Sunday, May 28, 2006

Book review #7

I wrote earlier that I felt that a lot of these regional baseball histories that I enjoy picking up so much tend to be self-published because of the limited interest in the topic matter. Thus, it was my contention, major publishers do not pick them up because they cannot generate enough revenue to make them profitable. After reading John Bell's Pickle It!, I wish to change my public opinion.

The reason publishers do not publish these regional publications is because they are poorly done. I had pretty high expectations for Bell's book because he had published a rather thorough-seeming statistical tome, The Georgia Class-D Minor League Baseball Encyclopedia. After reading Pickle It!, I'm left to wonder just how reliable a source the Encyclopedia is.

Bell introduced the book by explaining that the book's title, supposedly a term used by baseball fans to encourage a hitter to hit a home run, stems from the fact that there were pickle vats behind the fence at the Carrollton, Georgia ballpark (Carrollton baseball being the subject of the book) and fans would literally want hitters to put the ball over the fence into the vats. At no time does Bell explain what those vats were doing there. He also claims that the "Pickle it!" cheer is commonly used. In my 27 years of baseball fandom, I had never heard it before I picked up the book.

Those were just some problems I had with the introduction. Bell's book is littered with typographic errors. In addition, the text is rather dull and repetitive. The book is about 140 pages long, of which only 65 are about the history of baseball in Carrollton. In those 65, Bell touches on maybe a half-dozen items that would have merited from a more thorough exploration.

Instead Bell treats every season the same. He leads paragraphs off by inserting photocopied headlines from local newspapers. He talks about the opening game of every season in detail, as well as the playoffs. Bell might mention specifics of a couple games played each season. The most annoying aspect of his formulaic chapters are the insertion of photocopied standings followed by a redundant description of those standings by Bell.

To me, one of the most interesting things about regional baseball is the passion in the community for the game when it existed. Bell rarely covers off-field incidents and does not examine the economics of small-town baseball. He mentions teams coming and going from leagues but never details reasons.

Perhaps the individual who interested me most in the book, pitcher Buck Matthews, merita little consideration. Matthews (regularly referred to as Mathews by Bell), won his first 11 games in one season but finished with a 16-13 record and an ERA over 6. Or so the book claims. I am uncertain how a pitcher would merit regular usage if his ERA was that high. The following season, Matthews is referred to as the ace on the team. Then, mysteriously, Bell does not mention him again until the playoffs when he is pitching for the opposition! If he was the ace, why did Carrolton let him go? Did they receive anything in return? What happened to him afterwards?

The book does contain a large section of photographs, mostly posed or of headshots. Bell contains a large statistical record of all the players who played for Carrolton, a brief biographical look at those who played in the majors or who were deemed noteworthy, and some other minor factoids. All in all I found the book to be a disappointment, one that could have been remedied considerably by having someone actually look over the manuscript before it was published.


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