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But Didn’t We Have Fun? An Informal History of Baseball’s Pioneer Era, 1843-1870 — by Peter Morris

Peter Morris is back after writing the two volumes of A Game of Inches, which were some of my favorite books in 2007, and he takes us back to the early days of baseball – before it was even called by that name, and chronicles how the game got its footing throughout the country and made its progression from recreational sport played by children, to ultimately a competitive game that was reshaped by the Civil War and made its foray into a professional game.

Divided amongst 13 chapters, Morris starts by admitting that the reader has to maintain a certain skepticism throughout the book. Few texts deal with the subject, and as he got into the topic, found that there was a significant gap in the chronicling of this time period. Some works are too detailed; others take an approach that glosses over too many important details and leaves readers with the impression the Abner Doubleday gave the game to the Cincinnati Red Stockings and we all lived happily ever after.

The first two-thirds of the book deal mainly with history – looking at the nature of the game and those who played it, from the difficulty of finding someone who could produce a baseball to the organizations that gave rise to the first baseball teams. For someone who isn’t a history buff, this is a bit more of a topic than I cared to get into, and unfortunately I found that I glanced over more pages than I probably should have.

However, come to chapter 12, which provides a reflection of the time that has passed, which includes the conclusion of the Civil War, and more to chapter 13, which analyzes life in the new professional era of baseball, and the words and pages suddenly came alive for me.

Change was rampant in baseball, most notably the idea of the enclosed stadiums and people paying to watch a game. This radical departure from recreation to profession set baseball on a new course, and the resulting backlash of a reinvention of the amateur and recreational games rings true to this day.

Morris makes clear the struggle of baseball as an inclusive versus exclusive game, and to this day that idea still prevails. Are you a fan of baseball in general, or do you lean to a certain level or style of baseball? Do you only follow Major League games, or are you a Minor League or collegiate fan?

The glue of this book to me came in the final two chapters, and it’s because of those that I make a wholehearted recommendation to read it. Morris brings the development of baseball full circle, and shows how the struggles and discussions that were had over 100 years ago mirror those we have today.

Morris has an amazing ability to take a topic that can seem so distant and almost irrelevant to the modern era of baseball and have the words be almost entirely applicable to the current day. The text takes a dramatic turn from a primarily historic narrative in the first two-thirds of the book to an analysis of the factors that changed the game irreversibly and launched the sport on the track that has gotten us to where we are today.

To say that Morris reminds the reader that history repeats itself is an understatement; much like a baseball game, the direction of the sport has been a battle between two teams: one of seeming progression and another who seeks to keep the game as it has been.

But Didn’t We Have Fun? is a book that sat in my “to read” pile much too long, and I am glad that I plucked it from it when I did. With the current discussion of instant replay, the timing of the book was fitting, and I would encourage you to pick it up sooner than later. To see baseball in its modern era and read a book such as this, provides an easy way to gain an appreciation of where the game has come, while making it clear that history does indeed repeat itself.

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