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The resurrection of baseball and its most improbable savior.

  • Apr 27, 2013
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"But in all eight of its markets, the Association was transforming the public's perception of baseball itself, turning it from a fading game stained by corruption into a lively, affordable, fun-filled form of entertainment, the perfect two-hour escape from lives circumscribed by hard toil." - p. 116

In 1879 the game of baseball was virtually dead and buried in the city of St. Louis.  A series of scandals had rocked the game in the mid 1870's and the fans were staying away in droves.  The National League St. Louis Brown Stockings folded after the 1878 season to be replaced in 1879 by a semi-pro team by the same name.  No one seemed to care.  If baseball was going to experience a renaissance in the Gateway City it was going to require a determined owner with an innovative new approach.  Enter one Chris Von Der Ahe, a German immigrant grocer and saloon owner who knew virtually nothing about the game.  But while Von Der Ahe knew precious little about baseball he was a very astute businessman.  He had become convinced that there was a great deal of money to be made from baseball and he set about to make his fortune.  His unforgettable story is woven into the pages of Edward Achorn's marvelous new book "The Summer of Beer and Whisley:  How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America's Game."  When the American Association was founded in 1882 as a new major league, the owners adopted many of Von Der Ahe's ideas including Sunday baseball, affordable ticket prices and hawking beer at the games.  The new league would become a smashing success in relatively short order.

Now if you are one of those people who have read precious little about the early history of professional baseball then "The Summer of Beer and Whiskey" should prove to be a real eye-opener for you.  Just imagine playing the game without any gloves.  Consider what it was like for the catcher!  Instead of 4 or 5 man pitching rotations most clubs relied on just two starting pitchers and the pitcher was expected to complete just about every game he started.  And there was just one umpire!  Ed Achorn cites a number of examples where unscrupulous players would take advantage of this unfortunate set of circumstances and cheat.  The book largely focuses on the 1883 American Association season and an exciting pennant race that goes right down to the wire.  You will be introduced to some of the most talented and popular players of the day and be treated to a number of memorable stories from both on and off the field.  Make no mistake about it.  The rough and tumble men who played the game in the early 1880's were certainly not choirboys. You will also be treated to a description of the very first "hidden ball" trick, learn the origin of the term "fan" and discover how the venerable "Louisville Slugger" came to be.  Interesting stuff!  As an aside I was also surprised to learn just how popular black baseball was becoming at that time.  Blacks had a real passion for the game and teams like the Cincinnati Brown Stockings, Louisville Mutuals and the Geneva Clippers were drawing very respectable crowds sometimes rivaling those of the major leagues.  Ed Achorn also tells the story of a very talented catcher by the name of Fleet Walker who is credited with being the first African-American to play major league baseball.  I had never even heard of him!

Back in 2011 I snatched a copy of Edward Achorn's first book on old-tyme baseball called "Fifty Nine in '84" off the Amazon Vine.  It turned out to be the best baseball book I had ever read.  A few weeks ago I discovered that Mr. Achorn had written a second book on the subject.  I was all too happy to plunk down some of my hard earned dough to purchase a copy.  I couldn't wait to receive my copy and I read it in just a few sittings.  I was not disappointed. "The Summer of Beer and Whiskey:  How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America's Game" grabbed my attention at the outset and simply never let go.  This is an exceptionally well-written and meticulously documented book that is equally suitable for baseball fans, history buffs and general audiences.  An important addition to the literature on our national pastime.     Very highly recommended!

The resurrection of baseball and its most improbable savior.

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April 30, 2013
Excellent review!
About the reviewer
Paul Tognetti ()
Ranked #2
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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