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This book covers the 1897 pennant race between the Boston Beaneaters and the Baltimore Orioles, or the Bostons vs. the Baltimores. Baseball at this time in its history was, indeed, a game of brawl. Players fought on the field, there was rowdiness among fans, umpires exchanged punches with players, oftentimes without penalty, and teams took turns seeing who could invent new profanities to hurl at one another. Games often had only one umpire, two if it was of special significance, and players took advantage by cutting corners while running bases while the lone umpire wasn't watching. With a runner on base an umpire would position himself behind the pitcher to better make calls on the bases. Games were played on ill-kept infields, and players literally kept their eye on a ball and suffered injury. Treatment for a swollen closed eye was leeches to draw out the blood. Boston sent their Royal Rooters contingent to Baltimore to cheer on their heroes, chief among them, John Francis Fitzgerald, better known as "Honey Fitz", grandfather of our late President Kennedy. The book primarily covers the 1897 pennant race between the Beaneaters and Orioles, won by Boston. The top two teams then faced off in the Temple Cup series since there was no World Series at the time. The final section of the book covers what happened to several of the participants, many of which ended up in Baseball's Hall of Fame. Some died from consumption (tuberculosis), Chick Stahl and Patsy Tebeau were suicides, while Marty Bergen murdered his family and then slit his own throat. One drawback for me in the book was too much of a play-by-play from one game to the next as the season is covered. The game of baseball was going through a chaotic time during this period with ineffective leadership in the league, and a thorough cleansing was necessary. If you are interested in this period of the game's history I would recommend this book to you.
It was a pennant race that went down to the wire. The Baltimore Orioles were three-time National League Champions, and the Bostons (as their fans called them) were trying to dethrone them. It was a rowdy, profane style of baseball that was played back then, and the Orioles were masters at it. The Beaneaters had a reputation for playing "clean," and for that reason, much of the country was behind them. The two teams' rosters included eleven future Hall-of-Famers, among them John McGraw, Wilbert Robinson, Wee Willie Keeler, Kid Nichols, Hugh Duffy, Jimmy Collins and five others. The book drags in places, but the author's description of the final weeks and days of the season kept me enthralled. I was disappointed that no time was spent on the post-season series, which was called the Temple Cup Series. It was a best-of-seven games series that pitted the two top teams against each other, and these two teams, of course, were the Orioles and Beaneaters. This series is glossed over in a few paragraphs. The author says it was unimportant and post climactic. Still, this is a good read and a fine description of baseball as it was played at the end of the 19th Century.
This is a fascinating look at turn of the century Boston baseball. Having been in Boston for the 2004 World Series parade, and seeing the intensity of the New England Boston fans then, it is salutary to see the same intensity a century earlier. If anyone wishes to read an enthralling history of a particular period in American League history - this is your book. It is also a guide to New England society of the turn of the 20th century.
Reviewed in the United States on September 15, 2008
Today we think of baseball as almost a gentleman's sport, with only occasional outbursts over disputed calls. In the late 19th century, however, the Baltimore Orioles epitomized the rough and tumble aspect of the game, and turned it from "baseball " into "basebrawl".The life of an umpire in that era was a very stressful one, with only one man assigned to cover the entire field, and be subjected to scorn and abuse, and often physical danger, from not only the players, but from the "cranks" (that's what fans were called then, and perhaps it's a very apt name). This well-written book tells the story of the 1897 season, that came down to a fight for the pennant between the "outlaw" Orioles, and the "gentlemanly" Boston Beaneaters. There is an almost day-by-day account of the season, and it's quite captivating to the reader. Once the main tale is finished, the author gives some brief summaries of the further careers and lives of a few of the participants. Some went on to further acclaim and eventual enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and some died suddenly and tragically, often by their own hands. This is a story of a bygone era when the "sport" of baseball was more of a war than a game. It's fascinating reading, and I highly recommend it.