- Reading Baseball: Books, Biographies, and the Business of the Game by Braham Dabscheck
In the forward to Reading Baseball: Books, Biographies, and the Business of the Game, David Zirin writes that baseball is not a "pastoral, innocent enterprise"; rather, he suggests that it is a cut-throat, multi-billion dollar business whose history and traditions are filled with money-hungry owners who controlled players with a "reserve-clause," and players in constant revolt and conflict with the established order. In his thought-provoking collection of fifteen previously published essays, Australian Braham Dabscheck's offers an outsider's view on the American pastime and raises compelling questions about economics, race, and the philosophy of baseball to deconstruct some of the sport's enduring myths.
Four essays addressing the business of baseball comprise the first of three sections in the book. The initial essay presents a detailed overview of the 125-year history of industrial relations in baseball, which Dabscheck organizes into three historical periods (from the founding of the National League in 1876 to the end of the Federal League in 1915; from the end of the trade wars of 1915 to 1966; and the post-1966 marking the rise of the Major League Baseball Players Association). The following three essays, "Sport, Law, America!" "An American Hero: Curt Flood and His Struggle Against Organized Baseball," and "The Sporting Cartel in History," benefit from the informative historical context established in the first essay and reveal Dabscheck's thorough and nuanced understanding of the complexities of baseball labor relations. Dabscheck writes in a cogent and [End Page 495] concise style and distills complex issues (such as the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 and its relation to baseball) so that scholars and fans alike can understand them. In areas of labor relations and financial decisions Dabscheck compares Major League Baseball in the United States to other professional sports leagues around the world to suggest that baseball functions as a cartel for economic purposes yet simultaneously increases competition and commercial viability.
Eight essays discussing previously published books about baseball comprise the second section of the volume. Analytical in nature, the book-review-like essays address the scholarly merit and long-lasting importance of each baseball book. From Stephen Jay Gould's Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville: A Lifelong Passion in Baseball (2004) and Eric Bronson's edited volume, Baseball and Philosophy: Thinking Outside the Batter's Box (2004) to biographies of Babe Ruth, Branch Rickey, Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax, and others, the authors situates the subject matters in its historical and cultural context.
The final section, "Boundaries and Borderlands," contains three essays examining baseball in an international context. "The Formation and Early Years of the Australian Baseball League" (by far the longest essay of the volume) is a must-read for anyone interested in the international expansion of baseball, its limits, and national appeal. Dabscheck traces the role of Major League Baseball International Partners in providing active assistance in organizing the Australian Baseball League in 1989. With baseball included in the 1992 Olympics, many believed the sport would thrive in Australia, especially given that Sydney would host the Olympic games in 2000. In arguably the most important scholarly essay on the founding of the league, Dabscheck discusses its beginnings, structure, operation, finances, labor market, and players' association. Given that the league disbanded in 1999 and the essay was originally published in 1995, it is a shame that the author did not revise the contribution or address the founding of a new Australian Baseball League in 2010. The final two essays "Spalding's World Tour and Baseball in Asia" and "Latinos and the National Pastime" are book reviews that provide additional historical and cultural context to the international dimension of baseball.
Reading Baseball is an excellent entry point for fans, students of the game, and historians to explore baseball's labor practices, race and nationality, and some of the astronomical economic changes in the game since the founding of the first professional league. [End Page 496...