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UT Professor's Book Reveals How Sportswriters Helped Create Baseball 'Heroes'

Dr. Amber RoessnerRoessner book coverBaseball, the great American pastime, has given us plenty of memorable figures. 

In “Inventing Baseball Heroes,” Journalism and Electronic Media Assistant Professor Amber Roessner—a former sportswriter—examines how some sports journalists compromised their journalistic ethics to help make American heroes out of two of baseball’s most enduring personalities, Detroit Tigers outfielder Ty Cobb and New York Giants pitcher Christy Mathewson.

“As a sports journalist by trade, I was particularly interested in the role of the sports scribe in the practice of hero production, what I call ‘herocrafting’ in the book,” she said. “‘Inventing Baseball Heroes’ examines the intersection of sports journalism and promotion and the role that these stories played in American culture, particularly surrounding constructions of success, manhood, morality and the American way.” 

Roessner gave a lecture and held a book signing at a recent Tennessee Association of Vintage Baseball event held in Knoxville. The Tennessee Association of Vintage Baseball is a living-history organization that brings the 19th century to life through baseball events that use the rules, equipment, costumes and culture of the 1860s. For more information about the event, go to http://www.tennesseevintagebaseball.com.

In writing her book, Roessner analyzed thousands of articles gleaned from microfilm and digital collections of more than 30 daily newspapers, baseball magazines and general-interest magazines published from 1900 to 1928. She also culled primary sources from institutional archives at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York; Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library in New York City; the University of Georgia’s Richard B. Russell Library; the Ty Cobb Museum in Royston, Georgia; and Vanderbilt University’s Jean and Alexander Heard Library.

“My book examines how sportswriters navigated emerging professional standards of journalism as they crafted heroic tales that sought to teach young boys how to be successful American men,” Roessner said.

Cobb and Mathewson, respectively stereotyped as the game’s sinner and saint, helped shape their public images in the mainstream press through their relationship with four of the most prominent sports journalists of the time: F.C. Lane, Grantland Rice, John N. Wheeler and Ring Lardner.

“Among other phenomena, I looked at the persuasive efforts of sports editors such as F.C. Lane to convince stars such as Ty Cobb to promote products, on the pressure that athletes placed on daily sportswriters such as Grantland Rice to tell their version of the story, and on the role of individuals such as former sportswriter John N. Wheeler, who entered into collaborative business relationships with era sports stars such as Cobb and Mathewson to help them shape their images in the national media.” 

Roessner, who received her doctorate from the University of Georgia in Athens, came to UT in 2010. Her cultural histories on the practice of mass communication and the role of American media in the production of mass icons have appeared in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, Journalism History and American Journalism, among others. Within these studies, she often considers how the media contribute to our nation’s collective memory and our collective and individual identities, in particular our understandings of race and gender. 

Before moving to academia, Roessner was a sportswriter for the Gainesville (Georgia) Times.