As we count the days, hours and seconds until the Brewers and Cardinals open the 2011 season a week from Friday, perhaps a book will help you pass the time. Andy Strasberg's Baseball Fantography, which appears to be available on Amazon.com but officially comes out on Sunday, is a book full of ancient photos and stories that baseball history buffs will love, but also contains more recent material that fans who have come to the game at a later date may still recall and relate to.
The concept of the book is a pretty unique one: It's a compilation of pictures of ballplayers and important figures, as taken by amateur photographers and fans in candid moments. The pictures in the book feature familiar faces and other people you've heard of, but in pictures you've almost certainly never seen before because they've never been published.
The book contains a cross-section of photos from across baseball history, taken on and away from the field. You'll see players whose photos were taken on the field at team Camera Days and at various spring training venues, but you'll also see players on the team bus, in hotels and, in one case, you'll even see an elderly Eddie Mathews coming out of the shower.
As you might expect, the book doesn't have a lot of Brewer or Milwaukee-centric content. I post-it noted every page I thought was Brewer-relevant in the book and, counting now, I used exactly five notes. There are many more Milwaukee Braves, as you might imagine, and almost all of them are less distressing than the Mathews shot mentioned above. At the very least, the book doesn't fall into the trap of many baseball history books written as if the game was never played outside of New York and Boston.
All told the book is a quick read: I tend to work through books pretty slowly but even I finished this one in two sittings. There are lots of single paragraph stories or short essays written along with the photos and some of them are very interesting, but they're also easy to skip past if you're ready to move on to the next thing.
The book's amateur photography is both a blessing and a curse: The fact that you're witnessing never-before-seen photos is great, but on many occasions you'd love to be able to look deeper into a photograph to discover details that simply aren't there. A lot of the book's pictures are also people posing with the players, which gives it a nice personal feel but also makes it feel like you're paging through a stranger's photo album at times.
Now that I've finished this review, Baseball Fantography is headed to my coffee table where passersby can pick it up, page through it and look at the pictures. As coffee table books go, you could certainly do worse.