Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Two-Eyed League

When I was in Arkansas for the Boiling Out Conference (I, II, III, IV), a bunch of us got talking before a day's presentations about the lack of great baseball writing. There's great baseball research and great baseball information, but well-written baseball tales are few and far between. I've commented before that writing about baseball isn't easy for a couple of reasons. First, baseball is very quantified and there is a tendency to want to write about the numbers which isn't very interesting from a literary perspective. Second, athletes, by and large, aren't always great subject matter. To see success in a field requires a single-mindedness that limits being well-rounded. That's not to say that these guys don't have hobbies or other interests or that all ballplayers are one-dimensional, I'm just saying that the devotion necessary for greatness can limit other aspects that might be more interesting about which to read.

Keep in mind that much of this discussion came from non- (but aspiring) writers. I've had stuff published but my goal is my name as the sole author on a book. To that end, I mentioned that the challenge of writing a minor league history that is interesting is immense and one that has not been met with success by many authors. Someone asked if I had read Ray Schmidt's Two-Eyed League. I said I had not but that it had been on my shelf for awhile. I was told to check it out which I finally did.

As an aside before the review. About two weeks after this exchange, I get an e-mail from Ray Schmidt. He had rejoined SABR after a decade away and wanted to join the Minor League Committee. We had a little exchange which ultimately moved his book up my "to read" list.

Well, the recommendation was correct. It's a good read. Schmidt self-published the book (not surprising since interest in a floundering minor league from the 19th century isn't going to make it worthwhile for publishers) and as such, it has a number of errors. He also likes to make sarcastic comments which are frequent enough to be annoying. A team winning by the "narrow margin" of 21-2, for instance. Outside of those two things, I really enjoyed it and had a hard time putting it down.

One of the surprising things was the lack of baseball reporting. Much of the book was about management aspects with the teams and the league. The league struggled constantly. As a matter of fact, despite being called the Illinois-Iowa League, the league had no teams in Iowa its final season. Sunday baseball was a huge point of dissension for the teams. Umpires were awful. Contract jumping was common. Embezzlement. Drinking. Good times.

Ultimately, good baseball was the final demise of the league. The Joliet Convicts were so dominant in the first half of the 1892 season, people stopped coming to games because there were was no pennant race. The league voted to break the season into two halves to try and revive interest but it was too late and many teams folded. Joliet was angered and disappointed (they finished the first half 32-4) which didn't help matters.

Good minor league history, good 19th century book (Schmidt takes quotes from the local papers which are always fun (even if they aren't cited properly)), fun read. Worth checking out for any baseball fan and wouldn't be a bad read for non-baseball fans looking for something different.

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