Credit where credit is due

I’ve worked in the publishing industry for over a decade, and there are certain traits that one needs to have in order to do this. First and foremost among these is a love of reading. It’s pretty simple, really. If you love reading books, then it makes sense to help with making more books. And if you don’t, well, the world needs ditchdiggers, too.

Technology is changing this field, like so many others, in very profound ways. And perhaps the change I like the best is the rise of NetGalley. It’s a free online service that allows for advance copies of books  to be downloaded onto a desktop or an e-reader, and perused before the general public has a chance to buy them. I haven’t used it as much as I would like, but today I came across a book that is worth spending a few moments discussing, even though it won’t be available commercially until early next year. Around Opening Day, to be more specific.

The book is called A People’s History of Baseball by Mitchell Nathanson. The book’s title is similar to the late Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, and he acknowledges Zinn’s influence on his book. Nathanson addresses the stories of baseball as they have been told over the years, and prepares to challenge what people think they know about our national pastime.

I found lots of ideas for things to write about here, and each time I do incorporate something from Nathanson’s work, I’ll be sure to give him credit for it.

In general, the most interesting part is the description of Bill James, fantasy baseball, SABR, and baseball blogs in Chapter 6. Nathanson’s point here is that by granting access to the players, through post-game press conferences and other techniques, MLB has long been able to control the narrative about what is written about it. However, people who have no formal ties to the game in any way, which included Bill James once upon a time, have the freedom to say what they want about the game and those who play it.

I did not know, before I read this book, that Babe Ruth had been suspended on a number of occasions in 1922, and that the suspensions were not reported to the public. Such suspensions would be reported far and wide today, but the press at that time did not want to tarnish Ruth’s image.

The book addresses issues with race and the integration of baseball, the formation of the players union, and the role of “storytellers” throughout baseball history. If you like baseball’s prevailing narratives–like Branch Rickey was a noble proponent of baseball’s integration–then this book isn’t for you. But if you’d rather read some things that you didn’t know–like how Branch Rickey raided Jackie Robinson from the Negro League’s Kansas City Monarchs without compensating them in any way–then this is well worth a look.

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