08 October 2005

Book Review: Ebbets Field, by Joseph McCauley

Ebbets Field: Brooklyn's Baseball Shrine
by Joseph McCauley

c. 2004, Authorhouse, $34.75 (Paperback)

A brand new book on an old and endearing subject for baseball fans, Joseph McCauley's book Ebbets Field revisits a long-gone place and time, a favorite subject of young and old fans of the game. McCauley grew up and lives in the Midwest, and is too young (I think) to have ever visited Brooklyn's baseball shrine, but as an avid fan of the game and of baseball nostalgia, McCauley felt that there was a void, at least in his own baseball library, that needed to be filled. To this end, he set out to write the book he wished he could have read. He did two years of research on the subject, visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, the Library of Congress and places in Brooklyn, both for historical reference and historical perspective. He interviewed numerous former fans, players and others who were involved with the franchise before it relocated to Los Angeles.

I am sorry to report, however, that the result is something of a disappointment, at least to me. Much of my criticism of McCauley's efforts probably stems largely from the fact that this is his first effort at writing a book. Because of that, and the fact that his publisher, Authorhouse, is really a self-publishing house, the book is rather cheap, ironically, without being inexpensive. It's a 3/8" thick paperback, and it costs almost $35, and that's without a lot of large color pictures, which generally tend to drive up the price of a coffee-table book. For that matter, this book doesn't seem well-suited to coffee tables, as the cover seems to curl back, even when it's just left sitting for a while. As humid as it gets when it rains around here, a book should not simply deform like that. Not a well-made book, anyway.

Another aspect of the book that makes it less than an ideal coffee table book is that the writing is too dense. There are 58 images in the 89-page book, but most of them are not more than about 2" x 3" and the writing in between is not broken up into sufficiently succinct chunks to be convenient for reading a little at a time. Furthermore, as a rookie writer, and perhaps without an editor, McCauley's book really needed some fine tuning. The book is rife with typos, misspellings, inappropriate punctuation and other errata, some of which would normally be forgiveable in a first edition, if it wre not coupled with these other problems. His journalism degree (as described on the book's back cover) should qualify him to be a writer, but he has only worked as a letter-carrier for the US Postal Service and does not seem to have written anything of consequence in the two and a half decades that have passed since college, and his lack of practice shows. He attempts to cover the histories of the park and of the franchise simultaneously, but it is sometimes hard to follow his train of thought while reading. Other things are not explained very thoroughly, which either means that he makes a lot of assumptions about what his readers know or that it does not occur to him to lay such groundwork in his prose, either of which makes for problematic reading.

All in all, I am truly sad to report that Ebbets Field (the book) offers little of the uniqueness, charm and craftsmanship that Ebbets Field (the ballpark) offered in its heyday. What it does offer is some interesting interviews, a few good pictures and a lot of nostalgia, as well as a chance for an upstart author to get his feet on the ground and a few dollars in his pocket. Best wishes to him.

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