Baseball's Enduring Images Recall Its Storied History

USA TODAY, April 2010 | Go to article overview

Baseball's Enduring Images Recall Its Storied History


This major league baseball season, like so many others before it, starts with a familiar ring--the New York Yankees open the campaign as the defending American League and World Series champions. Over in the National League, however, there is a touch of novelty, as the Philadelphia Phillies, who were dethroned as titlists last year by said Yanks, are, for the first time in their history--which dates back to 1883--seeking a third consecutive N.L. crown. (For trivia buffs, the Senior Circuit record is four straight flags by the New York Giants of 1921-24.)

In other words, baseball's back--from the crowds jamming big league ballparks all across the country to the sparse gatherings at high school and Little League fields cheering on their charges; and whether it's the big boys or the little guys, one thing never changes, and that is the shared history of our national pastime.

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As a homage to that history--whether you're an avid fan or just a casual observer-there is no better place to turn than Baseball Americana: Treasures from the Library of Congress, as the grand old game (as it was then and as it is now) comes alive in its pages.

Here is an excerpt of a recent Q & A session with the book's primary author, Harry L. Katz:

Baseball fans will be surprised to learn that the Library of Congress has the largest baseball collection in the world. How did that come to be? "Two words: copyright deposit. Publishers and others seeking U.S. copyright registration have to submit copies of their work to the Library of Congress. So, besides books, we also have thousands of baseball films, radio and TV broadcasts, photographs, maps, magazines, and more relating to the game. Plus, the Library has received significant donations from collectors and people prominent in various fields. For example, the Manuscript Division has Branch Rickey's famous paper. Rickey was a major league player and manager, but more importantly, as general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, he was determined to integrate baseball, and he signed Jackie Robinson."

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Were there any surprises in researching this book? "As former Head Curator of Prints and Photographs at the Library of Congress, I knew about the early baseball cards in our collection and a few years ago constructed an online feature about them. I also knew about many of the early prints and photographs, but there are thousands of 20th-century photographs, magazines, books, and prints which illustrate the game during that crucial century of the sport's growth. I had no idea they were there until we began to delve into the shelves and stacks."

Is there anything on baseball that the Library doesn't have but should? 'Well, I'd love it if somebody would donate a Honus Wagner card--that's the most valuable single baseball card routinely selling for millions at auction. Aside from that, when it comes to printed material, LC's collections are about as wide-ranging as you can get."

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How did you get the idea to do this book? "Baseball Americana grew out of my combined passion for baseball and historical images. I wanted to produce a book which visually expresses the sport's democratic origins and profound impact on American popular culture."

There is no shortage of baseball books on the market--what makes Baseball Americana unique, and what are you hoping to convey to readers? 'We were striving for a gritty sense of the game's origins and growth over hundreds of years from an English bat-and-ball game for kids to a global sport played by elite professional athletes and enjoyed by billions of spectators and participants. I wanted readers to 'feel the dirt and smell the grass' at the ball park."

With thousands of items to choose from, how did you decide which images to include? "The hardest part of creating any picture book is selecting the final image list. …

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