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Colorado Rockies books: New history offers strong but standard 25-year review

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The book accomplishes what it sets out to do, but there’s more yet to be done

Major League Baseball a mile high: The first quarter century of the Colorado Rockies

Bill Nowlin and Paul T. Parker (editors); Len Levin and Carl Riechers (associate editors)

Society for American Baseball Research, Inc., 2018

265 pages

As the Colorado Rockies celebrate their 25th anniversary, it’s fitting that SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) would mark the event by creating a history of the club during its first quarter century. As editor Paul T. Parker, Club Historian of the Colorado Rockies, explains in his introductory essay:

Included in that exploration are biographies of 24 of the most important players, managers, and club executives as selected by a panel of members of the Rocky Mountain chapter of SABR. In addition, 19 memorable and historical games were chosen for detailed examination.

Some 39 members (almost entirely male) have done the topic selection, writing, editing, and fact checking. Major League Baseball a mile high is a well done collection in that it sets out what it wants to do. But it also raises questions about how SABR sees itself and the writing of history.

The book begins with an essay by Roger L. Kinney describing the beginnings of the team. After that, a variety of authors (journalists, academics, Rockies-associated employees, and fans — all SABR members) provide the biographies, describe the two stadiums that have housed the Rockies, and conclude with a recap of important games.

The biographies are arranged alphabetically, starting with Pedro Astacio and ending with Eric Young, Sr. Each entry follows a pattern: There is an opening to orient the reader to the player’s career; a short description of how the player grew up and formative playing experiences, the player’s history throughout his career with an emphasis on his time with the Rockies as well as mentions of important personal events, and a conclusion that describes where the player is today. Each essay includes a picture. The entries are well written, running from three to five pages, and include a bibliography that relies largely on SABR’s archives. One disappointment is that few authors contacted players for interviews and new insights, instead relying on the historical record.

There is a brief section devoted to recent Rockies (e.g., Dexter Fowler, Troy Tulowitzki, Jorge De La Rosa) and current Rockies (e.g., Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez) followed by 19 short essays that recap “memorable games,” ranging from Opening Day in 1993 to Chad Bettis’s return from cancer treatment in 2017.

Additionally, Major League Baseball a mile high takes a conventional approach that is consistent with SABR’s identity:

From this modest start, SABR membership has broadened steadily. A decade later, it had reached 1,500; today, it totals more than 6,000 worldwide. Who belongs to SABR? Many major and minor league baseball officials, broadcasters and writers, as well as numerous former players. Primarily, the membership consists of “just plain fans” — anyone interested in baseball can join. While the original purpose of SABR was to band together baseball historians, statisticians and researchers, it is not necessary to engage in research to become a member.

So while SABR encourages any baseball fan to join and to attend chapter events and SABR conferences, its methodology and focus are academic. In keeping with this, SABR has chosen to use a very traditional medium for this history, a print book. Conventional books are static documents with content that cannot be edited by a community. (A free PDF version is available for all SABR members. ePub and mobi formats are also available.)

SABR makes clear that it’s open to everyone who loves baseball, not just “historians, statisticians and researchers.” Indeed, in the course of writing this book review, I joined SABR myself. But in choosing such a closed, academic form, SABR has defaulted to the experts in a way that discourages dialogue from general readers — unless they attend a chapter meeting or SABR conference.

Major League Baseball a mile high is an important book that is well written and carefully documented. It begins the process of formally organizing a diverse body of material that has recorded the evolution of the Rockies. (It’s certainly superior to Adrian Dater’s 100 things Rockies fans should know and do before they die.) But if you’re a long-time Rockies fan, there’s not much here that you don’t already know.

That’s not to say that I think Major League Baseball at a mile high isn’t valuable. I do. It’s a good summation of significant players, games, and moments over the Rockies’ first 25 years. But I also see it as a start. If there are online forums available on SABR’s website, I was unable to find them. I hope that SABR’s next step is to create a wiki in which more diverse perspectives from those “plain fans” can add to the story of the Colorado Rockies.

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Corrections: An earlier version omitted additional electronic formats available to SABR members.

A SABR representative contacted Purple Row to clarify its use of online forums: “SABR used to have very active online forums and one major project was the “SABRpedia”--a wiki of baseball knowledge that was (and still is) openly editable. But as with many online activities, with the advent of social media (and the proliferation and then consolidation of the baseball blogosphere) forum use dwindled down to nearly nothing and they were subsequently closed. The maintenance of the SABRpedia was taken over by the folks at Baseball-reference.comand has been housed there since 2014: https://www.sports-reference.com/blog/2016/04/the-bullpensabrpedia-now-has-over-80000-pages/