A Pair of Reviews

Haven’t done a review of a book for a while, so here’s a couple. Remember, this is my opinion and should not be taken as gospel (although a faith offering in the form of cash will be accepted).

When working in the 19th Century, I’ve refered with some frequency to David Nemec’s The Great Encyclopedia of 19th Century Major League Baseball. The book was published in 1997 by Penguin Books (9781556115004 ISBN #). As far as I can tell there is no updated version. If you’re interested in 19th Century baseball this is your best source. There’s an introduction, then beginning with 1871 and ending with 1900 he goes through each year. He does a short summary of the season, interspersed with boxes that contain short summaries of particular events, people, or anything else he finds interesting. That’s followed by a team-by-team statistical rundown of the season and a brief look at any postseason action. The work ends by listing the players (by position) and giving their statistics. One thing he does is combine the National Association (1871-1875) stats with the later stats to give you a better overall look at the player’s career (many baseball encyclopedia’s give the info in separate lists). There are also managers and umps listed. The year-to-year summaries are brief, so if you’re interested in a season in detail, this ain’t the work. But if you want an overview of the period with a pretty complete statistical list, try it. One final thing, Nemec’s statistics differ somewhat from other sources. That’s not really a problem as the other sources tend to differ from each other. The reliabily of 19th Century stats is fluid, although getting better. I generally use the stats given by Nemec for this blog.

The other work I won’t recommend nearly as highly. Leveling the Field by G. Scott Thomas (2002, Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers) says it’s “an encyclopedia of baseball’s all-time great performances as revealed through adjusted statistics.” OK, maybe. What the author did was to take the way baseball is played today (2002) and turn that into a series of formulae that supposedly allow him to apply modern play to the play of other eras. This is supposed o tell you what Ty Cobb and company would do if playing today (he doesn’t go the other way and see what Roger Clemens would do in 1910). After explaining his idea and how he does it, he goes through each year giving you a what happens using this method, puts in season highlights (Honus Wagner hits .399 in 1908 with 237 hits and Tim Jordan leads the NL with 40 home runs. Yes, you read that right, 40 home runs in 1908.). At the back there is a new compilation of all-time leaders in various categories (Babe Ruth hits 1157 home runs, Hank Aaron gets 947), followed by his all-time players at each position, an all-time team (26 players), and the adjusted stats of various players. It’s interesting and total nonsense. I don’t like these kinds of books because they adjust through simple figures rather than look at all the variables that make each baseball era unique. Having said that, it might have been kind of fun to watch the Babe blast 94 home runs in 1921 while Yankees don’t even make the World Series (Cleveland beats Pittsburgh four games to three in Leveling-land). If you want to have a little fun the book is OK. Just don’t expect to learn anything.

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3 Responses to “A Pair of Reviews”

  1. Kevin G Says:

    David Nemec’s encyclopedia does have a 2nd edition available on Amazon. It came out in 2006. I agree, if you are a fan of 19th Century baseball, this book is a must have.

    Kevin

  2. verdun2 Says:

    Thanks for the info. Have been hoping he would update it.
    v

  3. William Miller Says:

    Thanks for warning me away from “Leveling the Field.” I generally like the concept, but the execution here sounds poor. Thanks, Bill

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