May 1993 - Book Review: The Offical Baseball Atlas

Road Trip. If those words conjure up thoughts of loading up the car and heading off into the sunset to see a baseball game, then The Official Baseball Atlas (Rand McNally, $12.95) is a "must have." Ballpark aficionados like me will appreciate the color-coded stadium seating diagrams and the easy-to-read road maps and directions to each of the 28 MLB ballparks. Information on tickets, parking, hotels and restaurants, as well as a complete major league schedule is also included.

Billed as a sports travel guide, this book has a section called "Baseball & Travel" a handy state-by-state register of minor league clubs, spring training, and other baseball attractions. All 50 states, DC and three provinces of Canada are listed, but some states are apparently somewhat baseball-impaired: The only entry for New Hampshire is Dartmouth's Baker Library, where the school's baseball uniforms are on display (I'm tingling!) only to be seen by writing for an appointment!

Having worked my way through college as a grounds keeper at a major park (a memorial park -- can you dig it?) I was intrigued by the numerous cemeteries in this section. Final resting places (last dugouts?) of several Hall o' Famers and other baseball luminaries, including Babe Ruth, Casey Stengel, Ty Cobb, Jackie Robinson, Lou Gehrig, Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Connie Mack, Honus Wagner, Rogers Hornsby, and Tris Speaker are noted here.

The HistoMap section has a time line of the history of baseball between 1839 and 1992. It's split into sections for Teams & Leagues, People, Fields of Play, Rules/Equipment, Records, and Significant Moments ("1880: Concessionaire Harry M. Stevens introduces hot dogs, peanuts, and soda pop to the game." Ever the bastion of tradition, the friendly Stevens vendors at Fenway still serve some of those original 113-year old hot dogs!)

As handy as this book is, it doesn't go far enough for me. More than any other sport, baseball has a sense of history. Why then is there nothing on ballparks of the past? Many big league towns have treasures worth seeking out. Just blocks from Fenway Park, one can see the facade of Braves Field, looking much the way it did before that team left town in the '50s. How many visitors coming to Boston on a baseball pilgrimage would like to know the location and history of the Huntington Avenue Base Ball Grounds, at what is now Northeastern University's Cabot Cage? Not only was this park the first home of the Red Sox, it was also the site of the first World Series in 1903. Inside there's a display of baseball memorabilia, as well as a plaque that marks the spot where the right field foul pole stood. Outside, a plaque commemorates the entire site.

I may be certifiably loopy (I once sought out a vacant lot in Dallas because it was the erstwhile home of minor league Steer Stadium) but I can't believe I'm the only fan that craves this stuff. Instead, the Atlas lists the Freedom Trail and the Museum of Fine Arts. Nothing against those fine institutions, but this book is supposed to be a sports travel guide.

This book has other shortcomings, albeit minor. For example, it shows the location of the future ballparks in Texas and Cleveland, but not Denver, Milwaukee, or Atlanta. There are very small exterior photos of the ballparks, where more shots in and around the stadia would have been appreciated. There is also some sloppy editing -- Boston accommodations include the "Bay Bay Hilton." Don't look for much on the Red Sox spring training home -- info on City of Palms Park (even the name) was "not available at press time" and both the Denver Zephyrs (now residing in New Orleans with the advent of the Rockies,) and the Winter Haven Red Sox, now in Fort Lauderdale are included. One gets the impression that this was a slap-it-together-for-the-money effort.

The credibility of the whole book is called into question with a reference to Fenway Park that lumps the pushcart vendors outside the park with the horrid concession stands inside, and declares that "the food here is some of the best in Major League baseball!" Holy guacamole! Having dined in 25 big league parks, I can certify that statement is absurd.

While my complaints may appear as nit-picking, somehow I expect more from Rand McNally, especially for 13 bucks. On the other hand, I'm sure I'll put this book to good use, and next year I'll run right out and buy the '94 edition. Go start the car!

©1993 - 2007 Douglas T. Dinsmoor


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