I just finished my copy of The Only Game in Town, a new book written by former baseball commisioner Fay Vincent. It is the first volume in what is intended to be an on-going oral history of the game. In this volume, some of the players from the 1930′s and 1940′s are the focus, including Dom Dimaggio, Bob Feller, Monte Irvin and Larry Doby.
As an oral history, the book lacks a sense of pace or focus; in that, for the most part, it appears that the players were interviewed, and then the tapes were simply transcribed and published. This leads to a lot of strangely composed sentences and paragraphs, making it a less enjoyable read. I would have liked to have seen the players words refined or smoothed out, (Simon & Schuster published the book, but it doesn’t appear to have been edited).
Studs Terkel is famous for this type of writing, and as I read this book, I found myself longing for Studs’ ability to make me feel as though I were actually with the person talking. Here’s an example:
And it was that kind of baseball. So when I got back to Sarasota, my uncle subscribed to the Amsterdam News–that was the New York Weekly. And my father subscribed to the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Defender. See, these are the weeklies. We don’t get the paper until around Tuesday. But Tuesday evening, everybody would come to my house and we’d spread these papers out in the yard.
Now, the guy–I would probably be Rube Foster; another guy would be C.I. Taylor, and so on. So because–and it gave me a hope that I never had before, because the guys that I’d seen making a living playiong baseball, they were white. So now, this was a chance for me to make my living playing baseball. So that’s it.
John “Buck” O’Neil
Now, don’t get the impression that it’s not important to record the thoughts and words of Buck O’Neil, a baseball immortal who is loved by everyone who has ever met him. Better editing would have allowed me to feel his presence, to hear him more clearly.
Other than that one issue, the stories told by these players are a part of the history of the game, some of them lesser lights who were overshadowed during their day. The Baseball Oral History Project is important, and these players voices are too. If you’d like to pick up a coopy of the book, the link above will take you right to Amazon.