Baseball Epic: Famous and Forgotten Lives of the Dead Ball Era

Words and pictures by Jason Novak

April 2, 2019 • 6 x 8 • 240 pages • 978-1-56689-542-2

From Paris Review and New Yorker cartoonist Jason Novak, a witty history of the scrappy beginnings of baseball, told in 101 one-sentence biographies.

In this work of cartoon revisionist history, Jason Novak explores the little-talked-about dead ball era of baseball—from 1900 to 1920, when a single ball was used for an entire game—and the men and women who shaped its course. Ranging from mischievous in-game antics to the racial barriers being crossed well before Jackie Robinson, these miniature biographies highlight the joys and struggles, both on and off the field, of the unsung heroes who played pro ball before it was a profession.

About the Author

Jason Novak is a cartoonist whose work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, and the Believer, among other places. He lives in Oakland, California.


“A Schadenfreude spit-take of history.” —Los Angeles Times

“The real work of the book is drawing attention to the black, Cuban, and Native American players despite horrible racism. . . . Novak’s handles their stories with care and Baseball Epic is a wonderful entrant because of it.” —The A.V. Club

“While flag-waving, replays, and statistical noise ruin the joy of contemporary baseball, Jason Novak has written and illustrated a Gorey-esque history of the dead-ball era that is delightfully morbid, intriguing, and a hell of a lot of fun. And maybe best of all, Novak’s magic comes from stories rather than numbers.” —Josh Ostergaard

“Jason Novak’s graphic essay bridges the mundane, the dangerous, and the divine in the era of the dead ball. We see the fingers of fate upon each of Novak’s ball players. Plays add up. Sacrifices add up and conclude mostly off the field. Jim Shaw had multiple scrapes with death until he shot himself hunting rabbits. Ditto Bill Hobbs. Ditto Charlie Armbruster. Chief Johnson was shot dead over a dice game. Benny Kauff wore his celebrity casually. Cheeky clothes likely led to his rigging the 1919 World Series. Baseball Epic offers subtle, harsh, but sweet images of the men and women who played for the love of the game.” —LeAnne Howe

“Novak provides a window into the personalities and untold histories of the sport.” —Vol. 1 Brooklyn

“This sometimes funny, sometimes sad book will enchant any baseball fan and also serves as a window into a period of American history that most of us know too little about. I can hardly wait to get my hands on this treasure.” —David Unowsky

Praise for Jason Novak

“A witty and delightfully morbid book that will make you wonder why on earth anyone would want to be a Roman Emperor.” —Mike Duncan, best-selling author of The Storm Before the Storm

“This twisted and fantastically illustrated survey of the brutal fate of every Roman Emperor is a strong reminder to study history—because we sure as hell don’t want to repeat it.” —Wendy MacNaughton, best-selling author of Pen & Ink