Thursday, June 15, 2006

Book review #8

In A Tale of Four Cities, Caillault takes newspaper coverage from Brooklyn, New York, Boston and St. Louis and portrays the exciting day-by-day story of the 1889 baseball season. The format that Caillault uses to “write” his book is nothing new in the world of baseball books. Preston Orem probably started the concept with his series of books, Baseball by the Newspaper Accounts. Gordon Fleming’s books also used contemporary newspaper accounts in order to tell the story of a bygone era. Nonetheless, this format is a great way to depict the daily excitement of two great pennant races and an important part of baseball labor relations.

The 1889 season was notable for its taut pennant races in both the National League and the American Association but also because of the labor disputes that caused John Montgomery Ward to start the Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players who formed their own league, the Players League, in 1890. The Players League only lasted one season but the impact of the league led to the demise of the American Association a year later and left the country with a single major league until the twentieth century.

Fans of baseball in this century will note many similarities between the game today and the era Caillault covers. The biggest difference, though, which really shines through in the newspaper coverage, is the importance of the game to local culture. With comparatively limited entertainment and sporting options, and no means of global communication like we have today, professional baseball teams provided cities with a source of civic pride. This pride is evident in the coverage of the teams by their local newspapers. By using these accounts, Caillault also manages to capture the drama of the pennant races unfolding among the four teams and the passion of the fans as they root them on to the finish.

This is a terrific book for baseball fans but also for those who want to see how important a role sports played in a community in the nineteenth century. I recommend it highly.


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