Lawrence Ritter, standing, looks on as Lee Lowenfish, left, interviews Red Barber at Polk Award ceremonies, Long Island University, circa 1985. A shy man, Ritter summoned the courage to call retired players and discovered that most of them were eager to tell their stories.

Lawrence S. Ritter

Lawrence S. Ritter (1922-2004), an economics professor at New York University, drove 75,000 miles in the mid-1960s to research his classic 1966 baseball oral history The Glory of Their Times. Ritter wrote that he got the idea from the 1961 death of Ty Cobb — the great players from the turn of the century were old men, and he wanted to hear their stories before they died. Before Ritter, no one had undertaken the effort to interview old ballplayers on such a grand scale, and his efforts led to dozens of oral history collections in the ensuing decades. Ritter did not ask probing questions or delve into the details of their careers — instead he turned his tape recorder on and stayed out of the way, allowing his subjects to go where their memories would take them. Ritter later wrote other books of baseball history, but it is for his groundbreaking first effort that all baseball historians owe him a great debt.

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