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The birth of a modern rite
By Steven Martinovich
Many of our institutions today seem to have the permanence of smoke: shapeless, not enough to attach yourself to and gone before you know it. It's not surprising then that there is such devotion to baseball in the United States. It has faced scandal, labour stoppages, world wars and competition from other past times and yet baseball seems eternal. It is, to steal a phrase from Winston Churchill, an iron peg hammered into the frozen ground, providing us with an anchor or a pole for our lives.
Little wonder why when you think about it. Taking rule changes into account, baseball may be the most consistent sport in North America. Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson would have dominated batters in any era while New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig would have unnerved any modern pitcher. It is a game where the elemental skills, patterns and themes have survived unchanged since the advent of modern baseball over a century ago.
That is apparent in Louis P. Masur's Autumn Glory: Baseball's First World Series, a retelling of the best of nine game 1903 series between the American League champion Boston Americans and the National League champion Pittsburgh Pirates. Though few of the names from that series outside of Honus Wagner and Cy Young would be familiar to anyone but the devoted fan, Autumn Glory proves that the more things change the more they stay the same.
The very first World Series nearly wasn't thanks to the open warfare between the established National League and the upstart American League. National League owners resented the competition and truly despised the talent poaching the two-year old junior league undertook to fill its ranks. It took quite a bit of negotiation between the two leagues and its players before the first October classic could be held.
Masur devotes a chapter to each of the eight games it ultimately took to decide the series and his narrative proves that though baseball has seen some changes, it is still the same game we know today. Utilizing contemporary accounts, Masur manages recreates each game and bring them to life despite the fact that they are nearly a century old. He relates the intense interest in the World Series by "base ball" fans in Boston and Pittsburg (its name wasn't spelled with an "h" for a short period of time), which included a massive amount of gambling, zealous fandom and a near riot before the third game started.
"Nearly 12,000 people found their way to the ballpark [in Pittsburgh]. The Royal Rooters [Boston fans], having spent the morning looking to bet on the game, assembled at 1:30pm for a procession to the park. For the third day, a different band led the way, followed by the Boston players in ten open barouches and the fans. They arrived at the park waving their red parasols and preparing for another afternoon of raucous singing and rooting. That day, however, the Pirate fans refused to be outdone by the small but visible contingent of Boston Rooters. They tore paper and scorecards into little pieces and watched them blow like a 'fake snow storm' across the field. They too cheered and sang. Old-time baseball fans sitting in the stands declared it was 'the loudest and most effective rooting in the annals of the American national game."
Masur's account of the 1903 series would hardly be complete without exploring the relations between the two leagues and the season that led up to the World Series. Interspersed between each game chapter is one that explores the events of that year in the baseball world. Though they often deal with the machinations that occurred behind the scenes, Masur manages to keep the pace moving briskly, never spending too much time before returning his main narrative.
As Autumn Glory proves, many of the same issues that hold the public's interest today were in play a century ago. Whether it's the debate over rule changes, players' salaries and strikes or owners more interested in profit than fielding the best team possible, it seems that not much really changes. As gripping as those issues can be though, they never overshadow the beauty of the game itself. Masur's weaving of those issues and the history of the season and the World Series is an impressive feat considering he never loses focus in what's really important, eight games that transfixed the nation and a World Series that continues to do so.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario.
Buy Autumn Glory: Baseball's First World Series at Amazon.com for only $16.10 (30% off)
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