Tales from the Deadball Era: Ty Cobb, Home Run Baker, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and the Wildest Times in Baseball History

By Burgos, Adrian, Jr. | The Historian, Summer 2016 | Go to article overview

Tales from the Deadball Era: Ty Cobb, Home Run Baker, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and the Wildest Times in Baseball History


Burgos, Adrian, Jr., The Historian


Tales from the Deadball Era: Ty Cobb, Home Run Baker, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and the Wildest Times in Baseball History. By Mark S. Halfon. (Lincoln, NE: Potomac Books, 2014. Pp. xiii, 226. $26.95.)

While some decry the perceived failings of the modern game and romanticize baseball's past, the author of this study reminds us that cheating to enhance performance, gambling scandals, and attacks on umpires are not new. Controversies that implicated the circuit's top players and team owners were commonplace during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Told in twelve chapters grouped into three parts, Mark Halfon's narrative describes organized baseball's evolution from "inside" baseball focused on "the use of the mind in all aspects of the game" to the power-hitting era where the pitcher-turned-outfielder Babe Ruth emerged as a baseball hero (46). The era's rampant cheating, dishonest play, and gambling scandals also compelled an executive reorganization to salvage the circuit's reputation, especially after the Black Sox scandal. The uneven manner in which these executives wielded their power to bring players under stricter supervision is made clear throughout Halfon's chapters. National and American League presidents John Heydler and Ban Johnson, National Commission chair August Herrmann, and baseball commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis all levied their disciplinary power in ways that reflected their desires to both protect the game's growing popularity and to maximize revenue.

The dishonest acts that predominated on the major league diamonds as players cut bases, pitchers threw altered baseballs, and infielders blocked baserunners were, according to Halfon, "alternately met with praise, blame, and indifference, depending on the consequences of the deed and the motive of the perpetrator" (3). Baseball greats Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Christy Mathewson were not immune from engaging in practices that would be later viewed as lowering the game's integrity and respectability. …

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