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The Farmers' Game

, 232 pages

10 halftones

October 2012



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The Farmers' Game

Baseball in Rural America

Winner, 2014 SABR Baseball Research Award, Society for American Baseball Research

Anyone who has watched the film Field of Dreams can’t help but be captivated by the lead character’s vision. He gives his struggling farming community a magical place where the smell of roasted peanuts gently wafts over the crowded grandstand on a warm summer evening just as the star pitcher takes the mound.

Baseball, America’s game, has a dedicated following and a rich history. Fans obsess over comparative statistics and celebrate men who played for legendary teams during the "golden age" of the game. In The Farmers' Game, David Vaught examines the history and character of baseball through a series of essay-vignettes. He presents the sport as essentially rural, reflecting the nature of farm and small-town life.

Vaught does not deny or devalue the lively stickball games played in the streets of Brooklyn, but he sees the history of the game and the rural United States as related and mutually revealing. His subjects include nineteenth-century Cooperstown, the playing fields of Texas and Minnesota, the rural communities of California, the great farmer-pitcher Bob Feller, and the notorious Gaylord Perry.

Although—contrary to legend—Abner Doubleday did not invent baseball in a cow pasture in upstate New York, many fans enjoy the game for its nostalgic qualities. Vaught's deeply researched exploration of baseball's rural roots helps explain its enduring popularity.

David Vaught is department head and professor of history at Texas A&M University. His four books include After the Gold Rush: Tarnished Dreams in the Sacramento Valley and Cultivating California: Growers, Specialty Crops, and Labor, 1875–1920, both published by Johns Hopkins.

"This highly readable book makes clear that rural baseball has always been every bit as central to the American experience as has its metropolitan counterpart."

"Vaught... is a good writer, but an even more valuable trait... is his dedication to research."

"The author has opened a window onto a rich area of exploration and understanding in rural history and into the complex relationships between Americans and baseball."

"A refreshing and thoughtful addition to the history of baseball."

"While baseball thrives on statistics, this book is an absorbing read not for the numbers... but for the social and historical issues it brings to the forefront."

"Vaught's book is a masterwork... What makes this book particularly noteworthy is the author's rich knowledge of America's agricultural past. That alone is worth the price of admission."

"For those interested in baseball's place in local history, whether in rural or regional terms, this is an extraordinarily good book."

"A solidly researched and well-written piece of history, one that fills a large void in our understanding of baseball's significant role in American life, particularly away from the big city lights... Baseball enthusiasts should find this book of interest, and university instructors of U.S. cultural history courses could use chapters as supplementary reading."

" The Farmers' Game would enhance any academic library's sports history collection... The Farmers' Game can be group with the works of Jules Tygiel as clear-eyed analyses of how the sport and its historical context illuminate each other."

" The Farmers' Game is a sympathetic yet straightforward account of a pastoral game. Periods of prosperity and famine have always come to farmers as regularly and unexpectedly as streaks have to batters, though the stakes are almost never as high for the player. For its pointing out the symmetry in those alternately joyful and grievous experiences, and for much else, we are indebted to David Vaught's excellent book."

"A critical, well-researched, and well-written analysis of the relationship between agrarian American and baseball."


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