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Past Time: Baseball as History Hardcover – April 20, 2000
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In Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy and the follow-up Jackie Robinson Reader, Jules Tygiel focused his historian's eye on what was arguably baseball's most stunning single event. Dissecting it from every angle, he followed its consequences through the weft of the national fabric in a pair of consummate, readable, and marvelously entertaining books that painted an arresting portrait of a remarkable man and his remarkable ordeal. In Past Time Tygiel widens his focus to turn his considerable narrative and interpretive skills loose on the broader tapestry of the game itself. The result is a superb collection of essays on American history filtered through the national pastime's lens. "If there is a unifying theme"--and there certainly is--"it is that while the game of baseball itself has changed minimally since its origins, the context and format in which Americans have absorbed and appreciated the game have dramatically shifted."
Drawing on his encyclopedic knowledge of the game, Tygiel uses the game as his doorway for entry into--and airing out--several rooms of the American past. Though the nine essays that make up Past Time reflect the game's nine innings and are presented chronologically, they are each entities unto themselves and can be read in any order. Rarely stepping onto the playing field, they avoid the mushiness and rhapsodizing that baseball tends to evoke. Instead, they take provocative looks at the often overlooked--like why statistics hold the game together, and why holding the game together was crucial to an America emerging from the Civil War--and fresh looks at old warhorses like baseball and the Depression era, baseball and civil rights, and baseball and America's post-World War II geographical shift. The final "inning" examines such recent obsessions as rotisserie leagues and fantasy camps, and the chapter on Bobby Thompson's famed home run and how the ways we would experience the game in the early years of the Cold War would change is thoroughly absorbing. But, then, so is the rest of Past Time. It has you wishing for extra "innings." --Jeff Silverman
From Publishers Weekly
"Baseball, with its long, rich, well-documented history remains a powerful vehicle for exploring the American past." In this goal Tygiel fails, but readers will likely stick around beyond the seventh-inning stretch nevertheless. In this collection of nine essays, he's gathered energetic and cogent discussions of the game. "The National Game" shows how the earlier version of baseball played in New York became the basis for the modern game, not because of "its inherent attributes" but because of the ability of its originators to incorporate emerging social attributes into the evolving game. "Adjusting to the New Order" fascinates with a portrait of Henry Chadwick, the inventor of the stat, a man who saw box scores as "a series of mini-morality plays." Perhaps the finest, "The Homes of the Braves" explores how the movement of teams in the 1950s and 1960s, starting with the Braves' move from Boston to Milwaukee in 1953, reflected America's changing demographics. In each essay, Tygiel demonstrates how baseball has reacted to the real world, but his tone often grows stiff, academic or curmudgeonly as he makes his points. When he turns back to the game, however--whether to illustrate the bitter feud between Branch Rickey and Larry McPhail or to relate the origins and madness of Rotisserie Baseball--his prose gets more casual and lively. In these moments, he's not a professor but a fan--and the shift itself is a reward, for it mirrors that moment when each of us reaches his or her seat and the world of work dissolves in the realization, "I'm at the game." 32 halftones.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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