September 23, 2015

The Krank: His Language And What It Means (1888)

John Thorn, Our Game:
In baseball literature, this little book – sixty-four pages, dimensions two inches by two-and-a-half inches, printed on "blood parchment" and "bound in the skin of a baseball" – is the rarest of the rare. The New York Public Library has a copy, and so does the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library. Three other copies appear to exist, also held by institutions, and another, the sixth, was sold at auction nine years ago. Its author is Thomas William Lawson, who would go on to fame as a wizard of Wall Street, but who at this time was the manager of a troubled publishing firm in Boston, Rand Avery Company, which printed the book and sold it to the public for twenty-five cents.

The Krank: His Language and What It Means is a humorous glossary of baseball terms. Many of these are highly picturesque to the modern imagination (a strikeout is "cutting a hole in space," "smashing the wind," or "compressing the atmosphere"). Others are fascinating for their etymological clues. What we today call a "pop fly," for instance, is defined and depicted as a pot fly – the household insect that traces lazy circles over a steaming pot in the kitchen. The book begins:

The Krank is a heterogeneous compound of flesh, bone, and base-ball, mostly base-ball. He came into existence along back in the early seventies. He came to stay.

The Krank is purely American. He is found in no other country.

The Krank is of the masculine gender. The female of the tribe is known to science as a Kranklet.

The Krank has reached a high state of cultivation. The Kranklet is at present only partly developed.

The Krank has a shell, into which he crawls in the month of November. He does not emerge from it until April. While in his shell his only article of food is stray newspaper articles on deals. During the Krank season, from April to November, he subsists on air, and waxes strong.
Thorn - the official historian of MLB and the author of Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game - has uploaded the entire book as jpgs.

Also: The Hidden Game of Baseball (written with Pete Palmer and published in 1984) has been recently republished. This landmark book of progressive thought and sabermetrics belongs in every baseball fan's library.

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