Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Baseball reading and what I'm not reading

It may come as a bit of a surprise to people how comparatively little baseball I seem to read. I mean, here we are with Opening Day almost here and I have read a single baseball book this year. Part of that is due to the overwhelming number of books that are out there that I want to read. There's just not enough time for me to get to all the stuff I want to check out. Part of it is my involvement in baseball history nad research. I refer to an insane number of books on a regular basis for one reason or another. I just don't read them from cover to cover.

I did finish one baseball book last week and I'm in the middle of two others which I hope to complete soon. The one I finished was Hank Utley's The Independent Carolina Baseball League, 1936-1938. First, a disclaimer. I've known Hank since I was in college. We were both active members of SABR's North Carolina chapter and I always liked him. He is listed as a co-writer of this book with Scott Verner, a sportswriter in North Carolina who, I would speculate, did the majority of the writing. I like to think I can remove bias from my reviews, though.

Like a lot of, if not most of, the books that McFarland Publishing puts out, this is a book of niche interest. It's about an outlaw baseball league (outlaw is defined as not falling under the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL) auspices) in the late 1930's in North Carolina and is a fascinating look at a time when baseball was still king in terms of sports and entertainment.

The teams in the Carolina Baseball League were predominantly backed by the large textile mills that operated in North Carolina during that era. Many industries had teams and leagues but the textile towns really took it to extremes, going out and recruiting professional ballplayers from other team and not just relying on townfolk to fill out the teams. Because they weren't under the NAPBL umbrella, the mills could offer salaries which were far in excess of other leagues. They were also able to offer the additional perk of offseason employment in the mills. As a result, the Carolina Baseball League was able to provide fans with a high caliber of baseball.

On the other hand, without the backing of the NAPBL, there was no higher power to appeal to in the matter of disputes. As players and teams started to take their "outlaw" label a little too seriously and disregarding their own rules and regulations, recruiting players from other teams, spending beyond even the limits that the league agreed upon at the start of the season, players who drank too much and argued with umpires, etc., the league quickly struggled and began to fall apart.

Utley does a good job of covering all this. He blends a variety of sources - correspondence, third-party interviews, local newspapers - to explore on and off field happenings. There's a lot of mini-biographies on star players, managers and team executives. There is also enough about the textile mills and the era to be able to give the reader a good background without making the book about the mills. Add in a wealth of photographs and this is a very nice history of an obscure league. As someone who is a fan of baseball books about local leagues/teams, I can safely put this as among the best of the genre.

Now for the other topic of this post, what I'm not reading. As I mentioned, there's a ton of stuff out there I want to read. Because of this, I won't stick with a book that I'm not enjoying unless there's a good reason. OK, my reasons aren't always good. I stuck through Stephen Carter's New England White a year or so ago just so that I could label it the worst book I ever read. If I really want to learn something or I have some reason to believe that the book is better than what I'm seeing it as being so far, I'll tough it out.

This year I've bailed on two books. Twlya Tharp's The Creative Habit and Lynee Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves. I picked up Tharp's book when I saw that people who bought a book I enjoyed, David Bayles's Art and Fear, also bought Tharp's book. Tharp is a dancer and while she tries to stress that her ideas are not only applicable to dance, I think a lot of them are goofy for those who have different creative outlets. For creative inspiration, Tharp's book pales to those of others. Julia Cameron especially comes to mind.

As for Truss's book, I figured as I make my shift from numbers to words, a book about punctuation would be worth reading. It might be. This one isn't. Her book is also supposed to be entertaining but I didn't really find it to be so. Truss complains and complains and complains and complains about how everyone messes up punctuation. It never seemed to stop. I couldn't take it anymore. I get it. A sign that says "Book's for sale" is wrong. I don't need three paragraphs talking about it and then three more about how the sign that says "Table's sold here" is also wrong. It was just too much.

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