Saturday, August 16, 2014

On the Coffee Table: Peter Morris

Title: Baseball Fever: Early Baseball in Michigan
Author: Peter Morris
via Amazon
You might think that the subject of Baseball Fever, the history of baseball in Michigan from the 1850s to the 1870s, is a bit esoteric and... you'd be correct.  Morris himself admits that Michigan was never the center of baseball developments during the 19th century.  Instead, he offers Baseball Fever as an examination of how a city game took hold in rural America, evolving from a friendly gentleman's affair to an often shady professional enterprise.

The book is very academic indeed: names, dates, footnotes, etc.  The text is a bit dry, though I can't deny that I learned a lot.  For instance, the rise of baseball was closely tied to developments in the newspaper industry.  Before the Civil War, most newspapers were two pages - one sheet, front and back.  During the conflict, the public was eager for war news and newspapers added pages.  After the fighting was over, they suddenly had empty space to fill and baseball was a perfect fit.  Enclosed stadiums and railroads allowed for pro teams to develop.

It was a different game in the 19th century.  No fielding gloves.  It was even quite a while before the catcher wore protective gear.  Before the introduction of the "dead ball," one made with less rubber, scores in the double digits were commonplace and games typically lasted four or five hours.  Not surprisingly, the dignified, wealthy types who first took up the game were resentful when the more athletic laborer types got involved, betraying a class snobbery that hasn't entirely disappeared from the professional/amateur distinction in sports.  The recent court decisions against the NCAA may indicate the industry is finally heading in a more sensible direction.

You'd need to really love baseball to even give this book a try, I think.  While I admire the intellectual effort, I shall seek less academic material in the future.


  1. Baseball is my game of choice; after all, I am a chick of the old school flavor. It's still hard for me to read dry details in sports books.

    I've devoured every book about the Sox scandal and Pete Rose, though!

    My grandfather had an autographed Pete Rose baseball that he was proud of and displayed in his home office. He lost his sight in later life, and then a fire destroyed his office and another portion of his home.

    When Pete Rose, post-scandal, heard about his loss, he sent him another baseball. I respected him again after that.

    That's my only baseball story, Squid Ruth.

    1. Wow, that's a pretty good baseball story, Cherdo!

      I am interested in early baseball. It's definitely a worthy subject. This book was a decent intro, just not especially user-friendly.

      Morris does have another book that's lots of fun called A Game of Inches. It's structured more like a reference book, not a cover-to-cover read.

  2. This sounds too academic for me (on this topic). Still- I learned a lot from your thoughts and comments on the book. I had no idea about the baseball/newspaper connection. Baseball without gloves- yikes!

    1. Yes, it's too academic for me, too. Early baseball is definitely a worthy subject, though.