This article was written by John Thorn
This article was published in The National Pastime, Spring 1988
And now for something completely different …
With this issue of The National Pastime we embark upon a new sort of excavation of baseball’s glorious past: the special biographical issue. The first in what we hope will be a continuing series of baseball lives is Jim Murphy’s comprehensive, affectionate portrait of Napoleon “Larry” Lajoie, a great figure of the game’s early years whose accomplishments are little appreciated today. Mr. Murphy has restored Lajoie — “modern baseball’s first superstar,” he calls him — to the pedestal that was his in the years before Ruth.
SABR is publishing this book-length biography for several reasons. Principal among these is simply that it is good, and we think you will enjoy it. Second, Napoleon Lajoie represents that odd genre of baseball book so well suited to SABR members’ interests: the book too obscure or out-of-fashion to be broadly popular yet too informal and cordial to be narrowly academic. Such a work generates little enthusiasm among publishers commercial or academic and would probably fail, were it not for SABR, to find an appreciative readership. And third, we hope that the publication of Jim Murphy’s book will encourage other would-be biographers to take on worthy subjects they might otherwise dismiss as unpublishable. We have in hand autobiographies (yes!) of Kid Nichols and Rabbit Maranville, and would welcome biographies of many other neglected major figures.
SABR has published The National Pastime: A Review of Baseball History since 1982, when it began as a collection of essays unified by their writers’ grasp of how the past informs and transforms the game’s present. In 1984 TNP departed from its original format to present its first special issue, a pictorial devoted to baseball in the nineteenth century. Two years later, responding to the enthusiastic welcome that issue received, we extended the pictorial concept to the dead-ball era; and later this year we will publish the third pictorial, covering the years 1920-1945. The original format, shelved for 1988, will return in 1989. After that, the climate will be ripe for innovation once more: keep those bright ideas coming, folks.
Click the cover image to download the PDF edition of the Spring 1988 The National Pastime (Volume 7, No. 1) to view this special biographical issue in its original formatting: