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Monthly Archives: March 2008
The Dark Side of the Diamond – Gambling, Violence, Drugs and Alcoholism in the National Pastime — by Roger I. Abrams
We tend to forget – or maybe it’s deny – that ballplayers are human beings, just like us. They perform what seem to be such superhuman feats of physical activity, and command such superstar salaries for doing this — that we quickly dissociate with them.
We forget that players are competitive – some to the point of cheating to get ahead. We forget that they have vices and addictions, and are susceptible to the same temptations that the average person. “Wine, women, and song,” one of my high school teachers would say.
Yet while all these are part of baseball’s past – they are all part of baseball’s present in one way or another. Abrams traces the roots of dishonest and unethical behavior on and off the diamond and does a remarkable job bringing it into the present.
Abrams brings together a wealth of quotes, sources, and insight from legendary figures throughout the history of baseball to shed light on why baseball has such a dark side.
You’ve probably heard of a few of the players mentioned in the book – Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, and some guy named Bonds. When tackling a topic such as this, it’s easy to wonder what might be new to add to the discussion – especially if you’ve read other works on the subject.
However – it’s the smaller things that Abrams bring to light that carry the book. The book spends a good amount of time in the 19th century – which while it seems distant now, provided quite a bit of influence for the modern game. While baseball started with a basic set of rules – it was the cheaters who affected changes in the rules as much as anybody.
The Dark Side of the Diamond is a succinct look at a side of baseball that is very important despite not being something that everyone likes to talk about. For the reader who is not familiar with the subject, this book serves as a very accessible introduction to the subject, while it gives the more knowledgeable reader a bit more insight into some of the lesser known aspects of cheating, drugs and alcohol in baseball. I’d be surprised if anyone read this book and didn’t learn something.
Overall – this is a good, quick read that you should enjoy as it widens and deepens your knowledge of baseball history.
It’s been over 40 years since the last remnants of the Negro Leagues had competitive games – generations have come and gone, but at times the memory seems more alive than ever.
Encouraging the preservation of the Negro Leagues is Kadir Nelson – who takes on the task of planting this memory in the minds of children – and does so successfully with We Are The Ship.
The fruit of a seven-year labor, Nelson not only wrote the book but handled the illustrations, which with all respect due to the text, are the real highlights of the book. An accomplished artist who has had works commissioned by Dreamworks, Sports Illustrated, Coca-Cola, the New York Times, Major League Baseball and many others – being able to hold such a collection of baseball artwork should be a treat to any reader, regardless of age.
Now the book is written for children — ages 8 and up according to the notes — but it certainly didn’t feel like it to me. I do worry what that might say about my own academic level…but that’s beside the point. Anyone could easily pick up this book and feel engaged without feeling like you’re reading a children’s book. Nelson is telling a story – multiple stories to be precise — and often times stories don’t need to employ big words to be successful. Told from the position of the Negro League “Everyman,” it’s almost like transcribed oral history.
So put together remarkable artwork and an accessible and engaging story and you end up with a fairly successful book. While I don’t envision this being a book that is referenced in academia – I do hope it finds its way into the hands of young baseball fans and gives them the opportunity to learn about a remarkable part of America’s history. This would make a great book for the younger fan – and provide for a discussion point for parents, grandparents and others who can enrich the story Nelson tells with their own.