Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Joy of a completed series of books

You may have noticed that my return to blogging has been rather bereft of talk about books. As a matter of fact, not a single post has been about books. There is a madness to my method. This has been the most prolific reading year in my life, at least in terms of the number of books I've read. I recently finished my 102nd book of the year. If I had kept blogging book reviews, I wouldn't have had much time to do anything else.

Books are still important to me, obviously, and I will be writing more about what I've read this year in some upcoming posts. Today, though, I'm talking about the collecting of books and my continued quest to build a baseball research library. I'm always on the hunt for certain books and several weeks ago I was able to acquire the first edition of an annual publication that gave me a complete run of the series of books.

I was able to pick up the 1947 edition of Who's Who in the American Association. The American Association was, for the longest time, one of the premiere minor leagues, representing the highest levels of minor league baseball for many, many years. The league formed in 1902 and ran until 1962 when it disbanded. The league reformed in 1969 when Major League Baseball expanded but disbanded yet again in 1997 (which led to the teams in Iowa, New Orleans and Omaha, among others, to join the Pacific Coast League. If the Mayans are correct, we may see global flooding or something which will turn Omaha, Nebraska into a coastal paradise. Until then, it's jsut silly that they're in the Pacific Coast League). Now the name American Association is used for an independent minor league.

The league also has had a long history of issuing its own publications. In addition to the Who's Who, they put out Record Makers of the American Association, American Association on Parade and All-time Records and Highlights of the American Association. I'm still working on some of them. 

 The Who's Who run is done, though. The publication lasted for five seasons, beginning with the 1947 copy and ending with the 50 Golden Years anniversary edition.

I love the covers on these. I also love that with the exception of the 1948 edition, they use generic ballplayer images for the covers but that for the 1948 copy, they use German Heinz Becker to highlight the American Association. Becker war ein Berliner, having been born there in 1915.

In retrospect, I find it an interesting choice to feature a German so soon after World War II. But you can make an argument that Becker is the best professional baseball player ever to have been born in Germany and he was one of the best hitters in the American Association during his era.

The switch-hitting Becker joined the Milwaukee Brewers in 1942 and was second in the league in batting to his teammate Eddie Stanky with a .340 average. The Brewers hired Charlie Grimm midway through the 1941 season to manage the club. Grimm had been one of the few managers to have had any success heading the Chicago Cubs, leading them to the National League pennant in 1932 and 1935. At the helm of the Brewers, he turned a last place team that had lost 98 games in 1941 into a playoff team.

The 1943 season saw the Brewers winning the most games in the regular season but they again lost in the playoffs. Heinz Becker joined the Chicago Cubs at the end of the 1943 season which left him short of qualification for the batting title. He would have finished fourth in batting as he hit .326. 

Becker was back in Milwaukee for the full season in 1944 and hit .346 . The Brewers had an incredible lineup that season.  Bingo Binks hit .374, Hal Peck hit .345 and four others hit over .340 in part-time play. That's not including the "low-average" power hitters; Bill Nagel (.308, 23 HR (2nd in the league)), Tommy Nelson (.303, 20 HR (3rd)) and Bill Norman (.296, 17). The Brewers scored 954 runs, 100 more than the next highest team. They Brewers also had the league's best pitching staff with a 3.79 ERA. The team won 102 games but were beaten in the playoffs by Louisville. Charlie Grimm took over the Cubs again and was replaced in Milwaukee by Casey Stengel.

Louisville again proved to be Milwaukee's undoing in 1945. The Brewers again had the best record in the regular season, 93-61, but lost out to Louisville in the playoffs with the Colonels winning their second straight American Association title. Heinz Becker spent the entire season with Charlie Grimm in Chicago and the Cubs reached the World Series yet again under Grimm's management. Cubs fans would have to wait another, oh, ever, before they returned to the World Series.

In 1946, Heinz Becker went to Nashville in the Southern Association but returned to Milwaukee in 1947, where, as we know from the cover of the 1948 guide, he won the batting title for Milwaukee. Not only that, but Milwaukee returned to the playoffs (they had a losing record in 1946), and beat their nemesis, the Louisville Colonels, for the league championship. Despite winning the batting title, Becker was not named to the league's All-Star team, the nod being given to Louisville's Paul Campbell. It's easy to see why. Take a look at the stats:

Campbell - .304/.365/.421, 93 R, 71 RBI
Becker - .363/.472/.521, 90 R, 90 RBI

It's obvious that....voting was as inexplicable then as it is now. I guess Campbell had the intangibles. 

Becker spent his last season in Milwaukee in 1948, "only" hitting .321 (9th best in the league) and the Brewers lost in the plaoyffs yet again.

That was bit of a digression. I was really writing about these books. I always enjoy seeing where things lead, though, and you probably wouldn't have even given Heinz Becker a thought had I not written about him today.

Returning to the books, they're a neat part of minor league history. The players of each team are featured with a picture (and Becker looks nothing like he does on the cover), their stats, and a short biography (Becker was married with two children), which also included their home address at the time. There are some league stats in each of them and the 1951 edition, naturally, being the Golden Anniversary edition and all, concludes with a history of the league, primarily highlighting some of the stars that had passed through the American Association. 

Part of my pleasure in having the complete run of these publications is that no one else seems to have them. The Hall of Fame is lacking the 1947 edition and Worldcat shows no library with more than two editions. On the one hand, it may seem a bit meaningless in that the presumed interest in having a run of sixty year old books about a defunct minor league is rather minimal. On the other, I think it is important that someone has them, especially in our era of digitization. I will be writing more about why this matters and what the plans for my library/collection are in the near future. As for now, let us recall Heinz Becker's hitting prowess and enjoy learning a bit more about the great game of baseball than we previously knew.

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