The book: “The Comic Book Story of Baseball: The Heroes, Hustlers, and History-Making Swings (and Misses) of America’s National Pastime”
The author: Alex Irvine, with illustrations by Tomm Coker and C.P. Smith
How to find it: Ten Speed Press/Penguin Random House, 176 pages, $18.99. To be released May 8
The links: At Amazon.com, at the publisher’s website.
A review in 90-feet or less: Circle back to 2018 review No. 1: “Why Baseball Matters.” Author Susan Jacoby has a call to action in the afterward that includes:
“When you take a kid to a ballgame, give her an interesting baseball book afterward. There are so many wonderful books about baseball that it should be possible to find the right one for every child. Try both the sublime (for example, Lawrence Ritter’s ‘The Glory of their Times’) and the ridiculous (like ‘The Baseball Hall of Shame’ by Bruce Nash and Allen Zullo).”
And now, this one (and one more on Day 28 of our reviews).
Comic books were never our thing. We had plenty of friends into it. We laugh watching the crew on “Big Bang Theory” converging at the comic book store.
But there has to be a variety of entry points for a kid in the age range – or even an adult who spends his afternoons browsing through back issues of Spider-Man – to introduce the game’s history and why it matters on today’s media platforms.
The pictures tell a lot of the stories, but they are far from comical (see above the representation of 9/11). The somewhat darkened, often-intense illustrations work, though, as they fit the definition better of a graphic-novel type work.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it.
They convey more depth to the quote bubbles provided by Irvine — sometimes a mainstream narrative timeline of the sport, but with frequent sidebars that eventually tie it all together in the end with a concise, entertaining way. Just like anyone who wants to tell the history of baseball, it’s far from linear. There has to be outside influences that keep making things more compelling.
Even better, he encourages the reader to find him at www.alexirvine.blogspot.com/baseball for deeper chapter notes, more material and further reading recommendations. It can’t be much easier to get into it.
To better get a feel of it, we took a bag of salted peanuts, a cold beer and went outside to get a fresh smell of the grass while we absorbed the content. Just like a kid would do, right?
First off, we realized we appreciated the paperback construction with flaps on each end that helped bookmark things we wanted to hang onto.
Not only did we learn a lot more things that we cared to admit — in a discussion about fantasy leagues, Irvine even recommends a 1968 Robert Coover novel called “The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop” as a “black comedy masterpiece” that “belongs on the shelf of any baseball lover,” and we’re going to go search for a first edition of it now — but considered almost every page worthy of some kind of posterized representation of that game at that moment.
It’s art-gallery worth framing by Coker and Smith. Imagine them up on the walls, and a person roaming the halls and reading them as they roam and ponder.
It all leads up to the end where the Cubs win the 2016 World Series with the caption boxes that read:
“In baseball, no record is forever (except maybe 511). No streak is forever (except maybe 56). And no drought is forever. In 2016, after 108 years, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series … More than 170 years after Alexander Cartwright wrote down the Knickerbocker Rules, it may seem like the last of baseball’s signature storylines have finally wrapped up. But like a losing team’s fans always say: Wait ‘til Next Year. The game always has surprises in store.”
As does this.
How it goes down in the scorebook: Our favorite blurb so far from old friend Dirk Hayhurst of “The Bullpen Gospels” fame: “Heroes, villains, long odds, and tall-tales: baseball history should always be presented in comic book form. The Comic Book Story of Baseball is probably the most accessible history of the game I’ve ever held in my hands. I’d recommend this little gem to anyone who wants to learn the history of the game and its colorful characters.”
As usual, Dirk gets it.
*Previous outstanding art-related books in this series have included: “The League of Outsider Baseball: An Illustrated History of Baseball’s Forgotten Heroes” by Gary Cieradkowski from 2015