It isn’t often I find a book that has equal parts of more than one sport, but that was the case with this interesting book on a young man whose life ended too soon in the early 20th century – but oh, what a life he lived! Here is my review of “The Short Life of Hughie McLoon”
“The Short Life of Hughie McLoon: A True Story of Baseball, Magic and Murder” by Allen Abel
Baseball, boxing, biography, Athletics, history
March 9, 2021
4 of 5 stars (very good)
In the early 20th century, baseball, boxing and life in the United States was in some ways vastly different than today and in others, it seems very similar. This contrast is illustrated in this biography of a young man who despite living a relatively short life, had many different lifestyles in boxing, baseball and owning a speakeasy in the era of Prohibition.
Hughie McLoon had many issues in his life. He was physically challenged due to a fall off a see saw at age three. His father left his mother when he was five and his stepfather played a more active role in his upbringing, Hughie never officially took the name of his stepfather. However, there were some positives, such winning a Scholars Popularity contest under the name of Hughie Geatens.
Hughie’s escape was baseball – first when he attended the games of his local team, the Philadelphia Athletics. He soon became their batboy and mascot. The latter was not uncommon for people like Hughie as many teams felt that rubbing the heads or humps of either hunchbacks or people of color would bring them luck. Hughie didn’t mind this as felt he had a role on the team, despite their fall to the bottom of the standings. This section of the book gave a good look into the Athletics at that time, including owner/manager Connie Mack and the inner workings of a baseball team at that time.
The same could be said for managing a boxer as when Hughie’s services were no longer needed for the Athletics, he became a mascot and water bucket carrier for local professional boxers, which led him into the life of being a manager in that sport – complete with the ties to organized crime. Hughie never became part of a mob family, but he had dealings with them frequently in this and his other occupation, the owner of a speakeasy. Here is where the book is best at its description of early 20th century Philadelphia, as the push toward Prohibition and the high-living style of the 1920’s is on full display.
These descriptions are what make the book a decent read as the story of Hughie himself at times got lost in the talk of prohibition or baseball business. Hughie’s life may have been too short, and the book at 220 pages might also be considered as such because of all the variations in Hughie’s life, but in both cases, it is a fun ride.
I wish to thank Sutherland House for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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