It’s easy to assume that the perfectly manicured ballfields we see today have existed throughout the history of the game. But as recently as the mid-1900s, the quality of fields varied greatly from team to team – sometimes to the point where the batters box was actually above the pitcher’s mound, or the third baseman could only see the first baseman’s head because the field was on a significant slope.
We take for granted the work that goes into preparing a baseball field – but a new book aims to change that. In Level Playing Fields, Peter Morris introduces us to brothers Tom and Jack Murphy – who lived at the turn of the 20th century and helped shape baseball as much as any player or coach.
The Murphys are credited with being the game’s first real groundskeepers – and creating home field advantages for some of baseball’s earliest dynasties and pioneering things that are staples of baseball today – the pitcher’s mound, the infield tarp, and irrigation techniques that helped spread baseball into the south and laid the foundation for modern spring training sites.
Level Playing Fields is a look at turn of the century baseball through the eyes and influence of a groundskeeper. It’s a different way to look at the game – showing how two brothers contributed to the development of the game through their knowledge and love of caring for a ballfield.
It successfully meshes baseball’s history with American history at key points – particularly, the understanding that the reader must have regarding the point in time when industry had allowed humans to manipulate the land to his liking. It wasn’t simple work to create a ballfield; most times you took the best plot of land you could find, that wasn’t being claimed for other purposes – either industrial or residential.
Likewise, baseball wasn’t as embraced in the late 1800s as it is today — in numerous cities, government frowned upon the sport and refused to grant teams permits to use fields to play baseball on.
I really appreciate the connections that Morris helped me to see while further developing the rich history of baseball, this time by adding the story of the groundskeeper to the mix.
What do you think about Level Playing Fields? Post your comments and join the discussion!