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Reviewed by:
  • The Greater New York Sports Chronology
  • Keith Altavilla
Kroessler, Jeffrey A. The Greater New York Sports Chronology. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. Pp. xiv+320. Illustrations and index. $24.95 pb., $74.50 cb.

No one team or athlete can adequately summarize the history of sport in New York City. Instead, the city calls for a narrative that encompasses the full diversity and passion it brings to sporting endeavors. The Greater New York Sports Chronology, by Jeffrey Kroessler, attempts this for the Big Apple. Taking the format of a standard chronology but infusing each entry with great detail, Kroessler breathes life to his timeline and gives a compelling story of a city in love with its sports. By focusing not on individual teams or athletes, but instead the city they all called home, Kroessler catalogues New York's long history in all aspects of athletic competition.

Kroessler's chronology begins back in the early days of Dutch settlement in New Amsterdam, where he highlights sports popular in the region such as riding the goose and bear-baiting, as well as more familiar sports such as bowling and horse races. It is here, in discussing earlier periods that Kroessler's historical background is most evident. A great deal of the information he cites in this period comes from ordinances passed by local authorities preventing various activities from taking place. After covering nearly 300 years of sport in three chapters, Kroessler's timeline condenses during the late nineteenth century as more events begin to occur each year. After 1879, he divides his chapters by decade, up through September of 2009, the last year of the recently completed 2000s. This narrative cut-off does miss subsequent events in the calendar year such as the Yankees' 2009 championship and the Jets' surprising playoff berth, suggesting that perhaps the book could have waited a few extra months to finish the decade.

The most notable aspect of Kroessler's chronology is his great love of the City. The city and its people are his main characters, demonstrating their great love for athletic accomplishment both through participation and fandom. Rather than focus exclusively on athletic endeavors, Kroessler considers the placement and construction of parks, rinks, courts, alleys, tracks, and stadiums to be just as critical in the story of New York sports. He is not afraid to lament the loss of these places, especially facilities geared towards the general public. The author is not completely dismissive of the construction of large, professional palaces, though it is impossible to miss his subtle judgments on the creation and closing of particular arenas. Kroessler is also not afraid to provide his own commentary on particular issues and individuals. His description of the relief of "many many New [End Page 472] Yorkers" following the City's failure to obtain the 2012 summer Olympics stands out, the emphasis suggesting Kroessler's membership in this group (p. 271).

The book does not give a list of its sources, though some of the entries provide easily inferred or stated places of origin. Newspapers appear to make up the bulk of his references, and they provide a great deal of color commentary to what could easily be otherwise dry recitations of scores and statistics. He also delves into court records and legislative proceedings, showing the attempted control of sport by city and state authorities. This is more prevalent in the early years when many laws attempted to restrict the playing of certain games or certain activities on the Sabbath. This shifts towards licensing of activities such as horse racing and boxing in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, up to lobbying New York State for the legalization of mixed martial arts in 2009.

The great weakness in this kind of chronological telling is the potential for lack of context. The isolation of individual events and the reduction of whole seasons to a single paragraph sometimes leads to missing details. This need for context is less noticeable when referring to the more famous professional teams, such as the Yankees or Knicks, whose more publicized history can fill in the blanks. A single reference to the Staten Island Little League team winning a state...


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pp. 472-473
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