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Baseball's enduring images recall its storied history.

This major league baseball season, like so many others before it, starts with a familiar ring--the New York Yankees open the campaign as the defending American League and World Series champions. Over in the National League, however, there is a touch of novelty, as the Philadelphia Phillies, who were dethroned as titlists last year by said Yanks, are, for the first time in their history--which dates back to 1883--seeking a third consecutive N.L. crown. (For trivia buffs, the Senior Circuit record is four straight flags by the New York Giants of 1921-24.)

In other words, baseball's back--from the crowds jamming big league ballparks all across the country to the sparse gatherings at high school and Little League fields cheering on their charges; and whether it's the big boys or the little guys, one thing never changes, and that is the shared history of our national pastime.

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As a homage to that history--whether you're an avid fan or just a casual observer-there is no better place to turn than Baseball Americana: Treasures from the Library of Congress, as the grand old game (as it was then and as it is now) comes alive in its pages.

Here is an excerpt of a recent Q & A session with the book's primary author, Harry L. Katz:

Baseball fans will be surprised to learn that the Library of Congress has the largest baseball collection in the world. How did that come to be? "Two words: copyright deposit. Publishers and others seeking U.S. copyright registration have to submit copies of their work to the Library of Congress. So, besides books, we also have thousands of baseball films, radio and TV broadcasts, photographs, maps, magazines, and more relating to the game. Plus, the Library has received significant donations from collectors and people prominent in various fields. For example, the Manuscript Division has Branch Rickey's famous paper. Rickey was a major league player and manager, but more importantly, as general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, he was determined to integrate baseball, and he signed Jackie Robinson."

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Were there any surprises in researching this book? "As former Head Curator of Prints and Photographs at the Library of Congress, I knew about the early baseball cards in our collection and a few years ago constructed an online feature about them. I also knew about many of the early prints and photographs, but there are thousands of 20th-century photographs, magazines, books, and prints which illustrate the game during that crucial century of the sport's growth. I had no idea they were there until we began to delve into the shelves and stacks."

Is there anything on baseball that the Library doesn't have but should? 'Well, I'd love it if somebody would donate a Honus Wagner card--that's the most valuable single baseball card routinely selling for millions at auction. Aside from that, when it comes to printed material, LC's collections are about as wide-ranging as you can get."

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How did you get the idea to do this book? "Baseball Americana grew out of my combined passion for baseball and historical images. I wanted to produce a book which visually expresses the sport's democratic origins and profound impact on American popular culture."

There is no shortage of baseball books on the market--what makes Baseball Americana unique, and what are you hoping to convey to readers? 'We were striving for a gritty sense of the game's origins and growth over hundreds of years from an English bat-and-ball game for kids to a global sport played by elite professional athletes and enjoyed by billions of spectators and participants. I wanted readers to 'feel the dirt and smell the grass' at the ball park."

With thousands of items to choose from, how did you decide which images to include? "The hardest part of creating any picture book is selecting the final image list. We were faced with the daunting task of culling an amazing array of images down to a few hundred. It often came down to instinct and experience-which images tit with the others, telling compelling stories, and trying to bring out as many newly uncovered items as possible, while spanning the range and depth of LC collections and the sport's expanding history."

What are some of your favorite images in the book? "Among my favorites are the unique 1865 photograph of the Brooklyn Atlantics, national champions: the earliest existing dated baseball card; the gorgeous, rare chromolithograph of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, the nation's first professional team; an early full-color tobacco card featuring flamboyant superstar Mike 'King' Kelly of the Boston Beaneaters; a news service photo depicting Babe Ruth knocked unconscious in the outfield--minutes later he recovered and played out a doubleheader; a photograph of Myrtle Rowe, who starred for a semiprofessional men's team; decorative telegrams to Jackie Robinson expressing support from fans; and a Look magazine photo of the Dominican Republic's star hurler Juan Marichars outsized smile lighting up the world."

What makes a good baseball image? "I like seeing people's faces. I was especially drawn to shots that suggested how playing this game, spending most of the year out in the sun, season after season, or toiling on a minor league or barnstorming team, revealed itself in players' expressions, the quality of their skin, what their hands looked like. A good example of that is in the remarkable black and white photographs Paul Thompson took in 1910 for the T205 baseball card series. These guys were shot sitting in dugouts and the images were converted into colorful graphic illustrations. They're all looking directly into the camera and there's a genuine sense of them being captured in a candid moment and in their natural habitat, rather than being artificially posed."

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What is your baseball background and what team do you cheer for? "As with so many kids, baseball was my first love. I had the glove, the Nears foot oil, the whole nine yards--and spent dawn to dusk hitting balls, shagging flies, and playing pepper. I played Little League, earned All-Star honors in center field and at catcher, but then moved my athletic skills to other sports. I never lost my love of the game, though. Growing up outside Boston, I am a lifelong Red Sox fan and spent every Opening Day as a kid in the bleachers at Fenway Park, with a note from my folks excusing me from school. Thanks Mom and Dad! Yaz [Carl Yastrzemski, major league baseball's last Triple Crown winner in 1967] was my hero and the 2004 ALCS win over the Yankees took away a lifetime of pain. The World Series win that year [the Bosox's first in 86 years] was nice, too. That said, I have always respected the great Yankees players and teams that lorded it over the Red Sox and other teams, and they are well represented in our book: Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Lou Gehrig. We even include a section on Classic New York Baseball. My point is, in writing this book, it was all about respect for the game and the players who played it with passion and skill. That's why we all keep going to the ballpark."

You served as general editor and as a primary author, but there are four others credited with coauthoring the book. How did that work? "Baseball is a team sport and Baseball Americana was most definitely a team effort featuring great contributions by a number of very talented colleagues and friends. Susan Reyburn and Wilson McBee from the LC Publishing Office provided fantastic picture research and writing skills; Phil Michel in the Prints and Photographs Division contributed technical digital image expertise; and baseball historian Frank Ceresi kept our facts and storylines on track. The book could not have been created without the ongoing support and important contributions of Publishing Office and Prints and Photographs Division staff, along with colleagues from many other divisions."
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Title Annotation:National Pastime
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2010
Words:1322
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