A while back I had the idea of offering quick takes on baseball books as I finish them. There are a plethora of baseball-related books on the market. I know I’m always seeking the opinions of others on which ones I should check out, and I figured why not offer a bite-sized take on what I’ve been reading and whether or not it’s worth other baseball fan’s time.
First on the docket is The American Association: A Baseball History, 1902-1991 by Bill O’Neal.
As the title alludes this book covers most of the history of the minor league iteration of the American Association. O’Neal is a historian first and foremost and this book reads just like one would expect a baseball history book to read. It’s very, very dry, but presented so that the chapters follow a timeline in an easy to access decade-by-decade with assorted specialty chapters format. There are plenty of interesting tidbits of information and cool anecdotes about players and events that didn’t need to be the least bit true for me to enjoy them. O’Neal’s main focus is dumping a lot of info on the reader about a minor league that would cease to exist shortly after publication. O’Neal accomplishes this rather well as I never felt like sitting down and reading a chapter was a chore. Rather, I looked forward to the next bit of unknown info coming my way.
That being said, O’Neal himself is a bit of a stodgy narrator. He’s firmly a pro-ownership fellow who on numerous occasions bemoans a poor owner actually having to pay for his own stadium instead of bilking the citizens’ tax dollars to fund said stadium. That takes some getting past, as does O’Neal’s vocabulary slowly shrinking into first sacker, second sacker, and third sacker repeated ad nauseam. It’s not that O’Neal is a bad writer, but he runs out of descriptors rather quickly.
I do wish that O’Neal had dug a little deeper into the quality of play in the first years of the league. The AA was a major league in the 1880s, but a minor league during the years covered in this book. There are historians and other baseball luminaries who have put forth the notion that the quality of play in the AA was so high in the 1900s through 1920s that it probably should have been looked at as a major league. I know that wasn’t O’Neal’s focus, and he’s shown as a writer in other works that he’s not going to steer far from conventional thinking, one can wish though.
The ownership adoration is, however, my only true gripe about the book. All in all, O’Neal delivers exactly what The American Association: A Baseball History, 1902-1991 sets out to deliver. It is a decade-by-decade and team-by-team look at a minor league that is worth knowing about. If you are a student of baseball history then I would highly recommend checking this one out.
Lead photo courtesy of Eakin Press