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Re-considering big moments in baseball history

A recent essay collection provides a new lens.

Classic Baseball: Timeless Tales, Immortal Moments

By John Rosengren

Rowman & Littlefield, 2022

Hardcover, 170 pages

This weekend, the Colorado Rockies head into Minneapolis with a record of 8-7 against the Minnesota Twins. It’s been awhile, however. The two teams last played in 2017, so they don’t meet often. As Rockies fans begin to focus on the series in the Twin Cities, a recent book gives some additional context while providing an insightful look into baseball history.

John Rosengren’s new collection, Classic Baseball: Timeless Tales, Immortal Moments is a compelling work that examines baseball through the lens of history and culture. A key concept provides the thematic center: Baseball is a game as complicated as America.

Rosengren, a native of Minneapolis, is the author of ten books, including Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes, the definitive biography of the Hall of Fame Jewish baseball player; Hammerin’ Hank, George Almighty and the Say Hey Kid: The Year that Changed Baseball Forever; and The Fight of their Lives: How Juan Marichal and John Roseboro Turned Baseball’s Ugliest Brawl into a Story of Forgiveness and Redemption.

Rosengren has written articles about baseball and a host of other subjects for more than 100 publications, including The Atavist, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Sports Illustrated, and The Washington Post Magazine.

Classic Baseball is about revisiting some of those pieces and ideas in light of where we are today. The pieces look at both the well known moments of baseball and the more obscure ones, a canvas as broad as the game itself.

The book is divided into seven chapters: “Immortal Moments,” “Baseball During Wartime,” "Pewrsonalities,” Baltimore Chops,” “For the Love of the Game,” "In Jackie’s Memory,” and “The World Series.” The chapters, then, are united by common themes

Their subjects are diverse, everything from “On to the Way to 714,” a chronicle of Hank Aaron’s journey to baseball history to “Harvey Haddix’s Heartbreak,” the no-hitter that wasn’t, even though Haddix threw 12 perfect innings on May 12, 1959, the Pirates lost, resulting in a 1-0 no-hitter loss to a profile of Willians Astudillo to the game played by the all-Black Monrovians against the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.

While the subjects are varied, Rosengren is clearly most comfortable when writing about the Twins, a point especially relevant this weekend, and his profile of former Twin Willians Astudillo is a delight. I also especially enjoyed “Pioneers of the Negro Legues,” a brief history of Toni Stone, Connie Morgan, and Mamie Johnson who defied the rules confining women.

Although there’s not much Rockies-related material in Classic Baseball, Rosengren does profile Seth Hawkins, focusing on his dedication to witnessing historical events, in this case, Alex Rodriguez’s 3,000th hit. A completist, Hawkins was at Coors Field to witness Ichiro Suzuki’s 3000th hit on August 7, 2016.

Rosengren is active in SABR, and the research and writing are meticulous. The book blends history with memoir and interviews. Each piece has a brief introduction to provide a context for the article followed by a short update to recontextualize what has gone before.

Classic Baseball a good read, one that will help the reader revisit events they may already know and discover stories that may be new.

Plus, it’s a nice way to prepare for the Rockies-Twins series.