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Several Cincinnati Reds players — Edd Roush, Rube Bressler, Heinie Groh — take pains to declare that their team was better than the Chicago White Sox in the 1919 World Series, and would have won the series even if there had been no fix perpetrated by several Chicago players. They make a good case. But then, everyone in this book makes a good case. The men come across as tougher, from leaner backgrounds, less corporate, more individual — but also more cultured as a group than the stereotype of early century ballplayers would suggest. Harry Hooper recites a considerable list of players who had college backgrounds, and many went on to interesting careers when their playing days were done. Listening to how deftly some of them turn a phrase or tell a story, it is clear they did not spend their post-baseball lives reading only their press clippings.p>That said, history mattered to these men, as is evident from their detailed re-creations of events from bygone days. For them, the past formed a continuum with the present, in a way that a disposable, media-driven culture now makes more difficult. One recalls the infamous television interview with Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox in 1997, during the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s entrance into the major leagues. Thomas, in comments he later claimed were taken out of context, said that Robinson did not mean much to him or his contemporaries because the events were so long in the past. It was the kind of statement that would have left men like Hooper or Crawford breathless, to say nothing of Chief Meyers, who concludes his chapter by telling Ritter: br> /p>
I guess I’m like the venerable old warrior Chief of the Great Six Nations, who announced his retirement by saying, “I am like an old hemlock. My head is still high, but the winds of close to a hundred winters have whistled through my branches, and I have been witness to many wondrous and many tragic things. My eyes perceive the present, but my roots are imbedded deeply in the grandeur of the past.”br> Of all our sports, baseball has always been the one most rooted in the grandeur of the past, most stalked by shadows of what has gone before. It is our misfortune that the shadows now hanging over the game are thrown more by scandal than by great deeds or characters. Among other things, however, The Glory of Their Times is a reminder that the game’s history is long, and that it has weathered storms before.
Paul Beston is a writer in New York.
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