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THE INSIDE TRACK | The Hot Corner

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here.

June 15, 1998|ARA NAJARIAN

What: "The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It" audio cassettes and compact disc. By Lawrence S. Ritter, based on his 1966 book. HighBridge Audio.

Price: Cassettes: $29.95. Compact disc: $39.95.

Hey, if it's good enough for the Hall of Fame, it's good enough for me.

I didn't feel that way when I was asked to write about this collection of tapes. I studied History in college, but that doesn't necessarily mean I like to hear people older than me telling stories that are even older.

But this collection is surprisingly endearing.

I popped in a cassette on a drive up the coast and forgot all about the length of the ride.

Although the interviews are often with players who are not household names--at least, not anymore--the stories are interesting and sometimes compelling.

Importantly, Lawrence Ritter is unobtrusive in his interviews. What the sound quality may lack in polish, it makes up for in nostalgic nuances.

The five hours or so of tapes are original recordings from the nearly 100 hours-worth of interviews Ritter did for his book of the same name that was first published in 1966. I haven't read that, but a colleague tells me it is a terrific book as well. A 32-page booklet accompanies the recordings.

Transcripts from the collection, which are all part of the permanent collection at the National Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., are included in Ken Burns' 1994 documentary for PBS, but--curiously--actors read them instead of using the actual tapes. In 1970, Bud Greenspan made a one-hour documentary based on the book that received favorable reviews. For you dogged collectors, vinyl LPs were released in 1966 and are out there somewhere.

Ritter came up with the idea to get the players' stories in 1961 when he was moved by the passing of Ty Cobb. The chairman of the finance committee at New York University at the time, he used his vacation time and weekends to travel with his teenage son and record the interviews.

He found, as does everyone who listens, that The Glory of Their Times is in the human spirit and not in the victories and records.

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