- Baseball State by State: Major and Negro League Players, Ballparks, Museums, and Historical Sites by Chris Jensen
With its emphasis on statistics and its self-conscious approach to its history, baseball, perhaps more than any other professional sport, evokes debates about its best-ever players. In his thoroughly engaging volume, Chris Jensen takes a decidedly unique approach to the concept of baseball’s all-time team by ranking more than 2,500 major league and Negro League players by the state of their birth. Much more than just another ranking, Baseball State by State is a veritable lexicon of information about baseball players and baseball-related sites.
Covering all fifty states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Canada, each chapter begins with Jensen’s list of each state’s all-time team with a top selection and honorable mention for each position. By using the place of birth instead of the state or city most commonly associated with a player (for example, Al Kaline is included in the chapter on Maryland, not on Michigan) and including stars from the Negro Leagues, Jensen’s selections reveal hitherto overlooked or forgotten hotbeds of local baseball traditions and players. Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Billy Williams, for example, comprise the outfield for Alabama and Negro League speedster Willie Wells (probably unknown to even the most well-versed baseball fan) was named top shortstop for the state of Texas.
After a thoroughly enjoyable section on nicknames (Joe “Wagon Tongue” Adams from Illinois and Charlie “The Old Woman in the Red Cap” Pabor from New York deserve special mention) and all-time leaders in standard statistical categories, Jensen includes a section entitled, “Historic Baseball Places,” which will undoubtedly help plan many vacations and travel routes in the future. He lists major and minor league stadiums and other historical sites, such as Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, Massachusetts; McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island; the Clemente Museum in Pittsburgh, and the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame in Jasper.
For the fan of stats and factoids, the lists of a few interesting (and mostly obscure) facts in the section “Notable Achievements” is ideal. Most baseball fans do not know that Larry Doby, from Alabama, was the first African American to play in the American Basketball League in 1943; in 1952 pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm homered in his first game then did not hit another in his career spanning 1,070 games; and Bob Addy from Port Hope became the first Canadian to play Major League Baseball when he suited up for the Rockford (Illinois) Forest Citys in 1871.
Each chapter contains a highly informative essay on some aspect of baseball history relevant to the state. Revealing the breadth of Jensen’s knowledge, these contributions of original scholarship tackle a wide array of topics, from the history of spring training in Hot Springs, Arkansas, beginning in 1890 and a survey of baseball scouting in California, which has produced the most major league players, to the fully integrated 1935 Bismarck Churchills, a dream team in North Dakota which boasted five of the greatest pitchers in [End Page 352] Negro League history. These essays reveal how baseball is truly a national game with its roots extending to all parts of the country and to areas which seemingly have no connection to Major League Baseball. For example, Native Americans, especially from Oklahoma, have contributed to baseball, and the state of Wyoming, which does not offer baseball in high schools, has a lively minor league in Caspar.
The final section of each chapter presents Jensen’s analysis and justification of his all-time team named at the beginning of each chapter. With the aid of traditional and advanced statistics (such as OPS, OPS+, WHIP, and ERA+), Jensen compares and contrasts his selections and alternates for all eight position players, designated hitter, right and left-handed starters, relief pitcher, and manager, and provides some historical context. Easily the bulk of the book, this section reads as an encyclopedia of the greatest...