Photo courtesy of LBSU Athletics
The city of Long Beach has a rich and colorful baseball history. More than 200 major league players have called Long Beach and its surrounding cities home in addition to the many legendary baseballers that have graced the fields of Recreation Park and Blair Field over the years. In his new book Baseball in Long Beach, long-time Southern California journalist Bob Keisser takes an in depth look at the fascinating, extensive and obscure world that is Long Beach baseball.
Keisser, who started writing for the Press-Telegram in 1990 and currently writes for the Orange Country Register, has covered Southern California sports since the '70s. It wasn’t until he started covering Long Beach sports, though, that he became enamored with its complex and storied baseball past. In the foreword, he mentions the idea to research and write the book was inspired by watching former Jackrabbit, Tony Gwynn, close in on 3,000 hits for his career and shortly thereafter the fiftieth annivesary of Blair Field, a seminal baseball location in the city named after a former Press-Telegram sports editor, Frank Blair.
The author lauds Blair for pushing to invigorate the baseball scene in the city by pressing to have facilities like Rec Park and later, Blair Field, built. Those parks eventually were the landscape for the endless days of the boys of summer that Keisser writes endlessly about. Fields in Long Beach have served as a home for a Major League spring training camp, several exhibition games and minor league games and an eventual home for the Long Beach State Dirtbags.
In his book, Keisser catalogues the players from surrounding colleges and high schools, dedicating the final chapter of the book to a directory for players from past and present. His research not only displays the individual successes shared by former Long Beach players, but also the clout that area high schools and especially Long Beach State carry in the baseball world.
Probably the most recognizable baseball player to attend Poly High, Gwynn, was deservedly given an entire chapter to showcase his Hall-of-Fame career that almost never happened because of his love for basketball. Growing up playing “sock ball” in the family backyard, his younger brother, Chris, was considered the better prospect from the Gwynn family. Keisser writes of the decision not to hang up his spikes that changed both Major League and Long Beach history forever.
The city’s first entrant into the Hall, Bob Lemon, similarly had his baseball fate changed when he switched from infielder to pitcher after spending time in the service and gaining endorsements from icons like Ted Williams as a viable major league pitcher. Keisser’s research is full of these anecdotal stories of the city’s baseball past.
While at times a little heavy-handed with statistics and sometimes veering onto hard-to-follow tangents to account for the wealth of talent that the city has produced, the read can be a bit cumbersome for casual fans to get through at times. However, dedicated fans of the game will appreciate Keisser's attention to detail including the incorporation of modern-day statistical analysis which Keisser uses to argue the inclusion of even more Long Beachers in the Hall of Fame.
Baseball in Long Beach is a must have for baseball history buffs or those interested in the history of the Long Beach sports’ scene.