Academic journal article Base Ball

Half a Century of the Game

Academic journal article Base Ball

Half a Century of the Game

Article excerpt

Half a Century of the Game Review by Bill Carle Orator O'Rourke: The Life of a Baseball Radical, Mike Roer. 2005. McFarland & Company, Inc., 2005, 333 pp., $29.95 (paper).

For the past couple of years, it seems that bookstore shelves have been flooded by new biographies on lesser known Baseball Hall of Famers. There have been at least twenty new biographies written on such formidable players as Sam Rice, Hughie Jennings, Rube Marquard, and Dazzy Vance. Although all of these Hall of Famers are obviously outstanding players, many of them didn't have lives inside or outside baseball interesting enough to merit 200-plus pages of quality reading. In contrast, Mike Roer's well researched biography of 19th century star Orator Jim O'Rourke gives deserved notoriety to one of early baseball's most significant figures.

Jim O'Rourke was involved continuously with baseball from the end of the Civil War to the end of World War I as a player, manager, umpire, team owner, stadium builder, league organizer, and minor league o[double dagger]cial. Roer covers that widely varied resume in an easy to read, chronologically linear fashion. Many fans know O'Rourke by his wonderful, alliterative nickname, but may not know that he had more hits in the 19th century than any player except Cap Anson. However, unlike Cap Anson, he had no problems signing a black player, and featured one on his Bridgeport team for several years. He also was one of the main opponents of the reserve clause, and actually had it written into his contract that the reserve clause didn't apply to him. These interesting facts are supplemented by extensive footnotes and a bibliography with more than 130 sources.

Roer's easy, colorful style allows the reader to imagine the setting at the ballpark during baseball's earliest days. This excerpt from his prologue describes O'Rourke's final major league appearance in 1904:

When the lineup was called, the announcer intoned "James O'Rourke catching for New York." A low murmur rippled through the crowded stands. To most, the name was new, but older fans were carried back a decade to when the Giants were champions and Jim O'Rourke roamed the sun field. Some could even recall two decades earlier when Jim O'Rourke won the National League batting title. A few even remembered three decades back to America's centennial when a young Jimmy O'Rourke rapped out the first hit of the National League. …

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