It’s not often that a forty-year-old baseball book catches your attention, but just that happened to me recently. When having a conversation about “don’t miss” baseball books with some fellow fans, with most of the suggestions being recent books, the oldest being about a decade old, someone mentioned The Glory of Their Times by Lawrence S. Ritter. I had honestly never even heard of the book, but decided to try to track down a copy. With the help of my local library, I was able to locate a copy of the book, which was originally published in 1966 (a paperback version was released in 1992).
The Glory of Their Times is a group of autobiographical essays from players from the early days of baseball, from the turn of the century to the Second World War. A bit of background – Mr. Ritter describes in the preface that when Ty Cobb died in 1961, he came to the realization that the players from the turn of the century and the first half of the century were dying off, and that if someone didn’t do something, their first-hand accounts of the early days of the game would be lost forever. He undertook a trek to talk to as many of these players as he could, traveling 75,000 miles over a five-year period with his pocket tape recorder. The contents of those tapes became “The Glory of Their Times”. He condensed the many stories the players told, removed his questions, but stays true to the original speaking style of the players. I feel he really succeeded here, as the book reads like a transcript of the players telling you a story.
A total of twenty-two players are highlighted in the book, ranging from Tommy Leach, who began his career in 1898, to Paul Waner, who ended his career in 1945. Some of the players are very well known, like Rube Marquard, Sam Crawford, Smokey Joe Wood, and Harry Hooper, while others, like Al Bridwell and Jimmy Austin are lesser known.
The players talk about their childhood, their days playing ball as teenagers (many on semi-pro teams), their path to the major leagues, and of course all the ups and downs of their time in the major leagues. Some great stories throughout the book, including some up close info on the greats of the game like Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, and Babe Ruth. Also, we get to hear about some of the big events of the era, such as the thrown 1919 World Series, Snodgrass’ dropped fly ball in the 1912 World Series, the first triple play in World Series history, and much more.
One thing I found interesting was the opinions of the players about more recent players…at the point the book was written, the stars of the 1960’s. Some saw them as every bit as good as the stars of their day, but many saw the players from the early part of the century as far superior. I found that fascinating, since the players from the 1960’s and 1970’s often say the same about the players of today. I guess some things never change.
The book also contains a treasure trove of old and rare photographs and illustrations, which by themselves make the book worth checking out. Some of the pictures are rare, and you probably haven’t seen them elsewhere. Others are famous pictures, but you get to learn about them from the players who were there, and sometimes, pictured.
If you have any interest in the history of baseball in the early parts of the 20th century, I highly recommend you check out The Glory of Their Times.