Timothy Shutt, a professor of Humane Studies at Kenyon College, grew up with a passion for baseball. The game was a major part of his life as a youngster, whether it was playing the game with his brothers, Mike and Robin, and friend (and future brother-in-law) Patrick Trahan in their back yard in Bay City, Michigan; listening to stories his father told about the sport; or gazing at his collection of baseball cards (“I can still see them today,” the 58-year-old says).
Not a day went by during any given season in which he didn’t tune his trusty transistor radio to broadcasts of Detroit Tigers games or pore over the box scores of the local paper. Back then, no day was perfect unless it included a trip to Tiger Stadium to see his favorite team.
Last year, Shutt turned his love for the sport into a nine-hour literary opus. He wrote and recorded “Take Me Out to the Ballgame: A History of Baseball in America,” a college-level course chronicling the evolution of the game. Shutt narrates the story of the sport on seven compact discs accompanied by a written study guide for The Modern Scholar series of Recorded Books LLC.
The project was a labor of love for the diehard fan, who decided the time had come to take his own cut at the plate in getting his thoughts in print and on audio.
“Through the years, I’ve been a devoted follower of baseball history,” he says. “I’ve read books about the sport, enjoyed them and wanted to have my say, too.”
Shutt traveled to 22 ballparks around the country, as well as the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum in Cooperstown, New York. He spent four and a half months compiling his tome, perusing a century’s worth of newspapers on microfilm and piles of reference books as he prepared to tell the story of the sport that for many remains the Great American Pastime.
Shutt’s research is broken down into 14 lectures, beginning with the origin of the game in the 1800s, and ending with the state of baseball in the 21st century.
“I took it decade by decade,” he says. “My mission was to capture the flavor of each decade and how each fit into the larger American scene, as well as the ebb and flow on the field.”
The book spotlights several Ohio connections, including the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first all-professional franchise founded in 1869. (The team finished its first season with a record of 56 wins, no losses and one tie.) An Ohio team also set a record for futility: The Cleveland Spiders, playing in the National League, finished the 1899 season with a 20-134 record and soon ceased to exist.
The formation of the American League also has a Buckeye tie. Ban Johnson –– who attended Marietta and Oberlin colleges –– had taken over the Western League, considered a high-level minor league in the 1890s. He renamed it the American League and added a franchise in Cleveland, which eventually became the Indians. Other notable Ohio-related moments Shutt describes include the death of Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman, the only player in major-league baseball history to be fatally injured on the field when he was beaned by a pitch in 1920; the impact of Branch Rickey, who attended and coached at Ohio Wesleyan University, and is best known as the man who integrated the major leagues by signing Jackie Robinson in 1945; and the emergence of Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” in the 1970s.
Shutt also details the Negro Leagues, the impact World War II had on the game, the dominance of pitching in the 1960s, the emergence of speed in the 1970s and 1980s, and how home runs ruled the game in the 1990s and throughout most of this decade.
“It’s interesting to see how the game has changed over the years,” he says. “Every time period is special in its own way.” Shutt’s favorite era?
“I like ’90s baseball with its high batting averages,” he says.
But Shutt also professes a fondness for the sport honed purely through father and son moments of days gone by. He reminisces about his childhood, how he learned about the game from his father, Jack, who regaled him with stories about the stars from the late 1920s and early ’30s, including Babe Ruth, Lefty Grove, Jimmie Fox and Carl Hubbell.
“Those were very happy moments,” he says quietly.
Shutt started following the game in the late 1950s, idolizing the legendary Sandy Koufax and Mickey Mantle. His local heroes included Al Kaline and Norm Cash of the Tigers. “The first thing I really remember is watching the Braves and Yankees [on TV] in the 1957 World Series,” he says.
Four years later, Shutt attended his first game. It was 1961, the season in which Roger Maris broke Ruth’s record for home runs in a season. Ruth hit 60 home runs in 1927, a mark that lasted until Maris hit 61.
“My dad took us to Tiger Stadium and we saw him hit number 57, which was a big deal,” Shutt recalls. “We were sitting on the third base side in the lower deck, maybe about 15 rows back. I remember seeing Mantle and Maris, which was very impressive to me.”
One of Shutt’s most prized possessions is the glove his great uncle gave him, which dates to 1928.
“There’s no web. It’s a big glove with five fingers,” Shutt marvels. “It’s amazing that fielders even caught the ball in those days.”
For more information about “Take Me Out to the Ballgame: A History of Baseball in America,” call 800/638-1304 or visit www.recordedbooks.com