Big Poison". My Dad laughed and said, "Old Paul Waner, he wasn't very big but he could sure play Baseball." I now know the full story of Paul Waner and wish I did then. You are able to hear and read stories of the greatest players of their generation and players that are still known today. If you have a budding ballplayer or a budding baseball fan, do them a favor and get them this book as soon as possible. In a review on the back cover of my edition, Ted Williams summed it up for me as well when he said, "Warm, happy, exciting - what a great feeling I got as I read it. The day I finished it I started reading it all over again."
I have heard so many stories about Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, I can't tell fact from fiction. Lawrence Ritter and undertaken an extremely long journey to bring you a true record of the early days of baseball.
Packed with stories from legends Goose Goslin, Harry Hooper, Joe Wood, Hank Greenberg, Sam Crawford and others the spirit of baseball past comes to life. Ritter's ability to bring baseball alive is nothing short of spectacular.
Probably the best baseball book I have ever read, The Glory of Their Times, is more than a amazing collection of stories. You'll read about how baseball has transformed from a love of the game to love of money.
Each story has so much packed into it that I found myself re-reading each chapter just to make sure I got everything. I am so very proud that I have had the opportunity to read and review this extraordinary work on baseball. Thank you so very much Lawrence Ritter!
on December 13, 1999
After plowing through more than two dozen reviews that say this is the best baseball book ever written, you might be inclined to dismiss those sentiments as the worst example of hype. Don't. You will be the loser for it.
This book is superb for its baseball stories, but it is more than that. The men in its pages talk about what it was like to be young and alive in America at the turn of the century. You don't even have to LIKE baseball to enjoy this book, but it certainly helps.
Jacques Barzun has said that someone who wants to understand America must learn baseball. In the movie "Field of Dreams," James Earl Jones says, the one constant in America has been baseball. To understand what they're talking about, you must buy and read this book. And you'll enjoy yourself while doing so.
on December 2, 1998
Words alone cannot describe what I have read. Smoky Joe Wood, Rube Marquard, Wahoo Sam Crawford, and many others. We are talking legends of a game gone by. True hero's when a baseball world needed hero's. Many thanks to Lawrence Ritter for capturing moments in time with these baseball legends. I'm sure that they all had a million stories to tell, but I'll settle for just the few that are represented in this book. In today's baseball world of outright sheer greed and selfishness, it was so refreshing to hear stories about baseball's yesterday when times were simpler and the game was just a game. How I miss those days. How I miss those players. Thank you to them for allowing a little boy to dream the dream. Thank you for a memorable look at a simpler time, Lawrence.
on August 23, 1998
It doesn't get much better than this. And I've read most of the top books in this field. If you have an interest in Baseball -- and want to read about the sport when it was really a "game" try this book. The book is truly told by the men who played the game in the early 1900's -- as transcribed in oral history fashion -- one chapter devoted to each player. Ritter brings to life players that most of us have always read about (Ruth, Cobb and Walter Johnson) and many more greats from that era -- Harry Hooper, Paul Waner, Rube Marquard, and Goose Goslin. (And yes, the author is my Uncle, but the book is STILL a great one!)
on December 31, 1999
I've read this book six times now. Listened to the CD version at least a dozen times. Each time it draws me in, closer and closer to the game that I still love. Although the names and faces of the game have since changed, I cannot help but credit Lawrence Ritter for always rekindling my love for baseball. I smile always and have a warm feeling in my heart when I experience this masterpiece over and over again.
To Lawrence Ritter: Thank you so very much for allowing this little boy to continue to dream his dream.