The Haymakers, Unions and Trojans of Troy, New York: Big-Time Baseball in the Collar City, 1860–1883 by Jeffrey Michael Laing
In this comprehensive review of high-level baseball in Troy, New York, Laing abundantly documents the ball games, players, and significant events that impacted Troy's baseball history.
The focus of the book is the four-year stint of Troy's major-league team from 1879 to 1882. Laing explores Troy's brief tenure as a small-market team in the National League, which compiled mediocre results before the team was forcibly jettisoned from the league as part of the league's action to bring in new teams from the much larger cities of New York and Philadelphia. Laing also devotes considerable space to a review of the five members of the Baseball Hall of Fame who began their major-league career in a Troy uniform.
To provide context to Troy's time in the National League, Laing uses the first few chapters essentially as an extensive prologue to recap Troy's earlier elite amateur teams and nascent professional teams of the 1860s and 1870s. In the post-Civil War era, the Union Base Ball Club of Lansingburgh, a town just north of Troy, was one of the best amateur teams in the country. Laing details the adventures of the amateur Union Club and its subsequent incarnation into the professional Troy Haymakers during the formative years of professional baseball, before the team disbanded in 1872. After covering the National League years, the book concludes with a brief look at Troy's forays into minor-league baseball following the ejection of its major-league team from the National League.
The book is an impressive research effort. Laing's strength as a writer is the copious amount of research evidence he packs into the text, using a mix of primary and secondary sources. However, to Laing, the extensive research seems to be the story, rather than the use of the most pertinent pieces of that research to further the salient points he wants to make about baseball in Troy. For example, it is not unusual to encounter massively long quotations from Laing's research, presented in indented block style, that occupy one-half of a page; there are several excerpts that consume a full page or more. For optimal effectiveness in developing a book's thesis, research should help tell the story, not be the story.
Laing's use of contemporary newspaper reports adds considerable detail to the on-field exploits of the various Troy teams. The use of the more flavorful newspaper snippets is where Laing adds insight to the saga of Troy baseball, such as the team's battle in 1880 with a telegraph company about paying for the [End Page 222] rights to transmit game information from the ball grounds. When the telegrapher was denied entrance to the grounds, Laing writes that the telegrapher was not discouraged and quotes a newspaper account that "he climbed a pole, tapped the wire, and from his commanding position telegraphed to headquarters the result of each inning," after which the reporter noted that "the Troy City directors purchased to-day a quantity of canvas, which, it is surmised, will be stretch upon a framework as to shut out the operator" (136–37). This type of accent enlivens the story for readers.
The selection of secondary research sources by Laing may be troubling to some readers, as Laing widely uses an eclectic variety of website articles and books that rely heavily on other secondary sources. Laing also often passes up the opportunity to paint his own interpretation of controversies on the ball field and decisions furtively reached in smoke-filled backrooms. Both approaches lessen the effectiveness of Laing's review of major events in Troy's baseball history.
For example, in describing the unusual circumstances of how Troy entered the National League for the 1879 season, Laing uses an obscure website article, via a half-page indented quotation, to summarize the contentious situation rather than provide his own analysis (91–92). Laing could have easily chosen a more reputable source, such as Melville's analysis of this event in his book Early Baseball and the Rise of the National League. Also, Laing could have opted to provide an expanded explanation of why Troy's benefactor in this situation, league president William Hulbert, brought Troy into the league, beyond the mere one sentence he provides that recaps three possible general rationales (94). Such a seminal event in Troy's baseball history deserves more in-depth treatment.
For general baseball fans, particularly residents of upstate New York, who are not familiar with the rich history of baseball in Troy, Laing's comprehensive review will be an informative read. However, historians and other sophisticated readers with a deep interest in nineteenth-century baseball will be frustrated that there is little new insight revealed in Laing's examination to advance a greater understanding of these turbulent times in baseball history. [End Page 223]