A Baseball Family Album by Gene Carney grows out of the tradition of deftly expressed baseball commentaries by passionate and historically erudite fans of the sort that were once regularly available in Fan, a magazine edited by the late Mike Schacht.
Carney displays a fine knack for concisely distilling mixtures of fact and witty personal reflection to arrive at essential matters regarding great baseball players. He makes clever use of key phrases and events associated with his baseball men so that, by means of a sort of literary judo, the catch phrases and highlight moments for each player become the means to tell us who they really were. Because this is a “family album” his accounts of these baseball celebrities are generally presented as appreciations. Even when the personality traits or behaviors of these stars are problematical, Carney tends to remember them fondly as forgivable prodigal sons, ne’er-do-well brothers, and eccentric uncles within baseball’s broad and complicated family. Let us, Carney suggests, remember with pleasure their foibles as much as their great feats. Though we are sometimes asked to forgive, little is forgotten. The misdeeds of a Ty Cobb or a Hal Chase are not glossed over and are acknowledged as important facets of who these guys were, but Carney wants us, first and foremost, to allow ourselves to rediscover and savor the history of the great game through recollection of the lives and characteristic performances of its best players.
The large number of pieces in Carney’s collection – there are more than 130 – makes it a compendium of the entire history of the national pastime. The briskly alliterative and playfully colloquial phrasings by means of which Carney gives us his images can be flipped through in any order. He has provided us with an ample fistful of literary baseball cards.