Book Review: The Dark Side of the Diamond by Roger I. Abrams


The Dark Side of the Diamond (2007) by Roger I. Abrams is the antidote for anyone who looks at the state of our National Pastime and yearns for “the good old days” when baseball and virtue went hand-in-hand.   As Abrams dutifully enumerates, professional baseball in the “bad old days” offers plenty of examples of gambling, game-fixing (commonplace in the era from 1870-1920), abuse of alcohol & recreational drugs, performance-enhancing drugs (Pud Galvin used an extract from animal testicles in 1889), and fisticuffs, racism and other violence on and off the field.  It is to Abrams credit that it is similar in tone to many traditional baseball histories in the reverence toward the game as oppossed to just being a tell-all expose such as Chico Escuela’s fabled memoir Bad Stuff ‘Bout the Mets.   Abrams’ work is the story of baseball with an added emphasis on the warts.  Still I would have liked it more if he could have given a broader context to how these flaws played out in shaping the game.  Abrams is good at making comparisons to American society at large but oddly doesn’t make a case for the game itself being helped or  hindered by the cheating, drunken, violent thugs that played the game.  In the end though Abrams does make a good case for baseball really being representative of America’s greatness and its evils all in one National Pastime.

Favorite Passage

“A more complete picture of baseball behaviors can tell us much beyond the heroics of a few fine atheletes.  It can tell us a rich story of a complex continental nation that was founded in liberty for some and slavery for others, that strove to find gold in individual achievement and in coordinated thievery, and that ultimately emerged on he world stage in the twentieth century as a boisterous adolescent convinced of its destiny.  Baseball was our mantra because, in the minds of many, it symbolized a nation where joint effort and individual excellence wer rewarded.  It was also a game where reules were broken unless the umpires saw the transgressions.

Baseball was designed in the beginning as a pure and healthy exercise and it has provided entertainment to the American public for a century and a half.  Over that expanse of time, the game demonstrated the American character to its multitude of fans.  We hoped that baseball would teach our youngsters about resourcefulness and fortitude, adherence to rules and authority, teamwork and pride. At the same time, however, it taught the next generation about partisan rivalries, violence, disparagement, cheating, and human frailty.  It resonated with the full context of American society, and it has told us much about whom we were and whom we are today, ” – p. 32.

Author : Abrams, Roger I., 1945-
Title : The dark side of the diamond : gambling, violence, drugs and alcoholism in the national pastime / Roger I. Abrams.
Edition : 1st ed.
Published : Burlington, MA : Rounder Books, c2007.
Description : vii, 216 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.

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