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NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture 12.2 (2004) 145-147
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Roger D. Launius.Seasons in the Sun: The Story of Big League Baseball in Missouri. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002. 175 pp. Cloth, $24.95.
Roger Launius is chief historian for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and, according to this book's dust jacket, the author or editor of [End Page 147] many books, none of them, so far as I can tell, in the field of sport history. His motive in undertaking this work, as explained in the preface, betrays the typical romanticism of the novice. "I love baseball," he writes. "I was brought up with it, and I embraced it as something to play or watch at every opportunity. The evolution of the sport also captured my attention early on and continually draws me, a historian, back to the diamonds where players long since gone performed their wizardry." Then, to justify his concentration on the Major League teams that have played in Missouri, he continues:
I would suggest baseball's history in Missouri helps also to say something about the state and the people who reside in it. There does seem to be a style of Major League baseball that is unique to Missouri. For example, I can no easier conceive of Babe Ruth as a member of the Cardinals than I could picture Stan Musial in a Yankees uniform.
These sentiments, harmless though they may be, do not give confidence that the book that follows is a work of serious, analytical history. And indeed it is not. Launius calls his book "a project of historical synthesis," but there's not much synthesizing present. What he has written could better be called a narrative recapitulation. Fans familiar with the travails of the Cardinals and the Royals over the past two decades will find nothing new here. Those who have read the standard works—for example, Fred Lieb's history of the Cardinals, Robert Gregory's biography of Dizzy Dean, and James Giglio's superior biography of Musial—will be similarly unimpressed. And those who have seen Jon David Cash's Before They Were Cardinals: Major League Baseball in Nineteenth-Century St. Louis, admittedly a new book, will be astounded to learn how much Launius has missed.
In a rush to get to the teams that attract him, Launius covers the St. Louis entry in the National Association in just two sentences, and he gives not much more space to Chris Von der Ahe's Browns and the Maroons of the Union Association. What pulls Launius forward so quickly, one can surmise, is his interest in the teams that have represented Missouri's two largest cities in today's two Major Leagues: the Cardinals, the Browns, the Athletics, and the Royals. Simultaneously, he pays some attention to the state's Negro Leagues teams, the St. Louis Stars and the Kansas City Monarchs. Unfortunately, Launius confines most of his attention to on-the-field baseball, writing season-by-season summaries that are nothing if not warmed over.
The problem here, one might argue, is that there really is no history of Major League baseball in Missouri as Launius has tried to conceive it. What there is, in truth, is the history of the Cardinals, the history of the Browns, the history of the Athletics, and so forth, each of them separate enterprises in the same business. Launius's attempt to weave these various stories together is uneasy [End Page 148] at best and futile at worst. Except for such obvious strands as Branch Rickey's working for both the Browns and the Cardinals and the 1985 World Series, the so-called I-70 Series, there is precious little tying these teams together except the artificial construct of geography. Throughout, Launius never bothers either to define "the style of major-league baseball that is unique to Missouri" or to analyze it in any way.
Early on Launius tells us that his grandfather tried out for the Cardinals...