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The Summer of Beer and Whiskey    by Edward Achorn order for
Summer of Beer and Whiskey
by Edward Achorn
Order:  USA  Can
PublicAffairs, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

You might wonder why Edward Achorn focused on just a single season in his latest baseball book. According to the author, the summer of 1883 was a turning point in the sport because with the creation of a new league, the American Association, baseball became more accessible to a wider audience.

It existed for only nine years (1883-1891) before it was merged into the National League with which it co-existed, but during that short life the American Association teams brought scores of people into their ball parks with Sunday games, booze, cheap tickets and an often eccentric but talented group of players.

Achorn selects 1883 as his focus year because the pennant race between the St. Louis Browns and the Philadelphia Athletics went right down to the wire with the Philly team just barely edging out their Midwestern rivals from Missouri.

As much the story of the teams' owners and their fans as the players, this narrative focuses on a series of the league's key individuals. You'll meet Chris Von der Ahe, the German-born beer garden proprietor who owned the St. Louis team; Daniel Jones, a Yale student whose bizarre pitching style garnered him the nickname 'Jumping Jack'; and Fleet Walker, a black player who was a major-leaguer 63 years before Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

This was a time when admission to a game cost twenty-five cents for an American Association contest and double that for the rival National League. Only one umpire officiated from behind the plate, the players did not wear gloves, and a single pitcher would throw both games of a double-header or three games on consecutive days.

Steroids and other enhancing drugs weren't an issue at this time but alcohol was. Many players drank to excess; some were thrown off their teams for being habitual drunks and a few were even blackballed from the league because of their unacceptable behavior which was fueled by booze.

In telling the story of the summer of 1883, Achorn relies heavily on the newspaper accounts of the time. He quotes from the articles of sportwriters who attended the games and chronicled the close American Association race. The reader will also appreciate the Epilogue: When They Slide Home that finishes the story by explaining what happened to the personalities mentioned in the book in the years following the 1883 season.

Baseball fans curious about some of the lesser known players and forerunners of some of today's teams will find this a fascinating book. Edward Achorn's light touch makes it an entertaining and informative narrative about baseball's formative years.

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