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NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture 12.2 (2004) 163-164
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James R. Tootle. Baseball in Columbus: Images of Baseball. Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2003. 128 pp. Paper, $19.99.
Local baseball histories are either detailed narrative chronicles or heavily illustrated pictorials. James Tootle, a lifelong resident of Columbus, Ohio, and member of the Society for American Baseball Research, has chosen the latter approach to document nearly a century and a half of baseball in Ohio's capital city. It was a wise choice superbly executed.
Tootle writes that "this book is not an encyclopedia of Columbus baseball" but instead is "a collection of vignettes, anecdotes, and memories that portray a long and interesting history" (p.8). That is an apt description of its contents and purpose. The book is divided into six chapters, each corresponding to a discrete era in Columbus baseball history and containing a two-page descriptive narrative that provides context for the illustrative material that follows. The first two chapters recount the era of amateur ball from the game's initial appearance in 1866 to the early heyday of professional teams from the mid-1870s to 1890. There follow chapters devoted to epochs dominated by top-level Minor League franchises—the coming of the Senators 1902-31, the Redbirds 1931-54, the Jets 1955-70, and the Clippers 1971 to the present.
Several hundred images constitute the bulk of the volume. The excellent illustrative material is not a random hodgepodge of available pictures but instead [End Page 163] are carefully selected to evoke both continuity and change in Columbus's rich baseball history. The photographs of the pre-World War I era are especially rich and unusually bounteous for the time period. Accompanied by excellent descriptive and explanatory captions, the pictures illustrate a number of basic themes, among them the importance of the press (and later radio) in promoting the game, the Negro Leagues and the integration of organized baseball, the politics and finances of stadium construction, Minor League baseball as a civic enterprise, and the solicitation of fans, including the advent of Knot Hole Gangs.
Tootle has an appropriately inclusive view of Columbus baseball and therefore includes images that represent, for example, the Deaf School baseball team, the Ohio State University squad, high school teams, baseball at the Ohio state penitentiary, and the vintage baseball clubs that bring the past to the present. Missing, alas, are representations of sandlot and organized youth league baseball.
While one normally flips through so-called coffee-table books, this volume will repay a careful examination of the images and perusal of the unusually informative captions.
Larry R. Gerlach is a professor of history at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. He is the author of Men in Blue: Conversations with Umpires (University of Nebraska Press, 1994) and a valued board member of NINE.