The Old Ball Game


Looking through my links on my Boston Walking Tours post I came across listings in the Historic New England calendar for vintage baseball. I’ve long wanted to check out the historic reenactment of baseball as it was played in the 19th-century.  Much better than Civil War battles, in my humble opinion.

With a little web searching I learned that there are entire leagues of vintage baseball teams in the Boston area, and the most local team (meaning I could attend games by taking the T) is the Boston Colonials.  The Boston Colonials schedule is online at their blog.  I definitely need to check that out this summer.  I’m only saddened that I missed the game on Boston Common.

Speaking of old time baseball, the 15th Annual Old Time Baseball Game in Cambridge is coming up on August 21st. This is a fun event where two teams of mainly high school players with a few celebrities thrown in play a game under modern rules but with vintage-style uniforms from several Major and Minor league teams of the past century.  It’s something worth putting on your calendar.

It’s good to have options for baseball-viewing since Red Sox tickets are too expensive and too impossible to get.  I didn’t get to Fenway once last season and doubt I will this season.  However, if I do it will probably be for the great Futures at Fenway doubleheader on August 9th.  This event features the Sox triple-A farm team the Pawtucket Red Sox and short season single-a affiliate the Lowell Spinners each playing a game against opponents from their respective leagues.  I went to this a couple of years back and it’s a great family event.  All the charm and history of Fenway with the just plain fun of Minor League baseball.

Of course my real heart’s desire is to sneak up to Lowell to see the Spinners play the baby Mets from Brooklyn on Aug. 6-8 but we’ll have to see about that.

Book Review: The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox by Stephen Budiansky


One of R.E.M.’s early albums is entitled Fables of the Reconstruction. That could easily be the title of The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox (2008) by Stephen Budiansky. The accepted history has it that the Reconstruction of the South following the Civil War failed due to a vindictive Republican government saddling the helpless South with corrupt politicians, swindling businessmen, and allowing incompetent blacks to take government positions. Author James Loewen even points out in his book Lies My Teacher Told Me how children’s textbooks use insults like “carpetbagger” and “scalawag” to describe people without any context of how these terms were used or mention of the many well-intentioned Northerners who came to the South during Reconstruction.

Budiansky pops the bubble of this revisionist history showing instead a South defeated in battle but continuing to fight to prevent enfranchisement and political viability of the freedmen among them. Budiansky pulls no punches and calls the organized violent tactics terrorism. Furthermore, it was a successful terrorism that basically forced the federal government to give up laying the groundwork for another century of segregation and inequality.

The Bloody Shirt relies heavily on primary documents that allow the reader to hear the voices of those who tried to reconstruct the South and those who often very openly admitted the crimes they’d commit to prevent it. Five men are central to the narrative:

  • Prince Rivers, a slave who escaped, fought for the Union, and became a South Carolina legislator. By the time Reconstruction ends he’s been removed from office by the Democratic government and forced to work as a coachman, the same work he did a slave.
  • Adelbert Ames, the military governor of Mississippi who fought a losing battle to rebuild the state under the new amendments to the Constitution.
  • Albert Morgan, a Northerner who moved to the South to become a farmer, married a black woman and found himself increasingly threatened by his white neighbors (albeit popular with his black neighbors) and ended up running for his life.
  • Lewis Merrill who fought bloody battles against the Ku Klux and white rifle groups in South Carolina that were as organized and calculated as the Confederate army during the War.
  • James Longstreet, one of Robert E. Lee’s ablest and most popular generals during the War. His public statements that the Confederacy’s loss means the South must support the Republican government lead not only to his ostracism but a false revision of his war record.

As well as I know the lowly depths that humans can sink, I couldn’t help but be shocked by this book. It was a sobering and instructive read. The issues raised in the book still reverberate to our time and I recommend it to anyone interested in the Civil War, racism, and American politics.

While reading this book I learned of Slavery by Another Name by Douglas Blackmon (interview) which could be a good follow-up book.

Memorable Passages

“To white conservative Southerners, the outrage was never the acts they committed, only the effrontery of having those acts held against them. … The bloody shirt perfectly captured the inversion of truth that would characterize the distorted memories of Reconstruction the nation would hold for generations after. The way it made a victim of the bully and a bully of the victim, turned the very act of Southern white violence into wounded Southern innocence, turned the very blood of their African American victims into an affront against Southern white decency; the way it suggested that the real story was not the atrocities white Southerners committed but only the attempt by their political enemies to make political hay out of those atrocities. The merest hint that a partisan motive lay behind the telling of these tales was enough to satisfy most white Southerners that the events never happened, or were exaggerated, or even that they had been conspiratorially engineered by the victims themselves to gain sympathy or political advantage.” – p. 5

Note: This behavior sounds eerily like a lot of the political discourse of the past decade or so.

[General Longstreet] He hoped that he might be forgiven the “bluntness of a soldier” to remind his fellow Southerners what had been decided at Appomattox. “The surrender of the Confederate armies in 1865,” he wrote, “involved: 1. The surrender of the claim to right of secession. 2. The surrender of the former political relations to the negro. 3. The surrender of the Southern Confederacy. There they should have been buried. The soldier prefers to have the sod that receives him when he falls covers his remains. The political questions of the war should have been buried upon the fields that marked their end.

One of the gravest errors, Longstreet went on, was the opinion that “we cannot do wrong, and that Northerners cannot do right.” There were good and bad in both sections. But one must now bend to the other. The war had decided which. – p. 153

Another United States senatorial committee convened to record the words of the victims after it was too late to help them. The Democrats now held the House; the mood of the country was now more one of fatigue with the travails of the South than anything like the righteous indignation of times past. The lingering Republican majority in the Senate had an air of resigned impotence, of going through the forms with no expectation of results. – p. 208.

New York : Viking, 2008.

I’m a Twit


So, I finally gave in and registered for Twitter even though I really do not understand the practical purpose of the tool. I mean I understand what it’s for – telling people what you’re up to at every minute of the day – I just don’t know what it does for a shy guy like me and especially what it does professionally. Yet, I read library blog after library blog hailing Twitter as a great social networking tool. So I caved and decided to give it a try. Don’t want to be classified as a troglodyte who’s afraid of change after all.

Long-time readers will recall that I went through the same process with Facebook last year. Even though I found some things that Facebook is good for (Susan compares it to collecting one’s friends like Hummels), and find it fun to play games with my friends, professionally I’ve done zilch. Seemingly the moment I was convinced to sign up with Facebook was when Facebook-backlash began. Now people frustrated with Facebook offer plaudits for Twitter instead. So maybe I can be ahead of the curve, or at least on the curve this time. So far I’ve found that Twitter is a good forum for writing Haiku and publishing Overheard-type comments. If you want to follow me you can find me at http://twitter.com/Othemts.

Here’s a typical article Why Twitter Matters from iLibrarian.

Greeting Cards for Sisters


Every year around this time, I come upon the same problem. Any greeting cards for sale in the “Birthday — Sister” category are entirely from the perspective of a card to a sister from a sister. Usually the card will have an archival photo of two girls in dresses or a pencil-sketch of two fashionably-dressed women. If lacking such illustration, the card will still have text saying things like “Sis, when were growing up we shared clothing and boyfriends…” Granted, it’s entirely possible that a boy may share clothing and boyfriends with his sister, but there are a lot of variables there that make it unlikely.

Now I know for a fact that I’m not the only man who has a female sibling. I suspect I’m not the only man who would like to send a birthday card to his sister. So I really don’t understand the whole sister-to-sister thing. I’ve never checked but do the cards for brothers only come from brothers? “Bro, when we grew up we caught frogs and belched…”

It’s not that big deal of course. There are plenty non-relative cards available to chose from. I also could be a really good brother and make a customized card by hand, but that would take time and planning.

PS – Since my sister is probably reading this: Hey B, if you haven’t received it yet, your card is in the mail. It’s quite surreal even though it doesn’t mention sharing clothing and boyfriends.

Book Review: A Game of Brawl by Bill Felber


A Game of Brawl (2007) by Bill Felber tells the story of the 1897 National League pennant race between the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston franchise unofficially nicknamed the Beaneaters. Felber present this as one of the greatest pennant races of all time and it certainly was a doozy. It also was a culture clash as the Orioles – pennant winners for the previous three years – were known for playing a dirty style of baseball while the Boston squad represented more gentlemanly play and civilized behavior in general.

The two teams had many of the colorful players of the era including future Hall of Famers Jimmy Collins, Hugh Duffy, Billy Hamilton, Kid Nichols, and manager Frank Selee for Boston and John McGraw, Hughie Jennings, Joe Kelley, Wee Willie Keeler, Wilbert Robinson, and manager Ned Hanlon for Baltimore. Felber follows both of the teams throughout the season leading up to the three game series in the last week of the season that decides the pennant (I won’t give away who won). Interestingly, there was a post-season series at that time called the Temple Cup which would match up these two teams again, however it was viewed by fans and players as little more than an exhibition even though the team that lost the pennant won the Cup.

In addition to the pennant race, Felber captures the feel of this era of baseball. First there was spring training which in those days really was needed to get the players back into ship. The teams sailed to a Southern town, practiced calisthenics and running, and then barnstormed back North playing amateur teams who offered no real preparation for the Major League Baseball season. During the season, with six teams on the East Coast and six teams to the West, teams played enormously long homestands and made long road trips to visit the ballparks of all the franchises in that region.

Felber also tells the sad plight of umpires of the era who were abused verbally and physically by players and fans. 1897 was a particular bad year with an enormous turnover of umpires even though most games were worked by a single umpire. On some occasions, players or managers ended up umpiring their own games! The abuses of 1897 led to some reforms for the much-maligned umpires, including ending the practice of single umpire games.

An interlude in the book tells the sad story of Louis Sockalexis, the Penobscot Indian who quickly rose to stardom and plummeted just as fast for the Cleveland franchise. His popularity led to a nickname change for the Cleveland team from the Spiders to the Indians. Sadly Sockalexis’ career and life were not as enduring.

The fans play a big part in the game in 1897, with the relationship between players and fans at the ballpark and around the town much more interactive than today. The excitement of the pennant race meant that thousands of fans in both cities were willing to pay admission to see road games reenacted by marionettes. The year also saw the birth of the vociferous, singing fan club The Royal Rooters who traveled en masse to see their beloved Bostons play in Baltimore. Felber cites this as the first recorded incidence of fans traveling to see their team play on the road.

This is an excellent book overall with a couple of weaknesses. First of all, Felber obviously became familiar with the names and positions of several dozen players on the two teams. For the reader however, his narration can get confusing as it’s hard to keep track of what players play where or for what team. Also he’s not very good at building up the natural drama of the games themselves during the season-ending showdown. With those caveats I recommend this book for baseball fans and historians.

[Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, c2007.]

Lilac Sunday, YEAH!


First, an explanation of the title. Lilac Sunday is an annual event at Arnold Arboretum celebrated this year for the 100th time. 8 years ago Susan and I were walking through Central Square in Cambridge talking about going to Lilac Sunday and maybe sending lilacs to our mothers for Mothers Day. At this point, the man walking in front of us turned around, looked right in my face and said “YEAH!” He then turned around and resumed his stride as if nothing happened. To this day I don’t know if he liked the idea or if lilacs didn’t agree with him. Regardless, neither of us can talk about Lilac Sunday without interjecting a random “YEAH!” here or there.

After 8 years of being typical Somervilleans who avoided long trips across the river, we could not avoid Lilac Sunday since the Arboretum is next door to our current residence. The first thing we noticed about Lilac Sunday is that it attracts a lot of people, especially babies, and dogs. I’ve grown accustomed to the solitude of walking Peter through the Arboretum on weekday mornings so the crowds were a bit overwhelming. Still it was a nice day to inspect the lilacs, sniff their aromas, and relax in the grass.

Peter checks out the lilacs.

Lilacs up close.

Another type of lilac. What do you want, I’m a librarian not a botanist!

This is not a lilac. It’s called Orange Quince, but we did not have runcible spoons.

This also is not a lilac, but it sure is pretty to see blossoms against the blue sky again.

People, people everywhere. And trees, yes there are lots of trees in the Arboretum.

Adam at Universal Hub posts links to other bloggers’ commentary on Lilac Sunday.

Podcasts Always Come in Threes


Three more episodes of podcasts worth listening too:

  • Disgustingly Adorable” – Colonial Williamsburg: Past & Present covers the annual spring lambing, a big event for Phi Pi fans. Previous sheeplore: Fuzzy Pigs and Out Like a Lamb.
  • News from Lake Wobegon” – A Prairie Home Companion is a classic radio show, although it’s a bit tired these days. I’ve heard about all the Guy Noir and Ketchup ads I care to hear. Luckily there’s a podcast just for the best part, Garrison Keillor’s monologue. The one for May 3, 2008 is particularly good with a reflection on why Christianity is hard and the great line, “Gas costs more than beer. Don’t drive, drink.”
  • The Beauty and Challenge of Being Catholic: Hearing the Faithful” – An episode of APM: Speaking the Faith I learned about via Dirty Catholic. This a great selection of interviews from a cross-section of American Catholics. More interviews and transcripts at the website

Book Review: The Deportees and Other Stories by Roddy Doyle


Over the past decade or so, while the US economy has gone down the toilet, the dollar has crashed and burned, and xenophobia blossomed to the point of building fences on our borders, Ireland has become a prosperous nation built on new industries, the strength of the European Union, and the rising Euro. As a result, a centuries-long trend of Irish emigration has been reversed and now Ireland is a destination for the world’s poor and dispossessed looking to make a new life. One of Ireland’s premier contemporary writers Roddy Doyle takes on the challenges of the emerging multi-cultural society in his collection of short stories The Deportees and Other Stories (2008). The eight stories are built on the simple premise: “someone born in Ireland meets someone who has come to live there.”

Doyle is one of my favorite authors and I’ve enjoyed many of his novels including The Barrytown Trilogy: The Commitments, The Snapper, and The Van, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, The Woman Who Walked into Doors, and my favorite Doyle novel A Star Called Henry (sadly,a sequel to Henry called Oh, Play that Thing, was uneven to put it politely). Doyle may be the most appropriate author to write about this new Ireland. He has an eye for detail and ear for language, and his stories are comfortable in the space between poignant and laugh-out-loud funny. Doyle originally published these stories as part of a regular column (in 800 word increments) fo Ireland’s multicultural newspaper Metro Eireann.

My favorite stories include:

  • The title story in which Jimmy Rabbite of The Commitments decides to put together a new band, this time with no native Irish musicians, to play the songs of Woody Guthrie. I’d pay money to see that band.
  • “New Boy” in which a boy named Joseph who escaped political violence in his native Africa has to stand up to playground violence on his first day at an Irish school. This story hits the nail on the head in showing a child’s perspective on being the new kid in class.
  • “Black Hoodie” in which an Irish boy in a hooded sweatshirt and his Nigerian maybe-girlfriend lead store security guards on while their friend in a wheelchair robs the store blind. Its all part of a business proposition to test stereotypes and collect consulting fees from the store managers. It’s almost too clever for its own good.

By the way, watching the video below will apparently play a part in determining how Irish you are:

New York: Viking Penguin, 2008.

Radical Love: the Haley House documentary


Haley House is a great place in Boston where people create community around food. You can call it a soup kitchen, a bakery, and an organic farm, but it’s the people who count. Both poor and privileged come together to share their gifts and learn from one another.

Via Anna at Isak, I’ve learned that a Haley House documentary is in the works. It’s the work of Alexandra Pinschmidt who lives in the Haley House community. The trailer for the film is on YouTube and is quite stirring. Check it out.

I look forward to seeing the entire documentary.

Book Review: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation. Volume I: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson


The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation. Volume I: The Pox Party (2006) by M.T. Anderson begins like a science fiction story, reminiscent of The Baroque Cycle. Young Octavian lives with his mother Cassiopeia and a crowd of Natural Philosophers who go by numbers instead of names. Octavian and his mother are royalty, and although they are far from home, they live in luxury with fine foods and clothing, a classical education, and sophisticated society.

HONKING HUGE SPOILERS BEGIN HERE.

In time it is revealed that Octavian and his mother are slaves living in Boston in the 1760’s-70’s and while treated well materially, Octavian is also something of a lab rat, under constant observation by the scientists of the Novanglian College of Lucidity. This goes right down to Octavian having his excrement weighed after every bowel movement to study the efficiency of his digestive system. Over the course of the novel Octavian grows more aware of the uniqueness and injustice of his situation. Octavian’s coming-of-age is coupled with the College falling on hard times and the start of the Revolution. The central paradox of the novel is that the American’s who are fighting for freedom are doings so while defending their right to withhold freedom from others.

The title refers to an event in the central chapters where in Spring of 1775 the College scientists gather a party of 40 people, both blacks and whites, on a remote farm and inoculate them against smallpox. It is literally a party with dancing and entertainment until the guests begin to fall ill from the inoculation. As everything with the College of Lucidity it is also a scientific experiment to compare the effects of the pox on peoples of European and African descent, and becomes the subject of a scholarly paper. Finally, it is also an attempt by the slave masters to keep their servants indisposed and away from the cities as they fear the British will incite the slaves to fight against the colonists.

The majority of the book is written in first person as Octavian’s memoirs mixed with letters, diary entries, and newspaper clippings that offer other character’s perspectives. It’s classified as a Young Adult book, although I think the 18th-century style language would prove challenging for a teenage reader. I know I would have found this book difficult as a teen as I didn’t learn much of the history until I went to college and become acquainted with the language until I worked at Colonial Williamsburg. But perhaps I underestimate today’s young adults who can enjoy reading a gripping story and perhaps reread it later in life for other perspectives.

I enjoyed this book immensely and it is a front runner for my list of favorite books for 2008. I look forward to reading the second volume The Kingdom on the Waves set for release on October 14, 2008.

Favorite Passages

Music hath its land of origin; and yet it is also its own country, its own sovereign power, and all may take refuge there, and all once settled, may claim it as their own, and all may meet there in amity; and these instruments, as surely as instruments of torture, belong to all of us. — p. 156

‘Tis time to shake off the yoke of oppression. ‘Tis not enough for royal tyrants to reduce us to slavery — they raise up our slaves to lord it over us.

We shall break all their backs. We shall show them chaos and rebellion. There shall be retribution. [Clepp Asquith, Esq]. — p. 262

Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2006.