New books on the Library shelves
Known as the “Master of Alternate History,” New York Times best selling author Harry Turtledove has delighted fans for decades with his fantastic “what if?” tales.
Stories such as “World War” and “Colonization,” a series of books which follow the invasion of Earth by a Race of alien lizards during World War II and the hundred years that follow (with quite a few baseball references too, including a couple of lizard middle infielders and Mickey Mantle playing in the Major Leagues against the Yankees for the Kansas City Blues) and “The House that George Built,” a novella about Babe Ruth and baseball, if the Babe never made it.
Recently, the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library has added to its permanent collection the manuscripts for two of Harry Turtledove’s alternate history works, the aforementioned “The House that George Built” and “The Stars and Rockets.”
The Hall of Fame Library contains more than three million documents on baseball, including a file for every player who has appeared in a major league game and thousands of books on the National Pastime.
“The House that George Built” follows an alternate timeline where the Federal League never established a presence in Baltimore in 1914, thus Orioles owner Jack Dunn never felt the need to sell Babe Ruth’s contract. In this reality, Ruth’s role in the game’s history was flipped with that of 1920s Pacific Coast League superstar Buzz Arlett, who became the game’s “Babe Ruth” with the Babe only getting Buzz’s cup of coffee.
“The Stars and Rockets” is a fantastical tale that connects the Roswell incident of 1947 with Joe Bauman’s 72 home run season for the Class-C Roswell Rockets in 1954, and some fans that are out of this world.
Harry Turtledove grew up on the West Coast and began his love affair with our National Pastime when his father began taking him to Pacific Coast League games of the Hollywood Stars and Los Angeles Angels. His Major League allegiance was to the Yankees originally, but that changed when the Angels became an MLB franchise.
“I was a Yankee fan before the majors came to L.A.; I’ve pretty much but not entirely got over that, but still generally root for the AL over the NL. The AL Angels, I like. Dunno why, but I do. When they finally won the Series in 2002 . . . It’s very strange getting something in your 50s that you’ve wanted since you were eleven.”
In his critically acclaimed World War/Colonization series which began in the 1990s, among those characters featured were several members of the Decatur Commodores, a Three-I league minor league baseball team in 1942. Although he didn’t know it at the time, one of those ballplayers, Sam Yeager, would become the central character in all eight books.
“I thought it would be interesting” Turtledove said. “I didn’t know what all would happen to Sam when I started writing about him – I tend to work by the seat of my pants. And it gave me an excuse to research Minor League Baseball and actually do something with what I found out, so that was cool, too. Back in the day, of course, a lot more guys made careers of the minor leagues than happens now, but there are still a few.”
Although he has no current plans for a full length alternate history baseball novel, Mr. Turtledove says “I’ll go for it in a heartbeat” if he develops “any ideas along those lines that I think people would buy.”
When he first got out of college, before finding his true calling, he tried to get a job in baseball with the Dodgers and Angels. Turtledove described the type of work he was searching for as “Something – anything – involving PR and stats, which were the kind of things a guy who wrote halfway decently and was a stat geek could do. I struck out twice, but at least I struck out swinging.”
Who knows, maybe in some other reality Harry Turtledove did get a job in baseball.
Freddy Berowski is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.