Monday, April 05, 2010

Baseball Americana: Treasures from the Library of Congress by Harry Katz and others

In April each year, no longer able to throw a baseball without pain, I turn to baseball books to celebrate the passing of winter. There is never a shortage of good books on the topic. This year I found an over-sized volume called Baseball Americana: Treasures from the Library of Congress by Harry Katz and others. This colorful book filled with illustrations and short texts serves as a cultural history of baseball in America.

There are many histories of baseball already, and like most, Baseball Americana features some stories from the major leagues. Its best parts, however, focus on the amateur game and fans. It begins with an excellent chapter on the early history of the game, showing drawings from school primers and letters from early players, proving that baseball existed long before the fabled invention by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York in the 1839. My favorite parts may, however be the sections about illustrated sheet music covers for baseball songs and about early baseball cards.

Throughout Baseball Americana are book jackets, posters, magazine illustrations, and splendid photographs. The Library of Congress must have a great collection of team portraits in which the players gathered together to all fit in the frame. They look athletic, stylish, casual, and proud; they also come from all classes and races. Among the other great photos, I especially like the 1920 photo (page 133) of players from The House of David team, all with their long hair and beards, coming out of the White House after a meeting with President Wilson and the 1943 Ansel Adams photo (pages 186-187) of Japanese American internees playing before a crowd and the mountains at Manzanar Relocation Center.

There are plenty of big baseball books out there, but Baseball Americana stands out for showing how baseball connects with people. It is a wonderful addition to a library or personal collection.

Katz, Harry. Baseball Americana: Treasures from the Library of Congress. Smithsonian Books, 2009. 9780061625459.

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