25 April 2017

2017 Reading List, January - March

Mark Armour & Daniel Levitt, In Pursuit of Pennants. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2015.

My in-laws keep sending me books on running a baseball team. This one is a history of front-office evolution, told through case studies of exemplary organizations in each era. I hope this means that next year I’m getting a team of my own.

Walker Percy, The Moviegoer.  NY: Vintage, 1998.

“When a man becomes a scientist or an artist, he is open to a different kind of despair. In the middle of a sentence it will come over me: yes, beyond a doubt, this is death.” I am in awe of this voice. I have never heard it before, and it does not sound like the New Orleans I’ve encountered. The precise enunciation of formally perfect, disjointed meaninglessness this language creates is overwhelming, an oppression like humidity, and reveals a man sleepwalking through life.

William Matthews, Search Party. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004.

A friend gave me Matthews’ collected poems so I would have something “perfectly honest and slightly beautiful” on my bookshelf.  I hope you have such a good friend.

Daniel Levitt, The Battle that Forged Modern Baseball. Lanham, MD: Ivan R. Dee, 2012.

Early professional baseball was a contentious endeavor. The forty years after the National League’s founding in 1876 saw four different leagues step forward as ‘Majors’ - yet only one, the American League, survived. The Federal League, subject of Levitt’s tale, was the last of these challengers. The Battle is a popular account of the history Robert Wiggins details in his textbook The Federal League of Base Ball Clubs.

The Federal League failed for for two reasons. First, it was clearly undercapitalized: only three of team owners could really afford the venture. Sinclair, an oil magnate; Ward, a New York bread manufacturer; and Weeghman, a Chicago restauranteur; spent heavily to keep the rest of the league afloat, and eventually ran out of patience, if not money.

The second, and more disturbing, reason, though, is that a Federal judge named Kennesaw Mountain Landis, a self-proclaimed baseball fan, refused to do his job. Since everyone in baseball, including the Federals, knew that Major League Baseball used an unenforceable contract clause to bind players to their teams and operated as a monopoly, the new league expected the courts to enforce anti-trust law and allow a fair chance to compete. Landis, however, saw no need to issue a ruling on the case until the undercapitalized Federals had run out of money and gave up. Once the Federal League asked for peace, the Majors rewarded Landis for his inaction by making him baseballs first Commissioner.