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DATE: April 21, 2004

UM-Dearborn prof pens history of U-M baseball

DEARBORN---Richard Adler planned to call his book University of Michigan Baseball: The Other Sport, in recognition of the dominance of football and, sometimes, basketball, among Michigan fans.

Prof. Richard Adler has a baseball signed by legendary Michigan coach Ray Fisher.

"As is true at many universities, football and basketball seem to reign supreme today in both popularity and funding," Adler said.

"Yet baseball has been a sanctioned sport at Michigan for more than 130 years, clearly preceding the other major activities as the most important sport in the mind of students," he said. "At the beginning of the 20th century, baseball had evolved into the most popular spring leisure event at the university in which students participated," according to Adler.

Crowds of more than 500 were not unusual at a time when enrollment in the university was approximately 2,500 students, and each class and college in the university fielded a team.

Adler, associate professor of microbiology at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, is an avid baseball fan and scholar. He is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and has written several articles on historical issues in baseball.

His new book, Baseball at the University of Michigan, is being published this spring by Arcadia, which specializes in publishing works of regional and local history.

In the book, Adler discusses the growth of U-M baseball from a club activity in the 1860s and 1870s, to a varsity sport by the turn of the century. The book highlights baseball's development under Ray Fisher, who coached the team for 38 years, as well as the team's national championships in the 1950s and 1960s, followed by scandal in the late 1980s. "It was only by the late 1990s that the quality of the team began to reflect its earlier glory," Adler said.

Baseball pioneer Branch Rickey, who led the major leagues in many innovations as a coach, manager and owner, also figures in the book. Rickey coached the Michigan baseball team from 1910 to 1913, starting while he was a law student at the university. His teams included George Sisler, one of the greatest players in both Michigan and major league baseball history, and one of the first to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Detroit Tigers fan favorite Bill Freehan played only one season at Ann Arbor, "but what a season it was," Adler said. In 1961, he led the Big Ten with a .585 batting average, a record that still stands. Freehan received his bachelor's degree from UM-Dearborn in 1966, when he was already a regular with the Tigers. After his playing career was over, Freehan coached the Michigan team from 1990 to 1995, helping the team recover from sanctions imposed for NCAA rule violations under coach Bud Middaugh.

Adler's book also covers the Michigan careers of future major-league All Stars Jim Abbott, Barry Larkin and Chris Sabo.

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