Monday, July 8, 2013


Allow me to pitch you a question, straight down the line, no knuckle, about as slow as the trajectory of a throw by the person covering third base in your local church's slow-pitch softball league: What is the absolute most American thing? This is not meant to be a curve ball. After careful consideration of what exactly might best represent our country, some might say, well, hamburgers and hot dogs. This is a fair answer. Hollywood? Sure, that's good, too. It's clearly open to debate. But one of the safest answers is the sport often referred to as "our nation's pastime": baseball. I don't follow baseball closely, but I'll admit that it pretty much tops the list of the stars-and-stripesiest things I can think of. Here is that list:

1) baseball
2) cowboy hats
3) cherry pie
4) monster trucks
5) reality television
6) owning several Great Danes
7) motorcycle gangs
8) patriotism
9) country music
10) media conglomerates

We at the University of Missouri Press have published many books about baseball. In fact, three of our fall paperbacks are about the sport, and they're all grand slams. So in the interest of keeping the Fourth of July spirit going, let's take a look at these baseball books and get our America on.

Branch Rickey, one of baseball’s foremost innovators and talent scouts, once said that in 1922 George Sisler was “the greatest player that ever lived.” Sisler played with Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Rogers Hornsby, all of whom considered "Gorgeous George" their equal. Yet Sisler has faded from baseball's collective consciousness. Now in The Sizzler, this “legendary player without a legend” gets the treatment he deserves. Rick Huhn presents the story of one of baseball’s least appreciated players and studies why his status became so diminished. Huhn argues that the answer lies somewhere amid the tenor of Sisler’s times, his own character and demeanor, the kinds of individuals who are chosen as our sports heroes, and the complex definition of fame itself.

Bob Gibson remains one of the most unique, complex, and beloved players in Cardinals history. Gibson's Last Stand places his final years on the team within the context of American history and popular culture. During the late 1960s, exorbitant salaries and free agency were threatening to change baseball forever, and Gibson’s pitching success caused team owners to think fans wanted only base hits and home runs. The action of the game, both on and off the field, is interjected with interesting and detailed tidbits on players’ backgrounds that often tie them to famous players of the past, current stars, and well-known contemporary places.

“If You Were Only White” explores the legacy of one of the most exceptional athletes ever, Leroy “Satchel” Paige. Paige was arguably one of the world’s greatest pitchers and a premier star of Negro Leagues Baseball, but in this biography Donald Spivey reveals Paige to have been much more than just a blazing fastball pitcher. Through chronicling Paige’s life from his birth in Alabama to his death in Kansas City, Spivey reveals a man who not only battled the color line but was intertwined with many of the most important issues of the times in U.S. and African American history. With baseball as his platform, Paige pushed the boundaries of segregation and bridged the racial divide, and his performance refuted the lie that black baseball was inferior to white baseball. His was a contribution to civil rights of a different kind—his speeches and demonstrations expressed through his performance on the mound.

1 comment:

Jeanie Franz Ransom said...

Although I am a bigger fan of cherry pie than I am of baseball, your post caught my attention right off the bat. Your style is fun, and your reviews of the three books covered all the bases. Score one for the home team!

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