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Great Books on 19th Century Baseball


Hey all! While the temperatures are heading below the freezing marker, and folks are still in the holiday spirit, it continues to be my job to get all of you excited for another exciting season of Major League Baseball! Today's lesson is an unusual yet fun one: we're going to discover books dealing with 19th century baseball.

It's been a long time since the olden days of the 19th century, and baseball has clearly evolved for the better since then. The rules are more concrete, the contracts are resolute (no players holding out or jumping to "rogue leagues"), and, overall, the game is also much better off financially these days. Back then, professional baseball now and again was holding on by the skin of its teeth, to the point where you'd wonder if it would be completely dissolved the following season. Back then it wasn't out of the ordinary to use one ball the entire game. Now once the ball touches the dirt it's immediately removed from the field of play. I personally find it a real hoot reading about the days when the game originated. NYPL has a great assortment of books on the subject; here are couple titles to point you in the right direction.

Base Ball Founders

Base Ball Founders: The Clubs, Players and Cities of the Northeast that Established the Game by Peter Morris

This book is a great place to start! Morris' Base Ball Founders profiles the game's earliest origins on the northeastern coast. The book does a nice job splitting its chapters into separate regions, going from New York City (where it appropriately kicks off with the game's first organized ballclub, Alexander Cartwright's New York Knickerbockers), to Brooklyn, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and finishing up in Massachusetts. Morris does a great job detailing a lot of the well-known amateur ballclubs of the 19th century, in addition to the extremely minor teams that have largely been forgotten over the last century and change.  Certainly a must-read for citizens of the Northeast who are baseball fans. 


Fifty-Nine in '84

Fifty-Nine in '84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball, and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had by Edward Achorn

I am a pretty big fan of baseball records, especially the ones that are more or less impossible to break. When you take a peek at the list of Major League Baseball record holders, you'll find a decent mix of recent players, as well as players from yesteryear. The two records I believe will be the pair that'll never be broken deal with the same statistic: the pitcher's win.  Those would be Cy Young's 511 career wins, and Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn's single season win tally, 59 victories in his Providence Gray's pennant-winning 1884 season. The way baseball is structured nowadays puts a damper on how many wins a pitcher can pick up in both a single season, and during the course of a career. Pitching staffs ensure that starting pitchers will never in a million years start anywhere close to the amount of games Radbourn started that season, cementing his place in history. Check out Achorn's book, recapping every single game of the historic 1884 Providence Grays season, and read about every single one of Radbourn's 59 wins.


Long Before the Dodgers

Long Before the Dodgers: Baseball in Brooklyn, 1855-1884 by James L. Terry

As stated earlier, Brooklyn has it's very own chapter in Peter Morris' Base Ball Founders book, and appropriately so. Up until 1898, Brooklyn was its own city. It of course has since been consolidated into today's "New York City" along with the other boroughs, but back then it was only right that the city of Brooklyn should field its own baseball teams. And that it did, way before Charles Byrne founded the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1883 (then known as the Brooklyn Grays of the Interstate Association). Some of the more major Brooklyn teams spotlighted in Terry's book are Eckford of Brooklyn (or Brooklyn Eckfords) and the Excelsior Base Ball Club of Brookyln. Amongst these old school Brooklyn ballplayers is Hall of Famer Candy Cummings, whose best known for being the brilliant inventor of the curveball! Give this book a look! 


A Game of Brawl

A Game of Brawl: The Orioles, the Beaneaters, and the Battle for the 1897 Pennant by Bill Felber

As you guys know, I am a fan of books that focus on single seasons. I don't at all mind books that cover a wide range of years in baseball, but I feel when it comes to single season stories, the detail is greater, and the author doesn't gloss over things in order to get to the next period in time. Therefore it's only right that I'd be a fan of Bill Felber's book on the National League pennant race of 1897. The National League version of the Baltimore Orioles (NOT to be confused with the Orioles of today) were coming off three straight National League pennants, the last one being a runaway over the second place Cleveland Spiders. However 1897 was a different story. The Orioles found themselves in a September seesaw battle with the Boston Beaneaters (today's Atlanta Braves) with neither team running away with things, the National League flag completely up for grabs. Then there was the matter of the Temple Cup, which was played between the top two teams in the NL  for both bragging rights and a 30-inch high trophy (keep in mind this was the pre-modern World Series days). So who won what? Read it to find out!


The League That Lasted

The League That Lasted by Neil W. MacDonald

In my opinion, the first organized baseball league would probably be the National Association of Base Ball Players, originating in 1857, even though it was comprised entirely of amateur ballclubs. This league would cease relevance in 1870. After that came a second league, also, oddly enough, named the National Association of Base Ball Players, which was the first 'professional' league, but discontinued operating after the 1875 season.  As a result, 6 of the clubs from that league, in addition to 2 independent clubs, formed yet another league, this one known as the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs. Or in short, the National League. The league that lasted. The league we watch today along with its American League counterpart. But that league's story is one we'll save for another day. This book is a celebration of the NL. Neil W. MacDonald does a nice job talking about the National League's inaugural 1876 season and details further how the longstanding league came into existence. 

For more books on 19th century baseball, please visit our catalog. 


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