A Further Reason to be Cheerful (Literary Suppliment)

The One Hundred Most Important Players In Baseball History, by Lincoln A. Mitchell

Now that the baseball season is over for everyone but fans of the four remaining good teams, those of us who are fans of other teams, especially fans of bad teams (you know who we are) need to find solace in other formats, and so I suggest to you this fascinating look at 100 baseball players who serve as significant cultural forces, both within and outside of the game.

Mitchell has his own criteria for who can and cannot be considered. Essentially, they have to have played at the major league or equivalent level. This, then, includes the Negro Leagues, the AAGPBL, the Nippon Professional Baseball League, and so on. And it's (ahem) important to remember that this is not the 100 best or most famous players.So, a lot of the big names you might expect are here, but not necessarily for the reasons you might assume. This is NOT a 100 best or 100 most famous, but rather individuals who have had great impact and importance to the game itself, where and how it fits into US cultural and social history.

So yes, Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and Jackie Robinson and Henry Aaron are all here, but so are Curt Flood and Jim Bouton and Dorothy Kamanseck and Hank Greenberg. And Sadaraharu Oh and Minnie Minoso and Dolf Luque and Moe Berg. And if you don't know who some of these people are, all the better, because their stories and significance are, um, important and engaging to learn about. Of special interest for us suffering WS fans, are the inclusion of not only Minoso, but also Larry Doby, Hoyt Wilhelm, Joe Jackson, and, delightfully, Eddie Gaedel.

And, importantly, so are some pretty despicable folks, too.

The book is competently written and well-argued (from a "why does this person matter" standpoint). Mitchell has to stay pretty focused, which means that his style is at times perfunctorily matter-of-fact. By virtue of the inclusion of 100 players, each entry is pretty short and to the point. In fact, the only significant weakness and frustration, from my standpoint, is that because these are essentially thumbnails, I find myself wanting to know a lot more about some of these folks, which means I'm going to have to go hunt up some biographies, etc. But it's hard to argue against a book that makes you want to read more, you know?

Of course, everybody who cares is going to take exception to this or that person included and take umbrage at this or that person who isn't, but that's also part of the fun. And in an offseason in which the Sox are comically unimportant, it's nice to be able to read about some people who were and are.

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