- Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game by John Thorn
The purpose of Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game, as noted by eminent baseball historian and editor John Thorn, is to provide “groundbreaking research and lively reinterpretation about a period that most baseball fans had long considered dead, buried, done with” (3). In that sense, Base Ball passes with extreme praise. Piecing together the early years of the game can be tedious and difficult. The existence of Base Ball as an annual peer-reviewed journal is a testament to the contributors who find fulfillment and satisfaction from exploring and bringing to light what is often a forgotten era of baseball. For example, Brock Helander’s article on Horace Phillips—perhaps best known for instigating the movement that led to the eventual formation of the American Association of Base Ball Club—is beautifully researched, chronicled, and sourced. With nearly 160 meticulous endnotes, Helander traces the life of Phillips from birth to his death in the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane. The end result of Helander’s research efforts is an authoritative article on the enigmatic nineteenth-century baseball manager. If one could extrapolate future volumes of Base Ball from just volume 8, it seems that the future of Deadball Era baseball research is in excellent hands.
A significant strength of the journal—aside from offering one of the only true academic forays into the Deadball Era of baseball—is the varying topics researched and presented. For instance, contributor Rob Edelman explores the history of the Broadway play The Girl and the Pennant: A Base-Ball Comedy in Four Acts and, more importantly, whether Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson was rightfully billed as a coauthor of the play. As well, Tom Gilbert explores the early years of Jim Creighton. Despite Creighton being widely considered the game’s first superstar, little was known about his formative years. As Gilbert rightfully asserts, there has always been “something maddeningly elusive about James Creighton as a research subject” (17). By trolling through multiple newspapers, the New York State Census, and other early works on the player, Gilbert was able to put together a masterful biography on Creighton, who met his untimely death at the age of twenty-one.
However, despite an impressive roster of names on the editorial board, a perplexing issue remains in volume 8 of Base Ball. Editor John Thorn himself mentions on the back cover “Base Ball places a great importance on documentation. Source citations . . . are required.” It is shocking then to find that screenwriter Dan O’Brien’s article chronicling player Rube Waddell’s entry into stage acting was published with absolutely no citations or bibliography. O’Brien’s brief article is perhaps the most entertaining in this volume. Of course, writing about Waddell—one of the most eccentric and colorful personalities in baseball lore—often helps. But publishing an article in a peer-reviewed journal without citations is more of an indictment on the review system itself rather than the author. It is the one critique—however major—in an otherwise excellent journal. [End Page 145]