Monday, January 23, 2006

Book reviews

I've been a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) for half my life and I own way too many books about baseball (closing in on 1000). In my late twenties, most of my reading was baseball books but over the last few years I have expanded my literary horizons. I wanted to return to reading more baseball this year and thought I would review the books I read here.

One of my particular interests in baseball books are regional publications. Books about players from a particular area or the history of the teams in a town, for example. These publications tend to be rather uneven in quality. Sometimes you luck into a really good one. Perhaps a local newspaper reporter does a little something. More often than not, however, these books are written by people with a passion for the history of baseball in their area who in all likelihood have little writing background. Sometimes these books are self-published or at best, are put out by smaller, local printing presses. Because of the specialty nature of these books, you don't have the big publishing houses with experienced editors looking over them. So you get a mix of the strength of the passion of the research tempered by some poor writing.

A case in point is Joseph DeLuca's Diamond Heroes of South Jersey. DeLuca worked on this for a dozen years and not only did he cover players born in South Jersey, he covered many who lived there at various points in their lives. The thoroughness of this book stops there. There are two types biographies DeLuca writes in this book. The type he writes is based on whether or not he interviewed the person. If he did, there is a comparatively lengthy biography, filled with the results of the same series of question he seemingly asked everybody; as the street the person lived on, how he met his wife, what he did after his baseball career was over. These facts are scattered throughout the biography in no coherent structure. An occasional baseball story is interspersed as well but for the most part, the coverage of the baseball career is limited to rote listing of his statistics from the Baseball Encyclopedia.

This is still better than the style ofbiography DeLuca writes for those players he did not or could not interview. Those biographies give the same Enecylopedia statistics plus the fascinating tidbits of height, weight, and handedness. It seems as if very little research was done through newspapers, secondary sources, or other oral histories (family members, teammates, etc.). For a book twelve years in the making, one would hope some of that time would be used to flesh out the biographies.

Still, the book would have some appeal if not for the incredible number of typographic and grammatical errors. I got the feeling as I read the book that I was the first person other than the author to look at it. There were 3-4 typos a page and an abuse of commas. It seemed impossible to read more than four words without encountering a comma. Because of all the errors it was a difficult read. It is a shame that DeLuca didn't ask someone to proof the book before he had it published.


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