L. M. Sutter. New Mexico Baseball: Miners, Outlaws, Indians and Isotopes, 1880 to the Present. Jefferson: McFarland, 2010. Illustrations. vii + 243 pp. $38.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7864-4122-8.
Reviewed by William E. Tydeman (Texas Tech University)
Published on H-NewMexico (March, 2011)
Commissioned by Tomas Jaehn
Ballgames: New Mexico's Baseball
In June 2009, McFarland celebrated its thirtieth anniversary and baseball aficionados had good reason to celebrate. Within a large back list of thousands of titles, McFarland has books in sports history and baseball history that would be the envy of any major publisher. McFarland finds writers and manuscripts and smartly gears these publications to an identifiable region or state. Often published as paperback originals, they are expensive. New Mexico Baseball published in paperback this past year sells for a healthy thirty-eight dollars.
The author L. M. Sutter is no stranger to either these publishing objectives or baseball history. Sutter, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), is the author of Ball, Bat and Bitumen: A History of Coalfield Baseball in the Appalachian South (2009), also published by McFarland and winner of a Sporting News Research Award in 2009. (The two other winners for that year were published by McFarland as well.) Although Sutter lives in southwest Virginia, she has spent considerable time in New Mexico and understands the unique qualities of New Mexico life and history. She very artfully uses her knowledge of New Mexico to introduce readers to the relevant New Mexico history that coincides with the topic or subject under discussion. In fact, her first chapter of New Mexico Baseball is as good a succinct overview of the main historical and cultural configurations of the Land of Enchantment as one can find. Early chapters treat baseball in the territorial period from the 1880s to statehood and baseball in the mining camps. She tags on a discussion of baseball in Clovis followed by chapters that provide summaries of penitentiary teams and Kirtland Air Force Base baseball activities.
Her final chapters are the best in the book. Sutter extends the coverage to African American teams and, in addition, covers the legendary Roswell Rocket, Joe Bauman, who hit seventy-one home runs in the 1954 season (a record for professional baseball that stood until Barry Bonds blasted seventy-three in 2001 during the steroid era). Chapter 10, “The Rio Abajo,” is devoted to Hispanos in baseball while the final chapter, by far the longest, treats the history of Native American involvement in the national pastime. Another chapter highlights the town of Farmington and the Connie Mack World Series. This work offers a big chunk of baseball history but Sutter manages concision by dealing only with the state’s lower minor leagues and semipro circuits. The Albuquerque teams, the Dukes, and the Isotopes, for example, get little mention. The same is true for the college game. If organized women’s baseball was played, it goes unmentioned as well.
Within these confines Sutter makes a valuable contribution. She demonstrates that in New Mexico, as elsewhere, baseball mirrors the larger configurations of American culture. She does not set out to chronicle many topics that preoccupy the current generation of sports historians. Labor relations and economics, class identities, sport as shaped by industrial capitalism, machine politics, and the way tradition and nostalgia play out in sport to promote a national identity are not part of the author’s objective. Instead, we have a well-written narrative of a neglected aspect of the New Mexico past. More than a chronicle, eschewing theory, the book is filled with interesting facts. In New Mexico Baseball, we are again exposed to the exceptionalism of the state’s cultural milieu. Here, however, we find that triculturalism seems to have a basis in fact. As Sutter puts it, “the New Mexico baseball stories, by necessity, have to be told against the backdrop of the states many cultures--Native American, Hispanic American, African American and Anglo-American and the way they have intertwined to create a uniquely complex populace. While race sometimes affected play in the state, it was more often disregarded (sometimes to a revolutionary degree) and leagues--even individual teams--could be represented by multiple groups. Throughout the decades in which the face of the national pastime was unnervingly waspish, the teams and leagues of New Mexico were often multi-colored, multi-cultural and even multi-lingual” (p. 1). This insight, well documented by Sutter, is enough to make New Mexico Baseball a worthwhile addition to a growing list of first-rate studies on New Mexico.
One of the other challenges Sutter confronts is the general limitation of sources and evidence, especially in the territorial and early statehood eras. It remains true that minor league and semipro baseball are some of the most understudied aspects of baseball history and American sport. A good part of this is due to the lack of primary sources at the local and regional levels. The principal sources remain newspapers and interviews with surviving ex-players and fans from the 1940s and 1950s. Sutter uses these sources to the fullest. She appears to have consulted all the available newspaper accounts and conducted over thirty interviews. Moreover Sutter’s ear for the telling phrase skillfully extracts interesting details from the interviews. Often she allows the interviewees to tell stories of their life in baseball that illuminate the larger history of the New Mexico leagues and teams.
Some of the stories are real doozies. An interesting parade of characters marches across the generations. They serve to remind us that in an earlier era, baseball was wild and wooly. Her accounts of such figures as Joe Albeita, Bauman, Zeak Williams, Grover Seitz, and Pablo Albeita are entertaining and informative. The book also includes a fine selection of photographs reproduced from snapshot albums and archival collections. An array of portraits and photographs by Belinda Winn adds interest. Sutter wisely steers clear of overreliance on statistics, but is up to date enough to include citations to Web pages.
In utilizing the available materials on the lower minor leagues, Sutter draws our attention to a neglected, hidden history of baseball in New Mexico. Her study may also serve to remind us of how much more there is to be done. Other historians may follow, prepared to cast the stories of the local communities into a larger framework of the changing face of sport in American life. As this work goes forward, New Mexico Baseball will serve as an essential reference point.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-newmexico.
William E. Tydeman. Review of Sutter, L. M., New Mexico Baseball: Miners, Outlaws, Indians and Isotopes, 1880 to the Present.
H-NewMexico, H-Net Reviews.
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