"Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it" is one of those perfect axioms that begs the question, When is baseball gonna finally remember and get it right? Subtitled "The Fabled Life and Untimely Death of the Original Baltimore Orioles, the Team That Gave Birth to Modern Baseball," Solomon's splendidly energetic examination of one of the sport's most powerful and storied franchises stands as a fascinating--and cautionary--study of how a team, regardless of quality, can simply implode. And what a team the Orioles of the 1890s was: manager Ned Hanlon and stars Wee Willie Keeler, John McGraw, Hugh Jennings, Wilbert Robinson, Dan Brouthers, Iron Man McGinnity, and Joe Kelley all deserve their plaques in Cooperstown. As a unit, they created "scientific baseball," redefining the way the game was played and dominating the National League. Yet, by 1903, to Baltimore's horror and confusion, there were no more Orioles. A series of self-destructive choices successfully conspired to export their best players to Brooklyn and remove the franchise--now a member of the American League and playing in New York as the Highlanders--from the Major League standings for nearly half a century.
A fine reporter and writer, Solomon does a remarkable job of bringing the past into the present, exploring how little has changed in terms of baseball business and organizational stupidity through the years. With its marvelous cast of real--and fully realized--characters, Where They Ain't reads as much like a novel as it does like history, and though we know how it ends, it remains an important story worth telling, learning from, and certainly remembering. --Jeff Silverman
From Kirkus Reviews
The more things change, the more they remain the same in the world of baseballthats the lesson that emerges from this exemplary look at the game of a century ago. Baseball was a mess then, too: players' salaries were skyrocketing, cheating and hooliganism ran rampant, owners pondered schemes to ``protect'' the game (mainly from themselves). No team was safe; even the reigning world champion was dismantled, with the pieces going to the highest bidders. Solomon's crackerjack account chronicles the games coming of age, both for better and for worse, through the story of the National League's Baltimore Orioles of the 1890s1900s. The archetype for modern baseball, a team built on speed, fielding, and smarts, the Orioles were powered by a core of future Hall of Famers that included ``Wee Willie Keeler (whose hitting mantra isi evoked in the book's title) and hot-tempered John McGraw, later a great innovator in his own right. They executed revolutionary plays: the ``Baltimore chop'' (hitting a ball downward and running out the hop) and the hit-and-run, to this day a strategic mainstay that was devised by manager Ned Hanlon. Beloved by Baltimore, the Orioles stitched together a run of campaigns that earned them the mantle ``the greatest team ever'' from writers of the day. About the only thing that could sink this juggernaut was a greedy owner, who came in the guise of Harry von der Horst, a profligate brewing scion with a huge ego and legal bills to match. Like his counterparts, Harry loathed the idea of paying salaries commensurate with players' performance. Long story made short, he and the other owners tried several schemes to keep salaries in check and control the game, including syndicate ownership (simultaneous ownership of more than one team by a single ownership group). The result of this was the merging of Brooklyn's nine with the Orioles, with the southern team serving as a virtual farm club. The inevitable losers in all this, naturally, were the fans. Baltimore soon folded its National League tent. A club in the upstart American League took its place, only to move a few years later to New York, where they eventually became the Yankees. An outstanding blend of lore, social history, and canny insight, redolent with detail and the language of the day. Tonic, albeit a bitter one, for fans who think baseball today is at its nadir. (Radio satelite tour) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.