No shortage of topics for baseball history books

Robert Birnbaum surveys newly-released baseball books at The Daily Beast – many of them in an historical vein, of course — and as usual I came across something unanticipated and refreshingly welcome.

In addition to Stuart Banner’s history of the antitrust exemption, Dennis D’Agostino’s salute to legendary baseball writers and Robert Weintraub’s examination of the immediate post-World War II game comes this gem from Edward Achorn: “The Summer of Beer and Whiskey.”

Summer of Beer and WhiskeyIf that doesn’t grab your attention, the subtitle ought to stoke your thirst (pun intended): “How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America’s Game.”

It’s the story of how Chris Von der Ahe, a German-born saloon owner, founded the St. Louis Browns in 1883 — and later the American Association, which became the American League — as a way to sell more beer. Achorn, the editorial page editor of The Providence Journal, writes that Von der Ahe knew practically nothing about baseball. But his suds-selling scheme opened the game up to everyday working people, and in particular immigrants like himself.

Unlike the National League, which didn’t play on Sunday and didn’t sell alcoholic beverages at the ballpark, Von der Ahe did both, selling tickets for 25 cents for any and all comers to enjoy booze and ball on the Lord’s Day. From an excerpt on the NPR website:

With cheap tickets, Sunday ball, and beer, he grabbed control of the dying game in St. Louis and, in a turnaround at least as improbable and dramatic as the one engineered by the 2011 Cardinals, infused it with new life and popularity—while perhaps saving all of professional baseball in the bargain. Von der Ahe also played a role in founding a flamboyant new major league, whose influence echoes loudly through Major League Baseball to this day.

(Achorn, author of several baseball history titles, including Twitter star Old Hoss Radbourn, is interviewed by NPR’s Jacki Lyden here.)

The title of the book comes from how National League snobs regarded the maverick league, calling it the “beer and whiskey circuit.” But Von der Ahe’s entrepreneurial ruse changed the game during a time when the fate of what’s become the national pastime wasn’t always certain.

In addition to Birnbaum’s survey is a notable “project” by Los Angeles Daily News columnist Tom Hoffarth, who recently embarked on a review of 30 baseball books in 30 days — it’s become an annual thing. Sports media writer Ed Sherman did this Q & A with Hoffarth last month: 501 Baseball Books

I’m also huge on history-related books, but only if they’re written well, not like a college dissertation but with a writer’s flare to insert color and not just research. This year, another book by Robert Weintraub nails it with “The Victory Season.” The opposite is true with a bio on “Smoky Joe Wood.”

Hoffarth also references baseball book maven Ron Kaplan, proprietor of Ron Kaplan’s Baseball Bookshelf and author of  the recently released “501 Books Baseball Fans Must Read Before They Die.”

The book is organized into 15 chapters, detailing books according to categories, such as biography and memoir, the minor leagues and for young readers.

The meter’s running, folks. I say it’s time to get cracking with some of those.

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