Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Book Review: The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America's Game by Edward Achorn

I have moved back to the land of baseball. Last time I lived up here (2000-2004 I lived in Astoria, Queens), I read a half-dozen baseball books including the enormous and exhaustive book Baseball by Geoffrey C. Ward which accompanied the Ken Burns PBS documentary. And so on my return (New Jersey this time but still), it was time to remind myself about the game that the South pretty much ignores. (I did go to a couple of minor league Charlotte Knights games but it's a second-class sport there, along with hockey.)

Well, it turns out, if it wasn't for Chris Von der Ahe in St. Louis in 1883, baseball might have died in the nineteenth century and been a historical footnote. It was considered an unsportsman game, controlled by mobsters with players throwing games, not to mention too dangerous and rowdy for women and children. Attendance was low and dropping. When Von der Ahe, a self-made St. Louis success and a German immigrant with a thick accent, bought the St. Louis Browns and co-founded the American Association (no, not the American League. This predates that.) In the American Association, Midwestern German-Americans made the controversial and scandalous decisions to allow games on Sundays, and alcohol sales at games. Those decisions saved the sport.

Personally, I was looking for more of the economics and social history behind those decisions. I did like hearing about a lot of the personalities, but I did not need an inning-by-inning blow-by-blow of what felt like every game in the Browns' season. Therefore, I liked the beginning of the book more, when Von der Ahe and others were doing the organizing, were arguing and negotiating with the National League, and eventually getting them to capitulate. The stealing of players and occasional banning and poahcing was also very entertaining. And like all the fans, I really enjoyed the young pitcher known as Jumping Jack who literally jumped with both legs off the ground and both arms outspread with every fast pitch (it's not that his pitching was so effective--what with him completely telegraphing every fast ball--it's that he was so distracting!) But I did find it dragged a bit at the end. I did enjoy it overall, and I look forward to going to a Mets game again sometime.

I bought this book at Literati Bookstore, the independent bookstore in Ann Arbor, MI.

No comments: