Saturday, September 6, 2008

A Lazy Saturday Afternoon Post

The best way I've found to run this blog has been to batch my posts. I'll usually take one day out of the week and write about seven to ten posts and get the whole thing out of the way for the next week. However I didn't get a chance to do that this week and so I'm just kind of winging it. And if you've ever been faced with the blank page, you know that isn't a particularly productive way to write. But it's been a particularly unproductive week for me, so you reap what you sow. Bottom line: I didn't have a clue what I was going to write about today when I sat down at the computer. I doubt you want to hear about my job or the Squeeze/Aimee Mann show I saw on Tuesday (which led to a vicious hangover on Wednesday) or the woman I was out at the bar with or my take on the Republican convention so what does that leave me with?

I think I'm going to write about the books that are sitting on my desk.

I always have a stack of books on my desk. Usually it's a combination of books I'm reading and books that I've already read and that I'm using as source for something I'm working on.

So what's on my desk right now?

Baseball Before We Knew It by David Block: I just got this book last week and haven't gotten that far into it but I think it's rather good so far. Per the dust jacket, "David Block looks into the early history of the game and of the 150-year -old debate about its beginnings. He tackles one stubborn misconception after another..."

Chris Von der Ahe and the St. Louis Browns by J. Thomas Hetrick: Surprisingly, this is the only modern historical work on Von der Ahe and I really think that it's time for someone to take a more radically critical look at Von der Ahe's life and significance to St. Louis baseball. Published in 1999, Hetrick's work is well-written and well-researched but I think that my interpretation of who Von der Ahe was and what he achieved is different than Hetrick's more mainstream view. Sometimes as a reader I fall into the trap of looking at a work through the lens of what I want it to be rather than accepting it for what it is and that's my biggest problem with Hetrick's book-it's not the biography of Von der Ahe that I wanted to read or that I would have written. And that's really not a fair criticism. It's a darn good book.

A Game of Inches: The Game Behind The Scenes by Peter Morris: It seems that I always have one of the Game of Inches books on my desk. What can I say, I'm a lazy researcher and why on earth should I bother to go digging information up when Peter has already done the work for me? I have the chapter on money bookmarked because I'm very interested in how the game in St. Louis transitioned from amateur to professional baseball and I'm sure that Morris has some interesting general statements on that evolutionary aspect of the game.

Lion of the Valley by James Neal Primm: Simply the best general history of St. Louis ever written.

Civil War St. Louis by Louis Gereis: Just a fantastic book. If you're interested in St. Louis history or the history of the Civil War, I can't recommend this book enough.

The National Game by Al Spink: A classic. Another book I can't recommend enough. Easily my favorite baseball book and, among all my favorite books, it ranks right up their with the Bible, A Light In August, and The Life of the Twelve Caesars. I think my copy is about two years old and it has never been on the shelf.

I also have The Whiskey Merchant's Diary on order from Amazon and I'm really looking forward to reading that. It's the diary of Joseph Mersman, a liquor salesman, who moved to St. Louis in 1849. The diary covers his life in the city through the war years and, while I have no idea if there is any mention of baseball, I'm sure it will give me an interesting perspective on life in St. Louis during that era.


David Ball said...

Jeff, I've read the Whiskey Merchant book...he lived in Cincinnati first, then St. Louks, and the diary is a lot more informative about life in Cincinnati, which is fine with me, because that's where I live, but you may see things differently. He moved to St. Louis to go into business for himself and thus had a lot to occupy his time and his mind -- not to mention an attack of syphillis, which he wanted to clear up so he could marry. The entries quickly become more scattered and less detailed once he leaves Cincinnati. Nothing about baseball in either city, but the editor has some comments on St. Louis pre- and post-Civil War that may be of interes.

I bave also been reading Richard Hopton's "Pistols at Dawn: A History of Duelling," in which I expected to find nothing at all about baseball, and I didn't find anything dealing with it directly. However, Hopton describes "perhaps the best known duel in Missouri's history," actually a pair of duels fought in 1817 between Thomas Hart Benton and Charles Lucas of St. Louis, in the second of which Lucas lost his life. Lucas is described as the scion of a relatively old and wealthy St. Louis family. This must be the family to which John Lucas, president of the St. Louis club in the 1870's, and Henry Lucas, president of the St. Louis Maroons, belonged.

Richard Hershberger said...

I commend the David Block to your continued attention. It is a genuine ground-breaker in the study of the origins of the game. Even where I disagree with Block, it is in stimulating ways.

Jeff Kittel said...

David, you're right about the Lucas family. Charles Lucas was the uncle of J.B.C. Lucas and Henry Lucas. The duel certainly has to be the most famous in St. Louis history (and it actually took place in Illinois, on Bloody Island which is now part of the East St. Louis riverfront). Towards the end of his life, Benton expressed a great deal of regret over the affair and said something along the lines of how he felt pangs of sympathy and guilt when he thought of young Lucas. And I think he had a great deal to feel guilty about. The first duel, in which Benton wounded Lucas, should have satisfied Benton's "sense of honor" but he insisted on a second duel with rules that pretty much guaranteed that somebody was going to be killed.

And thanks for the information about The Whiskey Merchant. I'm hoping it comes in the mail today because I'm really looking forward to reading it.

As to Block's book, Richard, I've been meaning to pick it up for awhile and never got around to it. I've read the introduction and the first couple of chapters and have enjoyed it so far. I'm going to try and finish it this week.