Review

The Only Game in Town: Baseball Stars of the 1930s and 1940s Talk About the Game They Loved

by Fay Vincent



As former professional athletes move deeper and deeper into senior
citizen status, it becomes increasingly interesting, akin to
listening to our grandparents discuss what life was like "in the
day."

Baseball has always "enjoyed" a reputation that is almost a
necessity, given its relatively slow pace. There is plenty of time
to think, to talk. Many teams hire former players whose sole
purpose seems to be to put current events into juxtaposition with
the way things were when they were on the field. Some fans love it,
some hate it.

It's the same with books such as THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN, a
collection of reminiscences of 10 players who played mostly in the
years surrounding World War II.

The athletes include Elden Auker, Tommy Henrich, John "Buck"
O'Neil, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, Warren Spahn, Larry Doby, Ralph
Kiner, Bob Feller and Monte Irvin; Spahn and Doby have since passed
away.

Spahn, Doby, Kiner, Feller and Irvin have been inducted into the
Baseball Hall of Fame; the others were among the best players of
their generation.

The oral history format is a popular --- and seemingly easy---
format for writers and editors. After all, how much does it take to
plop down a tape recorder and have the subject talk about the most
important people and episodes in their lives? They have similar
stories to tell, mostly about conditions during their careers. Some
of their comments are gossipy; others are, quite frankly, less than
scintillating.

Arguably the best example of the oral history genre is THE GLORY OF
THEIR TIMES, a 1966 collection of interviews by the late Lawrence
Ritter. Like the characters in the popular HBO series "Deadwood,"
one is enthralled by the almost poetic way in which these
supposedly under-educated dumb jocks expressed themselves. Ritter's
players included the relatively obscure (such as Hans Lobert, Rube
Bressler and Willie Kamm) as well as the notable (Hall of Famers
Rube Marquard, Sam Crawford and Smokey Joe Wood), most of whom
played in the first part of the 20th century. Perhaps because they
played a generation before Vincent's roster, their tales are more
rustic and romantic.

One also wonders how much play a book like this would have received
without Vincent's position as former Commissioner of Baseball
(1989-1992).

Another thing the participants of THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN share is
that they are each the subject of their own books; all but Spahn
and Doby produced autobiographies. Such relatively short snippets
might suffice for casual fans. Others --- especially devout fans
--- might skip Vincent's volume altogether, opting to get more
in-depth information straight from the athletes' pens.

The title page declares that this book is the first volume in a
series. It will be interesting to see if the author follows the
pattern of previously-written-about ballplayers in future
editions.

Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on January 13, 2011

The Only Game in Town: Baseball Stars of the 1930s and 1940s Talk About the Game They Loved
by Fay Vincent

  • Publication Date: April 3, 2007
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction, Sports
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 0743273184
  • ISBN-13: 9780743273183