30 June 2015

The Great Encyclopedia of 19th Century Major League Baseball

David Nemec, The Great Encyclopedia of 19th Century Major League Baseball. NY: Donald I Fine, 1997.

Encyclopedia (from the Greek for ‘general education’): a work that treats comprehensively all the various branches of knowledge and that is usually composed of individual articles arranged alphabetically (emphasis added); also, such a work treating only a particular branch of knowledge -- Webster’s Third New International Dictionary

This is an amazing book, but it is not a encyclopedia. While it presents a comprehensive view of Major League baseball -- that is, the National Association, National League, American Association, Union Association, and Players’ League -- from its founding to 1900, after which the American League gave the game its current shape, it is not arranged as a ready reference resource. It is, instead, arranged chronologically -- and instead of breaking its subject down to the atomic level and leaving us to reassemble the story from our choice of pieces, it presents a clear prose narrative.

Nemec, in a precise but personal voice, summarizes each season. These formative years are often discussed, but solid information -- even a basic as complete, team-by-team and season-by-season rosters -- was scattered among various sources or even uncollected before Nemec brought together rosters; team hitting, pitching, and fielding records; standings; and league leader boards compiled over a lifetime of research. It may be the best single volume for quick understanding of pro ball’s early development. But we can’t turn to “A” and find Cap Anson, so let’s call it The Great Book of 19th Century Major League Baseball.

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