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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Montana Baseball History: A Review

Ever since becoming America’s national pastime, baseball has found a way to thrive in all parts of the country, no matter how remote, crowded or challenging the terrain. This includes the beautifully mountainous Montana, which is a state that may not boast any major league teams, but as it turns out has a rich history with the game. This is detailed in the new book by Skylar Browning and Jeremy Watterson, titled Montana Baseball History ($21.99, Arcadia Publishing. Available at local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing and the History Press at or 888-323-2665).

If there are two people who should have a good handle on Montana baseball, its locals Browning (news editor) and Watterson (worked as a radio color man for baseball games and is a baseball historian). They put their knowledge and proximity to good use in this volume, turning out what amounts to a full-fledged historical site in 174 pages of solid writing and beautiful photographs.

Divided into four sections (baseball origins in the state; Montanans who played major league ball; major leaguers who later called Montana home; and the Pioneer League), Montana Baseball History is smartly set up so readers can either skip around to what may interest them, or can read straight through it as they would any traditional book.

Like many areas of the country, baseball first came to Montana primarily as a game played by those who worked in local industry—in this case the military and mines. From pick-up games enjoyed by soldiers in General George Armstrong Custer’s ill-fated army, to spirited town ball games and leagues, the state has as rich a tradition as any when it comes to the early days.

Fewer than 25 native-born Montanans have played in the majors, so not a lot of room is needed to do them justice. Led by former Baltimore Orioles 20-game winner Dave McNally, probably the most famous of the bunch, each of these players is described with a brief history, including what they accomplished after reaching the big leagues. It’s not a star-studded roster—in fact the vast majority were players who more or less had “cups of coffee” on baseball’s biggest stage—but their sum achievements are something any region can be proud of.

Initially, the section of ballplayers who came to call Montana home in some fashion seemed a bit of a stretch. After all, most of them moved there to find economic opportunity or a home, and their connection to the region seemed a little stretched for the concept of this book. However, on closer inspection, it was nice to have the full scope of all those associated with baseball who have passed through, regardless if they were born there or discovered the state’s appeal later in life.

Browning and Watterson connect Montana’s present time to baseball with their discussion of the Pioneer League, which is still a Rookie-level circuit churning out quality major league players from raw-boned prospects. George Brett, Bobby Cox, Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt are just a few of the game’s luminaries who have played the game in Big Sky Country before eventually graduating to the majors. Although their time there may have been fleeting, they make up a big part of this story.

Montana Baseball History is a basic history for the masses. No one subject is given more than two or three pages. However, given how much total ground they cover in its modest length, it’s hard to not be impressed. This is a book to pick up regardless of whether you are interested in just baseball, or if you are specifically curious of its place in the state of Montana.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.

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