"But in all eight of its markets, the Association was transforming the public's perception of baseball itself, turning it from a fading game stained by corruption into a lively, affordable, fun-filled form of entertainment, the perfect two-hour escape from lives circumscribed by hard toil." - p. 116
In 1879 the game of baseball was virtually dead and buried in the city of St. Louis. A series of scandals had rocked the game in the mid 1870's and the fans were staying away in droves. The National League St. Louis Brown Stockings folded after the 1878 season to be replaced in 1879 by a semi-pro team by the same name. No one seemed to care. If baseball was going to experience a renaissance in the Gateway City it was going to require a determined owner with an innovative new approach. Enter one Chris Von Der Ahe, a German immigrant grocer and saloon owner who knew virtually nothing about the game. But while Von Der Ahe knew precious little about baseball he was a very astute businessman. He had become convinced that there was a great deal of money to be made from baseball and he set about to make his fortune. His unforgettable story is woven into the pages of Edward Achorn's marvelous new book "The Summer of Beer and Whisley: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America's Game." When the American Association was founded in 1882 as a new major league, the owners adopted many of Von Der Ahe's ideas including Sunday baseball, affordable ticket prices and hawking beer at the games. The new league would become a smashing success in relatively short order.
Now if you are one of those people who have read precious little about the early history of professional baseball then "The Summer of Beer and Whiskey" should prove to be a real eye-opener for you. Just imagine playing the game without any gloves. Consider what it was like for the catcher! Instead of 4 or 5 man pitching rotations most clubs relied on just two starting pitchers and the pitcher was expected to complete just about every game he started. And there was just one umpire! Ed Achorn cites a number of examples where unscrupulous players would take advantage of this unfortunate set of circumstances and cheat. The book largely focuses on the 1883 American Association season and an exciting pennant race that goes right down to the wire. You will be introduced to some of the most talented and popular players of the day and be treated to a number of memorable stories from both on and off the field. Make no mistake about it. The rough and tumble men who played the game in the early 1880's were certainly not choirboys. You will also be treated to a description of the very first "hidden ball" trick, learn the origin of the term "fan" and discover how the venerable "Louisville Slugger" came to be. Interesting stuff! As an aside I was also surprised to learn just how popular black baseball was becoming at that time. Blacks had a real passion for the game and teams like the Cincinnati Brown Stockings, Louisville Mutuals and the Geneva Clippers were drawing very respectable crowds sometimes rivaling those of the major leagues. Ed Achorn also tells the story of a very talented catcher by the name of Fleet Walker who is credited with being the first African-American to play major league baseball. I had never even heard of him!
Back in 2011 I snatched a copy of Edward Achorn's first book on old-tyme baseball called "Fifty Nine in '84" off the Amazon Vine. It turned out to be the best baseball book I had ever read. A few weeks ago I discovered that Mr. Achorn had written a second book on the subject. I was all too happy to plunk down some of my hard earned dough to purchase a copy. I couldn't wait to receive the book and I read it in just a few sittings. I was not disappointed. "The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America's Game" grabbed my attention at the outset and simply never let go. This is an exceptionally well-written and meticulously documented book that is equally suitable for baseball fans, history buffs and general audiences. An important addition to the literature of our national pastime. Very highly recommended!
on May 20, 2013
Edward Achorn is a first-rate historian. His books are well researched and well written. Baseball history is merely the topic he chooses to write about, and that's a blessing to those of us who love to read about baseball in the 19th Century.
THE SUMMER OF BEER AND WHISKEY is an outstanding history of the American Association in the summer of 1883. The American Association was a rival major league (rival to the National League). The Association was in its second season in 1883 (the National League was in its eighth). Achorn argues that baseball was dying out in the late 1870s and early 1880s because so many gamblers were involved that it was seen as corrupt. Also, the National League catered to the well off, charging 50 cents and forbidding the sale of alcohol at games and the playing of games on Sundays.
The American Association would change all that. They would charge only 25 cents for tickets, and would play games on Sundays, allowing the less fortunate to enjoy a game on their only day off. The league also allowed the sale of beer and whiskey at games. Thus, the American Association became known as "The Beer and Whiskey League." Achorn argues that they saved baseball. People became mad for baseball that summer. It didn't hurt that the American Association had a red-hot pennant race that went down to the wire.
Achorn brings to life some wonderful characters--players, managers, and owners of the time. It is a cast worthy of Dickens, but these are real people. Perhaps the most memorable is Chris Von Der Ahe, a German immigrant who was instrumental in founding the league. He knew next to nothing about baseball, but he had money to spend, and he saw owning a ball club as a way to sell the beer his brewery made. His St. Louis Browns became the most successful team in the American Association's ten-year run. When the Association folded, four of its teams were absorbed into the National League, Von Der Ahe's Browns being one of them. They later changed their name to Cardinals. Achorn argues that Von Der Ahe belongs in the Hall of Fame. But the Hall seems to have ignored the American Association. One of its biggest stars, Harry Stovey, led the Association in home runs four times. He also led the NL in home runs twice. When he retired, Stovey had hit more home runs and stolen more bases than anyone alive. Why is he not in the Hall of Fame?
Achorn's book is a masterful history. His description of the pennant race is enthralling. As Abe Lincoln once said, "People who like this sort of thing will find this just the sort of thing they like.
on April 27, 2013
I first read about Chris Von der Ahe, Arlie Latham, and the St. Louis Browns (today's Cardinals) in a small paperback entitled "Comedians and Pranksters of Baseball" published by The Sporting News about 50 years ago. Thankfully author Edward Achorn has brought the period of early baseball back to life with this new gem on the 1883 pennant race between the Browns and the Philadelphia Athletics, both members of the American Association.
Baseball was on a somewhat downward swing particularly in the mid-west when Browns' owner Chris Von der Ahe put together an attractive team primarily to sell his beer to the fans. Ballplayers during this era were night owls and hard drinkers which made it very difficult for a manager to control his charges.
Author Achorn brings long-forgotten players such as the previously mentioned Latham, Charles Comiskey, Cap Anson, Daniel "Jumping Jack" Jones, Harry Stovey, Ed "The Only" Nolan, Moses Fleetwood Walker, Tim "Ted" Sullivan, Pete "The Old Gladiator" Browning, and several others back to life in this enriching book on the very early days of baseball.
A major strength of this book is the author's ability to bring out the personalities of the characters in this 1883 pennant race. The bigoted Anson and other players in their refusal to accept the highly educated Fleetwood Walker which set the cause of blacks in organized baseball back until Jackie Robinson's arrival in 1947 is amply brought out. Browns' manager Sullivan quitting the team in the heat of a pennant race due to owner Von der Ahe's meddling in Sullivan's managerial decisions.
This was an era of players who lived fast and died young. Their fame didn't last and they became as the poet Housman would write, "Runners whom renown outran and the name died before the man." An epilogue is provided at the end of the book relating what happened to the major characters following this rollicking 1883 season.
If you are interested in baseball's rich history this book will bring several long-forgotten names from the game's past back to life. My sincere thanks to author Edward Achorn for providing us with this book. Thank you so much! If you claim to be a baseball fan, you need this book in your library.
on June 13, 2013
As others have already stated, the book is well researched and a definitive telling of a fascinating story. I considered myself fairly well versed in this particular era and episode in baseball history, but the book contained numerous nuggets that I had never stumbled on before. In particular, I was very interested to learn that Von Der Ahe put his St. Louis Browns in scarlet and white uniforms for one season in 1883, 16 years before the Robisons made the permanent switch to the lovely shade of cardinal the franchise uses to this day. I am amazed that this story is so overlooked in histories of the Cardinal franchise, and impressed that Achorn documented it (and everything else in his telling of this story) with priceless contemporary newspaper accounts.
Achorn also provides an excellent (albeit brief) account of professional baseball in St. Louis between 1878 and 1881, when the Brown Stockings continued to operate on an independent basis after losing their major league status in the midst of a gambling scandal. This is a chapter in St. Louis baseball history that is often ignored altogether or misunderstood by people who fancy themselves knowledgable, but Achorn demonstrates that the current Cardinals franchise has roots not only in the 1880s American Association dynasty owned by Von Der Ahe, but that there is in fact a line of continuity all the way back to the Brown Stockings of the 1875 National Association, who became charter members of the National League in 1876. The veritable missing link between those teams and Von Der Ahe's Browns is the independent professional squad kept afloat by manager/outfielder Ned Cuthbert. Achorn's book places these independent Brown Stockings in their proper historical context while setting the stage for the unprecedented success the team would enjoy after Von Der Ahe purchased it. The section of the book on Fleet Walker is likewise impressive in going beyond the bare bones treatment that story usually receives. Rather than treating Walker as a one-line footnote in the history of racism and segregation in baseball, Achorn brings him to life in flesh and blood, along with the plight of the other pioneering black players who dared to compete in organized white baseball in the 1880s.
My only complaint with this book is the organization in the middle chapters. Achorn sets the stage for the pennant race well at the beginning of the book, and his conclusion at the end of the book is riveting and manages to ratchet up the suspense in spite of the outcome being familiar to any fan of 19th Century baseball history. However, when he begins jumping back and forth between following the different teams as the pennant race heats up in the middle of the book, his narrative becomes occasionally jumbled and repetitive. He repeats a handful of the same newspaper accounts verbatim in the course of these middle chapters, a problem that some additional editing attention could've corrected easily.
Overall, this book is a fitting companion to 59 in '84, and I hope that Achorn adds additional volumes in his effort to document the most colorful characters and memorable episodes in the history of 19th Century baseball. As impressive as Achorn's meticulous research is, it is his talent in bringing these figures to three dimensional life that is most instrumental in making his books such rewarding reads.
This is a fascinating story of the start of baseball. The book focuses on the pennant of 1883 in the American Association league. This league was just started to provide those fans who were not wealthy and who want to have a beer during the game, the opportunity to see a baseball game. The price to see a game was 25 cents in the American Association (oh to be able to see a professional baseball game today for that price), and beer and other alcohol flowed freely in the parks.
This is the story of a pennant race between the St. Louis Browns (who became the Cardinals), the Cincinnati Reds (same as today's team) and the Philadelphia Athletics (who are now in Oakland). The book provides details on the players, the owners, the fans, how the game was played (without baseball mitts for example and fans would stand at the edge of the outfield). It was a time when baseball was new and innovative and the fans would be more involved in the game than they are today.
This is a great book for anyone interested in baseball and wish for a different culture in this sport than the one that we have today.
on July 30, 2013
So here you go.....I am not a sports fan, the Wife is not only a 5'10" Minn. beauty but knows every thing about every sport.....that's why we get invited to so many Sports events and parties....I'm a History fan/buff. That being said, this book 'The Summer of Beer and Whiskey' has been filled with not just 'history' but just plain 'Ol' Americana 'delight' It's illuminated the origins of the game, the irreverence, the love of playing for playing sake vs. $1,000,000.00's of dollars to what can look like 'juiced up, spoiled, prima Dona' 'boys of Summer'
The fun, devil may care, roguishness, 'sometime elegance' of the game as well as a game where sports writers suggest the fans 'tote shotguns' for protection from the more 'rowdy' parts of the field......a player that insisted on playing in a Turban, an other that made sure his colored socks or hat were always the 'wrong' color....and more....
Needless to say I've enjoyed this book immensely. I now have a much deeper understanding as I hold the baseball 'mitt' / glove my, now long gone, Grandfather gave me. The one he used as he played 'sand lot' ball before 1910 after work and on Sunday's. I now understand the look in his eye as he looked far off into the distance and recalled this 'special' play and that...'Oh....so and so....he was a 'toe headed' boy that lived over behind the ice house'
When I hold that hand me down 1902 'glove' I feel all of the DNA history it holds not just from 'Pop'.......but from all of the history, Base Ball history, that had/has come before it.
The world of "Iron men and Wooden ships" This book is a delight.....enjoy it!!
on October 31, 2014
I greatly enjoyed The Summer of Beer & Whiskey, an engaging account of the 1883 American Association pennant race. I've been a lifelong fan but have done little prior reading about baseball history prior to 1900, so this account of the barehanded style of play in the rowdy, hard-drinking 1880's made for an informative look at the early years of professional baseball. Clearly there had been a transition from baseball's more genteel origins to a rougher, faster professional game. But in some respects, the rulebook, league infrastructure and roster management lagged behind. For example, the growth of the schedule to 98 games badly overworked the pitching with nothing close to a "staff" as we know it today. It was generally left up to a top starter plus one or two alternates, with the workload sometimes in excess of 600 innings a season, mindboggling ! Nor could one umpire hope to keep full control over the rough stuff and gamesmanship, although the American Association did pioneer umpiring administered by the league, a big step forward from the amateurish system of leaving it up to the home team to hire someone.
Of course, a lot went with the territory in those cruder times that wouldn't be tolerated today: blatant racism, shabby ballparks, player & fan violence, rampant drunkenness amongst the players. But what struck me repeatedly while reading the account of 1883's thrilling season was the continuity between the old game and today's. And how well the players coped with the absence of gloves and still delivered a brand of ball that thrilled the fan base. Mr. Achorn's game accounts render the on field action fresh and exciting. Highly recommended to anyone with more than a passing interest in baseball.
on June 11, 2013
I thought I knew a fair amount about the origins of major league baseball but this book proved that I didn't
Loved the phonetic spelling of Chris Von der Ahe's german accented remarks in this book
Lots of colorful characters, some likeable some not, but overall a good summer read
on May 4, 2014
This was an interesting but less than compelling slice of baseball history in the 1880s. I'm a baseball history buff so I enjoyed this book, but for those who are casual fans this will have all the appeal of warm beer.
The research is impressive, but the writing is not memorable.
I'll raise a glass to baseball's pioneer owners and players and to those who care enough to explore baseball's past.
on July 7, 2015
Engaging history of the 1883 Major League baseball season, focusing on the pennant race between the St Louis Browns and their principal rivals, the Philadelphia Athletics. This year marked the creation of the American Association as a rival to the National League and the transformation of baseball from an expensive diversion for the upper classes to a spectator sport for the common man. Not coincidentally the owners of the American Association teams were beer barons and distillers who saw a great marketing opportunity for their product at the games. Well-written with many fascinating details and offbeat characters, this is a must read for fans of the history of baseball.