Clay Sigg identifies 177 out of approximately 18,500 major league players of the twentieth century as being ones who stayed with a single team and played for at least ten years. “A single-franchise player sticks with his team, which also sticks with him,” Sigg writes, adding that they demonstrate good character, friendliness and strong work ethic as well as athletic excellence. Player profiles comprise most of this 391-page tome divided into chapters based on eras in the sport’s development and major historical events.
Various sources, including Sigg’s book, call the first two decades of the century the Deadball Era for its lunky, hard-to-hit baseballs. Nevertheless, Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Honus Wagner made 3,420 hits (a record unbroken until 1961 by St. Louis Cardinals outfielder and first baseman Stan Musial). Another point of agreement between Sigg and other sources summing up the 20th century in baseball is calling the last decade the “Steroids Era” when drug testing became necessary to curb use of steroids boosting player strength. Yet Sigg supplies a hearteningly long list of hometown heroes who didn’t drug, including Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton and San Diego Padres right fielder Tony Gwynn.
In-between these bookends, Sigg details players from the Roaring 20s and Great Depression, the latter period pairing Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig and center fielder Joe DiMaggio. Sigg writes about brilliant players with careers interrupted or destroyed by World War II, such as Washington Nationals shortstop and third baseman Cecil Travis, whose feet froze during the Battle of the Bulge.
History defies tidy organization. Consequently, it’s easy to see how indecision may have caused one of the book’s editing flaws, a titling mismatch from table of contents to text for chapter 4, which primarily covers the “golden” post-war era. This section includes the stories of Dodgers infielder Jackie Robinson and shortstop Pee Wee Reese whose support on the playing field helped the tough Robinson break the color barrier – an accomplishment that expanded baseball far beyond its “Expansion Era” of new teams.
HOMETOWN HEROES is a hefty, well-illustrated hardback that deserves a spot in the lineup on baseball lovers’ bookshelves.
~Alicia Rudnicki for IndieReader