Lawrence Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times










Lawrence Ritter’s The Glory of Their
Times

 

From
1961 to 1966, Lawrence S. Ritter used his faculty leaves of absence from
Princeton University to track down the living legends from the early days of
baseball and record their unique remembrances for posterity. Then he
transcribed and edited those accounts into a book that is acclaimed by ball
fans and historians alike: The Glory of
Their Times. In the introduction, Ritter tells the reader that he set out
to write more than a book about baseball\'s past; rather, it is truly a book
about America\'s past. We receive an
illustration about a time, long forgotten, when every town boasted its very own
baseball team. The turn of the twentieth century saw kids bound along the
countryside and swim in nearby creeks and eat apples off trees. Young boys
would ride on the rails for an afternoon’s adventure, and then maybe take a nap
in a fire station. There were “country folk,” known as “rubes” who didn\'t know
much about the world at large, and who, in the days before widespread access to
information, were thoroughly unique because they were not influenced by mass
images as we are today.

The stories in this book are wide-eyed, hopeful and
sweet.  A Yankee scout, for example,
takes a young Hank Greenberg to see a game in 1929, points out one of
Greenberg’s (indeed every ballplayer’s) idols, Lou Gehrig, and tells him that
he’s on his way out. The scout informs him that Hank himself would soon be the
Yankee\'s first baseman:

I heard what Krichell was saying, but it made no
impression on me because I was so awed at the sight of Gehrig kneeling in the
on-deck circle only a few feet away. His shoulders were a yard wide and his
legs looked like mighty oak trees. I\'d never seen such sheer brute strength.
"No way I\'m going to sign with this team," I said to myself.
"Not with him playing first base."

 

Another example is the
account by Willie Kamm, the first ball player to be acquired to a team for
$100,000, who reflects on his immigrant parents:

Mom...never really understood the game, but that
didn\'t stop her. Not one bit. She had lots of life and zip, and boy, she\'d root
like nobody\'s business. Everything I did was sensational as far as she was
concerned. Now my father, as far as he was concerned I never got a hit. If I got a
single, my mother would scream, "Willie\'s hit a triple." And Pop
would say, "Ach, the guy should have caught it."

Through much of The Glory of Their Times, the reader
gets the real flavor of being a fly on the wall during the recording of these
conversations. Some interesting examples of this come with the lighthearted
disagreements between experts on who the best twentieth century baseball
players truly were:

 

Chief
Meyers: It was because of Mr. McGraw. What a great man he
was! Oh, we held him in high esteem. We respected him in every way. According
to Mr. McGraw, his ball team never lost a game; he lost it, not his players. He
fought for his ballplayers and protected them.

Edd
Roush: John J. McGraw. I just didn\'t like playing for him,
that\'s all. If you made a bad play he\'d cuss you out, yell at you, call you all
sorts of names. That didn\'t go with me.

Lefty
O\'Doul: I was at a dinner a few years ago, about 1960, and
Leo Durocher spoke about the great Willie Mays and all. After he was finished I
got up and said that evidently Mr. Durocher never saw Mr. Cobb or Mr. Ruth or
several others, like Mr. Joe Jackson and Mr. Harry Heilmann, saying that Mays
was the greatest baseball player who ever lived. He\'s a great fielder and he
can run the bases pretty good, but he couldn\'t carry the bat of many a player.
Not a chance.

Al
Bridwell: I\'ve seen Speaker, Cobb, Hooper--oh, all the great
outfielders--but I\'ve never seen anyone who was any better than Willie Mays.
Maybe just as good, but not better.

It is fitting and remarkable
that the players these people pick as the best of the sport are many of those
that still carry resonance: Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, and Brooks Robinson are
all names we recognize and honor. When these interviews took place--in the
early to mid sixties--the heyday of Brooks Robinson in the 1970 World Series
was still half a decade away. Brooks had just won the American League MVP in
1964, which accounts for his being known, but it is truly