Lloyd Johnson’s Baseball’s Book of Firsts is probably the first book of baseball history in last few decades to contain information you haven’t heard anywhere else. This magazine-sized softcover 176 page encyclopedia delivers exactly what it promises with well-written capsule summaries and a plethora of photographs dating back to the 1800s.
Although you can find such mundane information as who won the first Cy Young Award or who was the first World Series MVP, it’s the really obscure and surprising facts that make this book worth buying.
For instance, we’ve all thrilled at the sight of a third baseman charging a bunt and whipping an off-balance throw to first, right? Well, did you know that until Jimmy Collins of the Red Sox decided to move toward the bunt in the 1890s that most bunters easily made it safely to first? It wasn’t until after this revolutionary play that third base became one of the glamour positions.
Into fashion? In this book you’ll get to discover interesting facts about baseball and uniforms. I won’t give it away, but did you know that double-knit uniforms weren’t used until 1970 by a team that was only a year away from a championship. Ever wonder if your favorite player is wearing his birth date on his back? Unbelievably, it wasn’t until 1968 that a big league player wore his birth date as his uniform number. Want to know why Babe Ruth wore number three? When numbering players first made an appearance in 1916, the standard system was for players to wear the number corresponding with their appearance in the batting order. Hence, Ruth wore 3, while Gehrig wore 4. As an added bonus, you’ll also find out which team first tried out shorts and why. Hint: Think about the movie A League of Their Own.
Speaking of that film, the book features a photo of the actual player that Geena Davis’ character was based on and, according to the author, legendary manager Connie Mack was supposed to have thought so highly of her talent that he would have paid her $100,000 if she’d been capable of playing in the majors.
We’re all familiar with umpire signals for safe and out, but how many realize that the legend behind those gestures concerns a deaf player’s need to know? And would you believe that the traditional playing of the Star Spangled Banner before every game for every team didn’t begin until WWII? Have you ever wondered if there are any other words to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”? Well, not only will you find out that this song was written by a non-fan, but you’ll also be treated to the lyrics that precede the much more famous chorus.
The sheer volume of information concerning baseball’s past is enough to recommend this book. Firsts that the book details cover every decade of the game from its beginnings in the 1800s right up to the end of the 20th century. Biographical information on many of the game’s greatest players also makes for fascinating reading. In addition, you’ll be educated as to how “Casey at the Bat” was conceived and pushed into the public’s consciousness as well find out that baseball players and movies is a tradition that literally goes all the way back to Thomas Edison.
It’s highly doubtful that there exists anyone who won’t discover at least a few things they never knew about baseball after reading this book. It’s information, entertaining and educational as well.