Here he is on Bill Bernhard, who managed minor league teams in "an
era when even the majors paid poorly." When asked how much a player
should make, Bernhard replied, "Anything he can get."
Novak deftly brings to life the colorful and scrappy side of playing major
league baseball in those early days when spitballs were legal and players
loved to play tricks on the owners. A case in point being Germany Schaefer,
who sometimes would "take the field wearing rain gear in an attempt
to have the game declared a rainout."
But Novak doesn't gloss over the racism and nastiness that were also part
and parcel of the national pastime. Chief Bender, whose mother was Chippewa,
had to "endure relentless taunts, insults and war whoops from the
bleachers." The Chief, though, got his revenge when he pitched a
winning game and would circle the stadium yelling, "Foreigners! Foreigners!"
Some of the many Black players banned from playing in the segregated major
leagues turn up in BASEBALL EPIC, notably Jimmy Claxton, who broke the
color bar by passing himself off as an American Indian. His career came
to a quick end when "a spectator in the bleachers recognized him
as a black player" and he was booted.
Touching portraits of Jim Thorpe, Eddie Cicotte (banned from baseball
because of his role in the 1919 Black Sox scandal), and Lizzie Murphy
(the first woman to play on a men's team in exhibition games against teams
from both the major and Negro leagues) also stand out. The book concludes
with a little-known mini-biography of Ty Cobb, whose father disapproved
of his decision to become a ballplayer.
"Don't come back a failure," he told his son. Shortly thereafter,
"Cobb's mother shot his father dead. Heartbroken, Cobb channeled
his fury to become one of the greatest, but most embattled, players in
(Coffee House Press, coffeehousepress.org)