If you're a Brew Crew Ball reader who reads our Today In Brewer History series, likes making lists or simply enjoys learning obscure facts you may otherwise never have known, then Chris Jensen's Baseball State by State may have been written with you specifically in mind.
Years ago Jensen, who is also a contributing writer at Seamheads, came across a list of Indiana's best active baseball players and noticed that longtime Brewer infielder Craig Counsell was listed as a first baseman (where he played four major league games). It inspired Jensen to spend half a decade producing and improving upon one of the most thorough collections of baseball lists you'll ever see.
As I traded emails with Jensen to set up this review, he told me Baseball State by State is "not a book you read cover to cover, but you'll get a good feel for it after you've spent a few hours flipping through it." If I'd tried to read it cover to cover, this review might have taken months to finish. Even the acknowledgements page includes notes on over 60 people who helped put the book together in one way or another.
The result is a truly remarkable compilation of baseball knowledge, ranging from the well-known to incredibly obscure. The book is divided into chapters by state with each state getting an all-time team of the best players born there (along with dozens of honorable mentions), a list of the state's best baseball nicknames, historical baseball sites, notable achievements and much more. Even Wisconsin, a relative lightweight compared to states like California or Texas, gets an extended look and tens of thousands of words on its all-time team. The book is less than 400 pages but that's a deceptive number: The pages are large and the print is tiny.
Even as someone who's done a fair amount of writing about the Brewers and Wisconsin baseball history, there was a lot in the Wisconsin section I didn't know. I wrote about Plover native Walt Wilmot back in 2011, for example, but had no idea that he was the first major leaguer ever to walk six times in a game.
It's hard to even pick a place to start when talking about the former Brewers mentioned in this book. Jim Gantner is one of several former Brewers covered in the Wisconsin chapter. Robin Yount is listed as Illinois' all-time best shortstop and career leader in hits, narrowly edging out Rickey Henderson. Ryan Braun (The Hebrew Hammer) is listed as having one of California's best nicknames, while Jeromy Burnitz is listed as one of the state's best outfielders. I could make a list of favorite Brewers here that would go on for days. Even Seattle Pilot Fred "Chicken" Stanley is noted.
The biggest challenge this book may face is convincing potential readers it's worth a hefty price tag. Publisher McFarland has priced this book at $55, and while it clearly represents a lot of work that's a pretty high price for a baseball book. If BCB hadn't been provided a review copy of this book I'm not sure I would've ended up reading it.
With that said, I'm glad I got an opportunity to take a look at it. This book will get a prominent place on the bookshelf in my office, somewhere where I can reach it from my desk for frequent reference.
The author supplied a copy of this book for use in this review.