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One of the reasons that baseball cards held such appeal for boys in earlier days of the hobby was that they gave us an insight into the game we loved that we couldn’t get anywhere else.
In the 1980s and before, after all, we were lucky to see one or two games a week on television during the season. If we were fortunate enough to have access to newspapers, we’d get box scores and maybe a few articles a week about specific games, but finding wide swaths of baseball-related information was nearly impossible.
Thanks to baseball cards, though, we could sprawl out on our bedroom floors on a Saturday afternoon and spend a few hours learning about what Gaylord Perry had been up to in 1964 or why Barry Foote was once considered a top-notch catching prospect.
Of course, that smattering of baseball facts usually only served to whet our appetites for more, and we’d be on the hunt again before you knew it. For kids of the 1960s through the 1990s, one of the best sources for information about the game’s past was the series of baseball history books that popped up on the shelves of our school libraries from time to time.
Written specifically for a pre-teen and teenage audience, these little gems would delve into one subject and give you enough information to at least have a decent conversation with older folks who had experienced the player or season in real-time.
I clearly remember learning about the quiet dignity of Gil Hodges and the excitement of the 1968 World Series when I checked out The Gil Hodges Story and TK from my grade school library around 1983, for example.
The books were old and tattered by that point, but they were fascinating for a kid who was trying to learn all he could about baseball.
Even all these years later, my pulse ratchets up a notch when I come across one of these vintage gems, and I find them occasionally at flea markets and other similar outlets. Recently, I uncovered a well-loved copy of Greatest World Series Thrillers at a book sale held by my local public library.
As I flipped through the pages and read the stories, the thrill of discovery and my young love for the game came flooding back.
Greatest World Series Thrillers was written by Ray Robinson and published in 1965 by Random House. As you might expect given the title of the book, Greatest World Series Thrillers picks out several of the most dramatic Fall Classic moments in history and tells the stories behind the headlines that make them so compelling.
Of course, “history” wasn’t quite as complete as it is now, so many of the World Series moments that modern fans might lump into the “thrilling” category didn’t even exist when this book was published. That 1968 Series mentioned above, for example, is missing, as is Carlton Fisk’s Game 6 homer in the 1975 Classic, the 1985 Game 6 controversy, Joe Carter’s 1993 walk-off homer, and all of the other incredible October memories we’ve witnessed in the last 50+ years.
So, which Series moments did make the cut? Here is the complete list, using Robinson’s chapter titles as our guide:
- 15 K’s for Koufax (October 2, 1963)
- Three Shutouts for Matty (October 14, 1905)
- The Big Train Finally Wins (October 10, 1924)
- Poosh ‘Em Up Strikes Out (October 10, 1926)
- The Big Inning (October 12, 1929)
- The Wild Horse Goes Crazy (October 2, 1931)
- The Babe Busts One (October 1, 1932)
- Country Goes All the Way (October 15, 1946)
- The Almost No-Hitter (October 3, 1947)
- The Catch (September 29, 1954)
- The Perfect Game (October 8, 1956)
- Maz Fells the Yankees (October 13, 1960)
I was already pretty familiar with some of these, like Willie Mays’ catch against the Cleveland Indians in the 1954 World Series and Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 Fall Classic.
For others, I had heard about them but never read extended accounts: Koufax’s 15 strikeouts in 1963 and Babe’s late-career home run in 1932, for example.
And then there were some thrillers that were completely new to me, including Walter Johnson’s crowning glory in 1924 and Bill Bevens’ gem in 1947.
Now, if you’re going to read a book like this — or any of the others you might have once found in your school library — you have to go into it with the right expectations. These tomes were written for a school-aged audience, after all, so the reading level falls in that sixth-to-ninth-grade range.
These books are not literary masterpieces or works of groundbreaking journalism, in other words.
But if you’re looking for a genuine, vintage look at the game of baseball and a chance to relive some of your initial thrill of diamond discovery, these little treasures are hard to beat.
The best part is, not only can you still find these books by chance on a fairly regular basis like I did with Greatest World Series Thrillers, you can find them anytime you want them — cheap — at Amazon and AbeBooks.
And if the pulse-quickening prospect of these stories isn’t enough to entice you, there are also several great vintage black-and-white photos sprinkled throughout, like this shot of Tony Lazzeri(“Poosh ’em Up”) being fooled by Grover Cleveland Alexander:
As great as these old books are, though, they come with one word of warning …
If you thought baseball cards took up a lot of room, just wait until you start pumping your collection full of hardcover baseball books!