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Pinstripe Alley Book Review: “The Story of Baseball: In 100 Photographs”

Sports Illustrated’s new collection is filled with Yankees highlights

Detroit Tigers v New York Yankees - Game Two Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Any attempt at chronicling the complete history of baseball runs the risk of falling into two distinct pitfalls. On the one hand, the scope of the project could prove excessively large, resulting in a daunting set too long-winded for public consumption. Conversely, a shorter book may feel incomplete, as if the publisher sacrificed important details for brevity’s sake.

The editors at Sports Illustrated attempt to thread this needle in their new collection, The Story of Baseball: In 100 Photographs. Running 223 pages in length, the book represents a middle-ground solution to the challenge, using images as a means of conveying more information. I received an advance copy last week, and I find that the book does an overall fine job at telling the game’s story.

In his introductory essay, Kostya Kennedy traces the parallel histories of photography and baseball, as well as their subsequent growth in the United States. While at first he questions the practicality of telling a complete history in just 100 images, Kennedy ultimately determines that the project works because the snapshots not only capture a moment in time, but speak to a larger place in history. “Each of the 100 photos that drive this book’s narrative tells a discrete story,” he explains, “even as it fits into a larger story as well, reaching forward, reaching back.”

Sports Illustrated divides the book into five chronological sections, spanning the course of professional baseball from the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings to Shohei Ohtani’s debut. Each installment features a photograph and a brief synopsis for context. An accompanying quote from a player or other personality captures the theme of the chapter.

Of the 100 photographs, 10 directly feature the Yankees. There’s Babe Ruth, eyes lifted towards the stands of Sportsman’s Park, as he swats one of his three home runs in Game Four of the 1926 World Series. They show an emotional Lou Gehrig regain his composure at the microphone in the midst of his farewell speech. Don Larsen’s perfect game celebratory embrace with Yogi Berra, George Steinbrenner clad in a Napoleonic France military uniform, and Derek Jeter’s jump throw pose all receive treatment.

The crown jewel of the collection, however, comes in the form of a 1965 photo of Mickey Mantle, which also doubles as the cover art. In this picture, the once triumphant Mantle appears worn down and dejected. He tosses his batting helmet after making an out with a blasé wave of the arm, as if to tell the game that brought him so much success to stay far away. It’s a haunting image, but one that speaks to the era.

Not all of the photos are this significant. I’m still not sure that a picture of Ryan Howard signing autographs illustrates a larger point in the game’s history. The same goes for a shot of the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen staff waiting to warm up. These misfires, while few in number, leave one to wonder if more substantive items could have better told baseball’s story.

While it may appear to have the qualities of coffee-table book, this collection is far more interesting. Casual and serious fans should enjoy the the images and essays. You can find The Story of Baseball: In 100 Photographs on bookstore shelves today.