Day 36 of 2022 baseball books: A beaut of a tribute

“Beauty at Short:
Dave Bancroft, the Most Unlikely Hall of Famer and His Wild Times in Baseball’s First Century”

The author:
Tom Alesia

The publishing info:
Grissom Press
184 pages
$9.39
Released March 22, 2022

The links:
The authors website
At Bookshop.org
At Powells.com
At Vromans.com
At TheLastBookStoreLA
At Skylight Books
At Diesel Books
At BarnesAndNoble.com
At Amazon.com

The review in 90 feet or less

Page 1, Chapter 1, first sentence:

“Dave Bancroft should not be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.”

Wait, is he?

Apparently so. And he’s part of the Dodgers’ team history.

We are to assume (since it was never revealed) at least nine of 12 on a special veterans committee decided it to be in 1971. This was after 15 years of voting by the Baseball Writers of America, from 1937-39, then ’46, then ’48-’60, the most he generated was 16.2 percent of a needed 75 percent.  

He found out via a phone call from a reporter in Jan., 1971. Bancroft died about a year later at age 81.

So why are we even discussing this?

Because a journalist, Tom Alesia, with dozens of years as a reporter an editor at small daily papers in Wisconsin and Illinois, was off on a vacation in Superior, Wisconsin in 2011, and looking for something to do.

Plotline: He finds this guy’s plot and talks his family into visiting the local cemetery, finds his headstone, right next to his wife, and can’t believe there was no reference to his baseball career of Hall status.

“That piqued my curiosity,” Alesia writes in the preface of this nifty little tome. “Who was Dave Bancroft? And, ahem, what was he doing alongside the sport’s greatest in Cooperstown? And so began a labor of love … It has been a pure joy.”

Alesia pulled together from all sorts of references how Bancroft, a 5-foot-9 and 160-pounder from Sioux City, Iowa, was:

= In a 16-year career, part of three World Championship New York Giants over five season and as part of the “Million-Dollar Infield”  with Frank Frisch, George Kelly and Heine Groh.

= A defensive specialist so unproductive at the plate he became a novelty “turnaround hitter” (as a switch-hitter was called them),

= Holds the longest-standing single-season record for non-error fielding chances by a shortstop (984 in 1922),

= Had the nickname “Beauty” right there on his plaque.

= Was the player-manager of the Boston Braves from 1924-27,

= Came to Brooklyn at age 37 and 38 to play for Wilbert Robinson’s Robins and starts pushing for the DH (or, something called “ten-man baseball” with a “permanent pinch hitter”) ….

Wait, why are we giving this all away …

And wait, he’s not even in the Phillies’ Franchise Hall of Fame? But it’s in Cooperstown … They’ve retired nine numbers, but not his? (OK, did he even have one?)

If that first line in the opening chapter isn’t enough to make you hunt this thing down, you’ve lost a sense of adventure. We won’t spoil it for you. Just go after it. We’ll wait. …

How it goes in the scorebook

If Bancroft is “the most unlikely Hall of Famers,” then this book is one of the more unlikely additions to this series.

The beauty of this is how it became one of those organic finds, not just for the subject matter, but for acknowledging the book’s existence.

Alesia, whose previous book in 2021 is titled “When Garth Became Elvis: A Country Music Writer’s Journey with the Stars, 1985-2010,” simply reached out though a message on the website that he had this book, it’s already prompted two museum exhibits, two historical markers in Bancroft’s hometown, and somehow had an extended run on Amazon’s top-selling baseball book list.

Something like this didn’t slip off our radar. It was never on it.

It happens.

So all we can say is: A book fittingly about as quick a read as Bancroft’s fame, exists, in whip-clean storytelling that is a tribute to the fact not all bios about Hall of Fame players need to be in excess of 400 pages, cost $40 and include dozens of footnotes, bibliographies, indexes and a bursting appendicitis.

You can look it up: More to ponder

== From BaseballAlmanac.com:

== Bancroft’s Hall of Fame bio includes: “He retired with a .279 average, 2,004 hits, 320 doubles and 1,048 runs scored. In the field, Bancroft led all NL shortstops in putouts four times, assists three times and fielding percentage twice. His 4.623 career putouts at shortstop rank third on the all-time list.”

== The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel included it last March as one of the 11 baseball books to read in 2022: “One of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s lesser-known denizens, even though he ranks above baseball legends like Phil Rizzuto and Maury Wills in wins above replacement (WAR). Alesia, who lives in Madison, repairs that error with this well-researched biography.”




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