Bookshelf review: The American Diamond

August 16, 2012

A Documentary of the Game of Baseball, by Branch Rickey with Robert Riger. Simon and Schuster, 1965.

I discovered this gem on the Facebook “Baseball Book” Group. Had I known about this beforehand, I probably would have included it in my forthcoming 501 Books Baseball Fans Must Read Before They Die.

Rickey, who served in high-level administrative capacities for the St. Louis Cardinals, Brooklyn Dodgers, and Pittsburgh Pirates, was one of the true visionaries of the game. In addition to his most important accomplishment — signing Jackie Robinson to break baseball’s color lineĀ  — he helped develop the farm system, incorporated statistics into the Dodgers’ decision-making processes, and introduced such items as batting helmets into the game.

Add to those The American Diamond, a marvelous treatise about baseball, from the time a young boy (yes, this is a bit sexist here, as it pertains exclusively to the male of the species) puts on his first mitt through Little League, Pony League, college, and, if one is lucky, professional baseball.

Before getting to that, however, Rickey picks his favorite players to form an all-time All-Star squad. Riger’s contributions are the handsome drawings that supplement the photographs — an essential part of the publication — which accompany the text.

The last of the three sections, which includes “The Heritage” and “The Game,” is “The Future of the Game” in which Rickey’s prescient sensibilities shine. Way back in the mid-1960s, he was already aware of the encroachment of football as a major threat to the National Pastime and what the powers-that-be should do to maintain baseball’s place in American culture. Rickey was concerned about the continued dominance of teams like the NY Yankees, a situation which spoiled the fun of a lot of teams (and their fans), who recognized they were at a disadvantage, so he advocated some sort of parity including doing away with outlandish signing bonuses (what would he think now?).

Rickey was also ahead of the curve when it came to expansion. After the Dodgers and Giants abandoned the new York area to move to California, he had been one of the early adapters in challenging established Leagues by attempting to create the Continental League. Of course, that never transpired for a variety of reasons, but it did league to two rounds of expansion in 1961 and 1969.

Finally, Rickey was concerned about the role of television in reducing attendance at the ballparks. He advocated some sort of pay-TV scheme which, thankfully, never amounted to much, although it did throw a scare into the broadcasting industry. He also deemed necessary the role of the “Lords of Baseball” in promoting the game globally through public relations campaigns and other means.

The American Diamond is available through Amazon from about $12-$20 for used and up to $75 for “collectible,” which I assume would be in better condition. This is a must-have for the student of the game and admirers of Mr. Rickey (and Mr. Riger).


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