The 34-Ton Bat: The Story of Baseball as Told Through Bobbleheads, Cracker Jacks, Jockstraps, Eye Black, and 375 Other Strange and Unforgettable Objects isn’t the first book of it’s kind. By which I mean, it is not the first book to look at baseball based on how things related to it- helmets, hot dogs, and the like. For example, there were two books called Game of Inches that not only looked at off-the-field innovations, but on-the-field ones as well.
However, 34-Ton Bat is one of the best written- in this case, by journalist Steve Rushin. While Game of Inches covered more, Rushin ties together the many pieces of baseball miscellanea into something of a story, connecting both personal experiences- such as working at Metropolitan Stadium as a kid- and old stories- such as the long-forgotten shooting death of a man in the Polo Grounds seats- to objects connected to them, and the history of those objects.
The death at the Polo Grounds, for example, leads to a discussion about the seats themselves and also some more tangential developments. For example, as time has gone on and Americans’ weight has increased, seats have become wider. In addition, the NYPD were the ones who investigated the fan’s death, and starting in 1877 that same police department had been handing out medals for valor that included a charm in which the letters N and Y were interlocked- providing the likely inspiration for the Yankees’ logo.
The book is filled with such wonderful connections, and for the most part they flow and fit perfectly. You would think it strange to somehow connect urinals, radio broadcasts, beer, naming rights, and the national anthem, but in one chapter Rushin does just that, not making it seem forced at all. In fact, he makes such leaps seem logical in nearly every chapter of the book.
This isn’t to say the book is perfect. At times, it will feel like Rushin is spending too much or too little time on some subjects. In other cases, it feels like some interesting things that could have been covered weren’t (for example, I don’t recall seeing much on catching masks and how they have slowly evolved into the goalie-like masks of today). Still, those are just small nitpicks. If you like baseball, and especially are interested in the history of some of the objects and traditions connected to it, you should give 34-Ton Bat a read.
The reviewer received his copy of the book as a holiday gift from family.