Level Playing Fields: How the Groundskeeping Murphy Brothers Shaped Baseball

Overview


Most baseball fans want to hear about stellar players and spectacular plays, statistics and storied franchises. Level Playing Fields sheds light on a usually unnoticed facet of the game, introducing fans and historians alike to the real fundamentals of baseball: dirt and grass. In this lively history, Peter Morris demonstrates that many of the game’s rules and customs actually arose as concessions to the daunting practical difficulties of ...
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Overview


Most baseball fans want to hear about stellar players and spectacular plays, statistics and storied franchises. Level Playing Fields sheds light on a usually unnoticed facet of the game, introducing fans and historians alike to the real fundamentals of baseball: dirt and grass. In this lively history, Peter Morris demonstrates that many of the game’s rules and customs actually arose as concessions to the daunting practical difficulties of creating a baseball diamond.
 
Recovering a nearly lost and decidedly quirky chapter of baseball history, Level Playing Fields tells the engaging story of Tom and Jack Murphy, brothers who made up baseball’s first great family of groundskeepers and who played a pivotal role in shaping America’s national pastime. Irish immigrants who tirelessly crafted home-field advantages for some of baseball’s earliest dynasties, the brothers Murphy were instrumental in developing pitching mounds, permanent spring training sites, and new irrigation techniques, and their careers were touched by such major innovations as tarpaulins and fireproof concrete-and-steel stadiums. Level Playing Fields is a real-life saga involving craftsmanship, resourcefulness, intrigue, and bitter rivalries (including attempted murder!) between such legendary figures as John McGraw, Connie Mack, Honus Wagner, and Ty Cobb. The Murphys’ story recreates a forgotten way of life and gives us a sense of why an entire generation of American men found so much meaning in the game of baseball.
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Editorial Reviews

Boston Globe

“Peter Morris’s short but masterly Level Playing Fields: How the Groundskeeping Murphy Brothers Shaped Baseball looks at the development of professional baseball and, indeed, at Americans’ changing image of their society, from a much-neglected angle, that of the material conditions of play. The careers of Tom and John Murphy were pivotal. . . . This book is packed with insight and telling detail on both baseball and the American temper.”—Katherine A. Powers, Boston Globe
Boston Baseball

“If you’re the kind of guy who watches the Fenway Park grounds crew for lawn mowing tips, here’s your summer reading. Most baseball fans are aware that grounds crews have long impacted the game by tailoring the fields to suit the home team, but this book goes beyond that, into the origins of the baseball diamond and the art of groundskeeping.”—Boston Baseball

New England Quarterly

“Robert Morris’s fascinating, compact text examines an underappreciated aspect of our national pastime: the playing field. . . . One may not always agree with the author’s assumptions about land use, but his arguments will have you thinking outside the diamond.”—New England Quarterly

Aethlon

“Peter Morris has done a wonderful thing here—baseball history is more than hits, pitches, managers, franchises, and championships. It is supremely a game played on a pristine field, an intricate complex of dirt, grass, and lines, a design of fair and foul zones. . . . Here is a heroic saga of engineering improvisation, a fierce understanding of the earth (the Murphy brothers were Irish potato farmers), and supremely an almost intuitive knack for how baseball more than any other sport save golf represents a cooperation between players and nature.”—Aethlon

Time Out for Entertainment (Denver, CO) - Dan Danbom

“[A]n absolutely engrossing story. . . . You have to hand it to Morris for making such a prosaic subject come alive into such a fascinating story, but that's exactly what he accomplishes here.”—Dan Danbom, Time Out For Entertainment
Library Journal

Maverick baseball historian Morris (Game of Inches) here gets down to fundamentals that most histories overlook: the dirt and the grass. We learn how significant aspects of the game's evolution can be traced far back to practical decisions made by Irish immigrants Tom and Jack Murphy. These men knew the likes of Connie Mack, Honus Wagner, and Ty Cobb, and their own contributions (which included pitching mounds and spring training camps) were just as influential. Morris's research and insights rescue these pioneer men from obscurity. For all larger baseball collections.


—Bob Cottrell, Margaret Heilbrun, Paul Kaplan, Gilles Renaud Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
David Block
"Level Playing Fields is a superb, richly layered and highly readable biographical study of two unsung, pioneering groundskeepers whose contributions forever transformed our National Pastime. Peter Morris again justifies his reputation as a master baseball historian."

-David Block, author of Baseball before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game

Paul Dickson
"Peter Morris has accomplished a truly remarkable feat in that he has given us a fresh and invigorating way of understanding the evolution of baseball and the ballparks in which the game is played. Level Playing Fields is a gem at every level-well-written, insightful, and meticulously researched-and, once again, reminds us that Peter Morris is an All-Star baseball historian."

-Paul Dickson, author of The Hidden Language of Baseball

Tom Stanton
"Few baseball authors chart new territory as often as Peter Morris. With Level Playing Fields, Morris has done it yet again. Morris unearths a rich, intriguing tale. This is a fascinating exploration of the roots of groundskeeping and the contributions of the feisty Murphy brothers. It's another winner for Morris-and for all who savor early baseball history."

-Tom Stanton, author of The Final Season and Ty & The Babe

David Block
Level Playing Fields is a superb, richly layered and highly readable biographical study of two unsung, pioneering groundskeepers whose contributions forever transformed our National Pastime. Peter Morris again justifies his reputation as a master baseball historian.”—David Block, author of Baseball before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game
Paul Dickson
“Peter Morris has accomplished a truly remarkable feat in that he has given us a fresh and invigorating way of understanding the evolution of baseball and the ballparks in which the game is played. Level Playing Fields is a gem at every level—well-written, insightful, and meticulously researched—and, once again, reminds us that Peter Morris is an All-Star baseball historian.”—Paul Dickson, author of The Hidden Language of Baseball
Tom Stanton
“Few baseball authors chart new territory as often as Peter Morris. With Level Playing Fields, Morris has done it yet again. Morris unearths a rich, intriguing tale. This is a fascinating exploration of the roots of groundskeeping and the contributions of the feisty Murphy brothers. It's another winner for Morris—and for all who savor early baseball history.”—Tom Stanton, author of The Final Season and Ty & The Babe
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803246300
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 1/31/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 194
  • Sales rank: 1,318,631
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Morris is the author of Baseball Fever: Early Baseball in Michigan and the two-volume Game of Inches: The Stories Behind the Innovations That Shaped Baseball.

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations     viii
Acknowledgments     ix
Introduction: The Dirt beneath the Fingernails     xi
Invisible Men     1
The Pursuit of Pleasures under Difficulties     15
Inside Baseball     33
Who'll Stop the Rain?     48
A Diamond Situated in a River Bottom     60
Tom Murphy's Crime     64
Return to Exposition Park     71
No Suitable Ground on the Island     77
John Murphy of the Polo Grounds     89
Marlin Springs     101
The Later Years     107
The Murphys' Legacy     110
Epilogue     123
Afterword: Cold Cases     141
Notes     153
Selected Bibliography     171
Index     179
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