Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Review of "The Black Prince of Baseball"

One of the most interesting characters in baseball during the early 20th century was first baseman Hal Chase.  Known on the field mostly for his slick fielding, he was also a known gambler and was believed to be a key figure in the 1919 World Series gambling scandal. However there is so much more to the man's story and it is told in great detail in this book by Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella.  Here is my review of "The Black Prince of Baseball."

“The Black Prince of Baseball: Hal Chase and the Mythology of the Game” by Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella

Baseball, biography, gambling, Yankees, Reds, White Sox, Cubs

Publish date:
May 1, 2016

436 pages

4 ½ of 5 stars (excellent)

Throughout his career in not only the major leagues, but also in semipro baseball and “outlaw” leagues in California (including the early days of the Pacific Coast League), Hal Chase was known alternately as one of the best fielding infielders in the early 20th century or one of the most crooked players in the game as it was the era of fixed games and shady deals on and off the field.

This extensively researched and well-written biography by Donald Dewy and Nicholas Acocella is an exhaustive look at the man and his accomplishment – both positive and negative.  While the common line is that Chase was banned from the game because of his gambling, that was not the case as Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis did not ban Chase as he did the eight players from the Chicago White Sox for throwing the 1919 World Series. It is true he never played again in the major leagues after 1920, but that was more because teams didn’t want to take a chance on a 36-year-old infielder with a history of injuries and a poor reputation.

That, in a nutshell, is the case the authors are trying to prove with their research – that Chase, while far from an innocent person in the era of gambling in baseball, was merely one part of the entire operation that was a black eye on the game. Chase was an excellent personification of the lifestyle of the well-to-do at that time. His off-the-field exploits that included more gambling, shadier deals and many women (despite being married twice) is also well documented in the book. By giving this portrait of Chase, the authors also are allowing the reader to not only learn about the man and the times, but to also draw his or her own conclusion on how much Chase had to do with the gambling plaguing the game.

The book is not a quick or easy read. The writing is very detailed, especially when the topic is one of several grand jury trials in which Chase had to testify or was the subject of others’ testimony. While they can be slow to read and digest, these passages, along with the details of Chase’s interactions with others such as White Sox owner Charles Comiskey make for very interesting reading.  It was not easy to finish this book, but like the fictional story that seemed to never end until it did, this one had that same feeling.  The reader will wonder just how much more dirt can be dug up on Chase, but once it ends, it results in a very satisfying book. 

I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

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