- Replays, Rivalries, and Rumbles: The Most Iconic Moments in American Sports ed. by Steven Gietschier
Steven Gietschier begins Replays, Rivalries, and Rumbles with a personal reminiscence, recalling boyhood trips to Ebbets Field with his father to see the Brooklyn Dodgers. His reminiscence reminds me of when Dad took me to the Lucas County Fairgrounds in 1968 to see an exhibition game between the Detroit Tigers and its triple-A affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens. I saw Denny McLain pitch the year he won thirty-one games and the year the Tigers won the World Series. Our memories reflect the cultural importance of sports and the desire to bear witness to sports history. After his reminiscence, Gietschier presents twenty-three chapters organized chronologically and written by contributors who discuss a variety of iconic sporting moments from the invention of baseball to the development of American sports journalism. Although not divided into groups, the chapters fit into three basic categories, listed here from most to least effective.
Storytime. The most compelling chapters identify key moments in the history of American sport and retell their stories. In chapter 4, “The Creation of the Negro National League,” for example, Leslie Heaphy brings her readers to Kansas City, Missouri, on Friday, February 13, 1920, when baseball’s businessmen and journalists, led by Andrew “Rube” Foster, gathered to establish the Negro National League. Though most of the chapter is devoted to this moment, Heaphy does provide some intriguing background details, noting, for instance, that Moses Fleetwood Walker and his brother Welday, who played for the Toledo Blue Stockings in the mid-1880s, were the last African Americans in the major leagues until Jackie Robinson.
Changes in Attitude. Chapters in this category still tell stories, but they go beyond the iconic moment to examine its subsequent history, surveying how attitudes have changed since. In chapter 16, “The 1972 U.S.–U.S.S.R. Basketball Final,” Kevin Witherspoon describes the night the Soviet Union robbed the United States of its gold medal in basketball and then proceeds decade-by-decade to explain how time and politics have altered the historical perception of the game.
Messy Evidence. Because historical documentation can be spotty or contradictory or nonexistent, some contributors have run into trouble reconstructing the iconic moments [End Page 371] they identify. Instead of telling a story in chapter 1, “Abner Doubleday and the ‘Invention’ of Baseball,” Thomas L. Altherr surveys the evidentiary problems involved with his subject. Given the book’s chronological organization, Mark Dyreson oddly begins chapter 2, “The ‘Stars and Stripes’ at the Olympic Games,” in 1992. Not until five pages into the chapter do we learn his iconic moment occurred in 1908, the year the United States first refused to dip its flag in the Olympics. The rest of the chapter discusses the flag ceremony in subsequent Olympics. Instead of treating one particular moment, Dyreson discusses a series of parallel moments extending over decades. Tommie Smith’s iconic Black Power gesture at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, which Dyreson mentions in passing, would have made a much stronger chapter topic. Fifty years on, Smith’s gesture sticks in my mind more firmly than anything that happened in the World Series that year.
In chapter 3, “The Black Sox Scandal Redux,” Daniel A. Nathan also surveys the scholarship instead of telling a story. In short, the first three chapters all suit the “Messy Evidence” category. Together they give the book a slow start that may discourage readers before they reach the best chapters. To appreciate Replay, Rivalries, and Rumbles, keep the book handy and dip into it, reading the chapters in whatever order you wish. Not only will this method avoid its slow beginning, but it will also avoid the book’s anticlimactic ending.
Dennis Gildea contributes the final chapter, “The Rise and Fall of The National Sports Daily.” Since this sporting paper was founded in 1990 and folded in 1991, it belongs last in...