Baseball’s Oral History: The Glory of Their Times by Lawrence Ritter
When people speak about baseball’s oral history, one book, The Glory of Their Times : The Story of Baseball Told By the Men Who Played It by Lawrence Ritter, stands head and shoulders above the rest. It is at the top or near the top of any “best baseball book” list, including mine. If this book doesn’t have a prominent place on your bookshelf, it should. Amazon readers agree. Across 82 reviews, Glory has an Amazon rating of 4.90–an unheard of high rating.
One of the wonderful things about baseball are the stories, sometimes apocryphal, of bygone times that are told and retold from generation to generation. Across a period of five years during the early 1960s, Lawrence Ritter traveled across the country, some 75,000 miles, interviewing baseball players with a reel-to-reel recorder to hear these stories and anecdotes, in their own words. Ritter conceived of the idea in 1961 when Ty Cobb died.
”It seemed to me then that someone should do something, and do it quickly, to record for the future the remembrances of a sport that has played such a significant role in American life,
From Thomas Lask’s New York Times Book Review of September 17, 1966:
In “The Glory of Their Times,” Lawrence Ritter has fashioned an authentic piece of Americana, and if there is a youngster over 50 who does not respond to it, he must have a heart of stone. We get, among other accounts, personal and fresh reports of such famous happenings on the diamond as Fred Snodgrass’s muff of a fly ball, Merkle’s faiure to touch second , and the unassisted triple play by Bill Wambsganss. What emerges from these pages are not individual portraits so much as patterns of life, folkways and values–if not for the entire country, at least for significant parts of it.
Ritter, who died in 2004, took the title for his oral history from a phrase in Ecclesiasticus: ”All these were honored in their generations, and were the glory of their times.” Included in Glory are baseball luminaries Rube Marquard, Chief Meyers, Goose Goslin, Smoky Joe Wood, Hank Greenburg, and Wahoo Sam Crawford as well as lesser-known players Al Bridwell, Jimmy Austin, and Bill Wambsganss.
Since Glory, there have been a number of other significant entires in the Oral History baseball genre, most notably by Donald Honig, Peter Golenbeck, and former Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent. Books on Baseball will detail those in a follow up Oral History article.
Hear Sam Crawford, Hans Lobert, and Jimmy Austin from Glory of Their Times
See Video about Fred Snodgrass and the story of his “muff”. Snodgrass was a subject in Ritter’s book.