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cap anson 3
5 July 2005
Howard W. Rosenberg's Cap Anson 3 is an interesting example of the kind of grassroots baseball history that has flourished in recent years. An impressively researched collection of newspaper data about 19th-century baseball, Cap Anson 3 conveys a strong sense of how the game was played and reported in the 1890s. Yet the book lacks focus, narrative line, and argumentative thesis.
First of all, since Rosenberg's idea is to document dirty and treacherous play in the major leagues of the 1890s, one might wonder why the book is called Cap Anson 3 in the first place. From what I can tell, Rosenberg has written a series of books on the 19th-century game, with an eye toward someday doing a full-scale biography of Cap Anson. The current offering is the third such volume, and the life of Anson is as far away as ever, but Rosenberg has found some interesting things to deal with along the way.
It's hard not to appreciate Rosenberg's hundreds of quotations from period newspapers; this is serious archival research. It's hard not to appreciate his writing style and his witty eye for detail. In fact, it's real hard not to like a book that quotes an anonymous 1888 Chicago sportswriter's ode to a stolen base attempt:
With a knife in his teeth and a pop [pistol] in his belt,
With a dynamite bomb in his goodly right hand,
With a dirk in his shoe and a sword at his side
Tears the giant to[w]ard the spot where King Glasscock doth stand. (34)
In fact, I'm for any research that increases the store of poems about Jack Glasscock, one of my favorite old-time ballplayers. And Rosenberg's research is conveniently documented and well-indexed.
But Cap Anson 3, like much of its material, will remain just a curiosity. It's the kind of study that misses the forest for the trees – they're nice trees, but what are they all doing together? Rosenberg gives his material no shape at all. His few arguments are lost in the middle of the book, where Rosenberg refutes common wisdom about the dirtiness of 1890s play (much exaggerated by later nostalgia for those supposedly lawless times). That's a shame, because Rosenberg is an engaging and knowledgeable baseball writer. I'd like to read more of his work, better presented.
Rosenberg, Howard W. Cap Anson 3: Muggsy John McGraw and the tricksters: baseball's fun age of rule bending. Tile Books, 2005.