Book review - Early Innings

Saturday, December 07 2002 @ 10:06 AM EST

Contributed by: Craig B

I am adding a new feature, since we are both in the furthest depths of the offseason, and rapidly approaching my favourite time of year (even more than Opening Day, I love Christmas). These reviews will be of baseball books, and they will be brief... the intention is to give everyone something to put on their Christmas (or other holiday) lists.

Since it is nearly impossible to write a good book about the Blue Jays (Alison Gordon and Steve Brunt (sort of) have done it... nobody else, to my recollection, has ever managed to accomplish it) but at the same time also nearly impossible to write a bad book about baseball, I will mainly be focusing on non-Blue Jay material here. Also, most of the books will not be new... but they will all be in print.

Today's book is Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball 1825-1908, compiled and edited by Dean A. Sullivan. It's available from, which has the best price, and from which only has the overpriced hardcover. You American readers can buy at, naturally.

I picked this book up as part of a series of purchases intended to get me sharp for the discussions on the Hall of Merit site. In our first election, we deal with players who retired before 1901, and so I bought some books on nineteenth-century baseball to get a better feel for the game.

This is a good book for any history buff, even one with a passing interest in baseball, but will appeal most to the baseball fan, who will find it a trove of lore about the players and events that shaped baseball in America. There are 120 selections from the newspapers, books, magazines, and original documents of the time, most of them under two pages, which talk about some of the key events of 19th-century baseball from the first newspaper report of a challenge game in 1825, to the first intercollegiate game in 1859, the first codifications of the New York and Massachusetts rules, the Davy Force case (with an hilarious aside saying that in the author's opinion Force was a "vastly overrated... base-ball hack"), Curt Welch's "$15,000 slide", Al Spalding's Round-The-World Tour, Monte Ward's brilliant "Brotherhood Manifesto", the 1897 pennant race, the death of Ed Delahanty, and the very first modern World Series game in 1903. All the great players of the time, From Ward to Al Spalding to Cap Anson to King Kelly and on to Honus Wagner, are liberally represented both in quotation and in their own words.

I love historical documents, and there is tons of good material in this book, but the best stuff is in the newspaper articles and extracts from the baseball books of the time. Famed early baseball historian Henry Chadwick describing the duties of each fielder in an extract from the 1860 book Beadle's Dime Base-Ball Player is a priceless glimpse into how the game was played ten years before the first professional league. Some of it will be eerily familiar... some as foreign as anything you could imagine. The contemporary accounts, instead of putting a modern gloss onto past events, get inside the hearts and minds of the players and fans (and even the owners) of the time. I had known for years that players in those days played without gloves, and knew how it made the fielder's jobs more difficult (and error totals high)... but I had never once thought of how difficult it would be to play first base with no glove. Ouch!

An good brief bibliography of 19th-century baseball tops off the book.

This book is superbly put together as well (if you like that sort of thing... I'm hard on my books) and at 300 pages, it packs a wallop... with smallish type and small margins, in a normal printing it would probably run to 450 pages or more. If you like baseball and are interested in history, this book (which is very modestly priced) is a great gift.