If baseball is to cricket as human is to ape, then this little book describes the missing link: the happy infancy of the summer game, 1875-1900, when nine balls made a walk and only sissies wore fielding gloves. Frommer, author of over 20 other sporting books (including Baseball's Greatest Managers, 1985; Baseball's Greatest Rivalry, 1984), pitches our way five sketches jammed with arcane information covering the game's roots, early corporate history, principal players, teams, and parks. Most intriguing, perhaps, are his brief biographies of the first combatants, among them Al Spalding (pitcher, 57-5 [!] in 1875), Buck Ewing (first catcher to crouch behind the plate), Cyclone ""Cy"" Young, and the entire Cleveland Spiders team, who Fried their spikes into needles in honor of their manager's motto, ""Give 'em steel--and plenty of it."" Biggest surprise: the rapidity with which baseball turned into big business, 100 years before free agency. Creepiest implement: the bat one player fashioned from the hickory scaffolding at Ohio State Penitentiary. Along with this Ripley's Believe-It-or-Not stuff, Frommer offers thumbnail histories of the power-plays behind the formation of National (1875) and American (1900) Leagues, the adoption of the all-white rule (promoted ardently by the vile Cap Anson), the emergence of professional umpires, and more. Too frail to be a home-run, too peppy to be a walk, we'll call this a sharp double to center field.