Cover Image: The New York Game

The New York Game

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Member Reviews

Thank you Thank you Knopf, Pantheon, Vintage, and Anchor | Knopf for allowing me to read and review The New York Game Baseball and the Rise of a New City on NetGalley.

Published: 03/05/24

Stars: 4

Imagine a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame with a well-versed storytelling personal guide and locked in the New York Section. The best part -- you never leave your home.

This is filled with facts, trivia and opinions.

Probably not for everyone, however, it is a nice gift for a New York fan and possibly a historian, etc.

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I’ve read dozens upon dozens of baseball histories and biographies, but Kevin Baker’s The New York Game takes an approach that is somehow both unique and painfully obvious in hindsight. Baker frames the history of baseball through its modern origins in the Elysian Fields of Hoboken right up to the end of the Second World War. Only, Baker never leaves New York.

Baker’s main contention, from the beginning of the novel, is that despite what “big baseball” wants you to think, baseball did not start as a rural pastime. It was played in cities and cities evolved in tune with the “national game.”

While telling about the rise of baseball (and New York’s central role), he also discusses the rise of New York City itself into a world city. Part of that rise, per Baker, is from baseball, and part of baseball’s rise is because the city.

Baker does not shy away from the bad. He discusses racial tensions both in the city and in the game and deftly lays out the facts. All the time, he presents in a very personable style.

Again, it’s a very unique and specific topic, but it works. Of course New York made baseball. I’m hoping for a second volume soon.

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A well-written book for all baseball fans,I am sure I will re-read this as I travel to New York again this summer to attend games in person. There's just something extra special about baseball in New York and the book captures the competitive spirit of today's teams and gives you a foundation of where the game has been.

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A rich and detailed history of one of America's favorite sports. As a fact lover, I enjoyed the bits and pieces past times the early exclusivity of the game, the various ball clubs and leagues and the progressions and improvements made to the game throughout the decades and centuries. Seasoned baseball lovers and those new to the sport will both gain from a delightful stroll through a much celebrated hobby deep in the heart of New York.

**Thank you NetGalley for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.**

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Note: Thank you to NetGalley, Knopf Publishing, and Kevin Baker for the advanced reader copy of the book.  What follows is my unbiased review of the book.

Baseball is intrinsic with New York. Not just professional baseball, but the baseball that was once-upon-a-time “town ball” that was played by kids anywhere they could find room to hit a ball and run. Although we treat baseball like a sport of rural areas, it was actually played where people could gather together and have enough players to form these teams, mostly in cities and towns. There was no city where this was truer than New York City.

Kevin Baker wrote a book that intertwines the politics of New York City with the history of baseball, showing readers how they influenced each other. He traces it back before baseball was a professional sport to the numerous clubs that were associated with different groups in the city. In particular, it was New York City’s Tammany Hall that controlled the City for much of the early days of professional baseball, and controlled what teams were allowed to play there. This book runs from the mid-19th century until just before Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Baker has researched some incredible detail about those early years of baseball and put together a history like no other. It was a new experience for me, reading about how the political machine in New York City helped shape professional baseball as we know it today. It helped shut out many of the other leagues that tried to rival the American League and National League that we know of today. It also controlled what teams were allowed to play in the city, keeping the (then) New York Giants in quite a privileged position. It’s also what eventually pushed the team that would be known as the Yankees out of Manhattan to playing in the outer borough of the Bronx.

I grew up just outside New York City and lived there for the first 39 years of my life, and Baker has come up with a history that even I did not know. While following the rise of the Yankees, he talks about how the Bronx was developed into a middle-class living space with the grand design of the Grand Concourse. I knew about the Civil War draft riots, but not that the government ordered the clubs in Harlem shut down during World War II because they were so concerned about the white soldiers fraternizing with African Americans.

Yes, the history of the Negro Leagues as it related to New York and how it was shut out of the City for the most part. Baker goes over the great players who never had a chance to play, and how some of the owners attempted to get around it from time to time, but were forced to fire any black players they attempted to field.

Of course, there would be no New York baseball story without Babe Ruth. Baker puts many of the stories about Ruth in context. The Yankees actually forbid him from working out in the off-season, which is why he became the larger-than-life figure we have been presented over the ages. He also hits on a new reason I hadn’t heard of for the breakdown in the relationship between Ruth and teammate Lou Gehrig.

I learned a lot from The New York Game, both about the City I grew up near and the sport I love. If anything, it was information overload at times, and I had to step away from the book more frequently than other history or baseball books I’ve read. Still, is that a bad thing in the long run? I think not. I really enjoyed the unique perspective presented here and recommend it for baseball fans and city historians.

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I couldn't have enjoyed this book more. As a big baseball and history fan this was really enjoyable. I may not be a Yankees fan at all but the detailed historical information here was fascinating how professional baseball got its start as well as how baseball seemed to have big issues kicking off in the NY area which seems unbelievable today.

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The New York Game is a great read for baseball super-fans. I learned so much about the sport and its history. I also loved the historical context Baker provided — he really brought the backdrop of New York to life. My only critique would be that sometimes there were too many anecdotes or fun facts to keep track of!

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Kevin Baker gave us an excellent book on the history of baseball in New York and the city itself. From the foundation of the baseball clubs to the rise of New York as the major American city, Mr. Baker takes the reader on through the history of each in a way that delves deeply into what made New York what is became from the early days to the 1940s. As an avid reader of baseball history, I was intrigued by the depth of the information provided. There were stories that were new to me and much information that kept the reader fully engaged. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves not only baseball history, but history in general.

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I really enjoyed getting to know about the history of baseball and the use of New York. Kevin Baker does a great job writing this and was really well researched and written.

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Really really enjoyed this one(as I have all of Baker’s books). So intelligent and knowledgable about New York and its baseball history. But more important Baker takes a multitude of facts and perspectives and melds them seamlessly into a warm, funny, well written and fascinating narrative. Even if you don’t live in NY or are not a fan of baseball you will be entertained and educated by this book. And I can’t wait for volume two of this chronicle which picks up where this one leaves off. Highly recommended.

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