100 Years of Baseball By David Nemec & Saul Wisnia Hardcover 528 pages Published by Publications International Limited 2002
By no means a light read, Nemec & Wisnia’s book is a tome with a grand scope. The book attempts to give an overview of the history of baseball but really focuses on the past century from 1901 through the 2001 season. It starts quite correctly with the history of the game before then, and introduces us to how baseball and the big leagues came to be.
The book then gives an overview, with selected highlights, various ups and downs, pennant races and historical moments, leading to the world series of each season starting with 1901. The book is divided into decades, and at the beginning of each, the authors stop quoting numbers and facts, but instead explain the forces which shaped baseball and the thinking of the players and owners over that decade.
Without question those are the most interesting sections of the book, and the most informative. By themselves, the decade summaries make the book worth reading. However, that is not all the book has to offer. At the end of each year’s summary, a list of notable facts and accomplishments are presented as the “Season’s Best”. Some of them amazed me, some made me remember games from my childhood, and some just made me groan and think “oh, not another list.”
Still I would be lying if I said those lists did not offer a lot of interesting information about the game and how it grew - and any stat head or trivia buff would probably adore them.
Following each year is a brief profile of a “Player of the Year”. Most of these were absolutely terrific and I found myself becoming a fan of many players who I never knew much about. Most of them we have all heard of, but simply dismissed as players from deep in the past. Names like Mantle, Cobb, Speaker, Williams, Henderson, and McGwire are familiar to us all, but how many of us could really speak with any knowledge about players like Mordecai Brown, Joe Wood, Eddie Cicotte, or Ed Walsh?
Best of all these one page “Player of the Year” profiles are not overly bogged down with statistics or lifetime stats but often give us insight as to who the player actually was and what the game meant to him.
Another big plus were the photos and images which fill a large percentage of the book. Player and team photos, action shots, memorabilia, ticket stubs, magazine covers, advertising and even products endorsed, or named after players, give a wonderful overview of how America looked at the heroes of the game.
The heaviest bit of criticism I would level at the book, was that the year by year chapters especially towards the end, had a tedious similarity. It makes the book something one needs to read in small chunks. I found myself able to read earliest decades at one sitting, but from about the 1970’s, it became hard to handle more than a few pages at a time.
As a reference, especially a quick one, the book has a lot of strengths and I would highly recommend it. Any fan who doesn’t have a real firm grasp on the actual history of the game will get a lot from it and will probably develop a whole different perspective on the game. The book is suitable for younger fans, although many things including the wonderful analysis of the early labor relations might not hold a child's interest.
All in all, I’d give it 3 out of 4 balls -Four balls would require an immediate walk... to the local bookstore to find a copy.
Our Rating System is based on a four ball system as follows: One Ball: Average. It has something to say but is nothing special. Two Balls: Something men usually have - also means its a cut above average, and worth reading/owning. Three balls: Stands out from its peers and is highly recommended. Four Balls: More than just what two men have when hanging out together, it means it is an exceptional book that truly earns a walk - straight to the local book store to get a copy.