Briefly…

Steve Buckley, a sports columnist for the Boston Herald, gives his picks for summer reading, mostly baseball with some older titles mixed in with more recent ones. His list includes Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero, by David Maraniss; Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season, by Jonathan Eig; Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero and The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth, both by Leigh Montville; Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life, by Richard Ben Cramer; License to Deal: A Season on the Run with a Maverick Baseball Agent, by Jerry Crasnick; Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir, by Doris Kearns Goodwin; and Big Papi: My Story of Big Dreams and Big Hits, by David Ortiz with Tony Massarotti.

* * *

KPBS, the public radio affiliate in San Diego, presented two recent baseball-related segments, one featuring Frank Deford, author of The Entitled, a new baseball novel (the audio interview is linked to the page) and another on The Card: Collectors, Con Men, and the True Story of History’s Most Desired Baseball Card, by Michael O’Keeffe (audio here).

* * *

FYI — According to an article in the August 2007 issue of Population Research and Policy Review, the average Major League Baseball career is 5.6 years.

“Poets are like pitchers”

00frostbaseball_2

Poets are like baseball pitchers. Both have their moments. The intervals are the tough things.

Robert Frost

Frost’s favorite baseball team was the Boston Red Sox; his favorite player was Ted Williams. After attending an all-star game in Washington in 1956, Frost wrote a story for Sports Illustrated, "A Perfect Day – A Day of Prowess."

Review: 1941: The Greatest Year in Sports

1941: The Greatest Year in Sports
by Mike Vacarro (Doubleday, 2006)

001941_1 While he does cover other sports in his newest offering, Mike Vaccaro, New York Post sportswriter and author of Emperors and Idiots, one of the endless stream of titles about the Red Sox-Yankees 2004 season, spends most of his prose on a quartet of baseball stars — Hank Greenberg, Bob Feller, Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams — “who made history in the shadow of the War.”

Vaccaro sheds some light — perhaps unwanted — about the circumstances surrounding the registration, enlistment, and induction of the ballplayers. Fans tend to forget that these athletes were mostly in their twenties when the war broke out, in the midst of a profession that by definition was short-lived. For some reason, perhaps because they are sports heroes, they are held to a higher standard, as if no one else facing conscription tried to work the draft system to his advantage, seeking deferment or other considerations.

Greenberg, writes Vaccaro, had the misfortune of registering in Detroit, where he lived during the season, rather than his Bronx, NY home. Because his Michigan precinct was less densely populated than New York, his number came up quickly. It was because he was a celebrity that the draft board was determined to show no favoritism. So like Feller and Williams, Greenberg lost several prime years to the service of his country (DiMaggio spent most of his time playing baseball, as a morale booster for the troops, and never saw combat). And if they weren’t ecstatic about their situations …well, who be? Even Job complained. That would seem to be the norm, not the exception.

Non-fans at the time made no bones about these physically fit specimens who even thought of seeking relief. Vaccaro includes an example of consternation:

Bobby Feller soured himself on the public when he said he wouldn’t seek deferment — but let his mother and yourselves in the newspaper field go to bat for him. Anyone would be silly to think he didn’t know what his mother was writing to the draft board seeking exemption on account of having dependents.

1941 does a credible job of conveying the excitement of DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and Williams’ chase for .400, but these topics have been covered in other books. Where Vaccaro excels is in balancing seemingly trivial athletic pursuits with the life-and-death issues of WW II. Of course, there’s always a problem, especially in the world of sports, of declaring anything "the greatest." But it does make for some interesting reflection and discussion.

Briefly

** A review of The Cheater’s Guide to Baseball appears on The Pastime blog.

** The NY Times’ Richard Sandomir previewed the HBO special,00dodgersghost_3 Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts of Flatbush, based loosely on Through a Blue Lens: The Brooklyn Dodgers Photographs of Barney Stein, 1937-57 (premieres July 11). The Dodgers played their last game in Brooklyn fifty years ago, and every baseball book fans knows the significance of major anniversaries. See here for a a BaseballBookshelf profile of Stein’s daughter, Bonnie Crosby, following her program (with co-author Dennis D’Agostino) at the Yogi Berra Museum.

** The Day, out of London, Conn. offers this profile of Jonathan Mahler, author of Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning, which is the subject of an ESPN miniseries beginning July 10 at 10 p.m. The early buzz is not promising (although TV Guide‘s Matt Roush hails it as something even non-Yankee fans will enjoy), from either a baseball or theatrical point of view. Oliver Platt as George Steinbrenner? Stick a pair of prosthetic ears on John Turturro to turn him into Billy Martin? Add a cast of no-name supporting actors 070704roushreview(Daniel Sunjata as Reggie Jackson? Eric Jense as Thurmon Munson? See picture.) and you have to wonder whether this can really sustain any interest over eight episodes. According to IMDB.com, Pratt/Steinbrenner appears in all eight, but Turturo/Martin only two? Even the characters who portray the players get more screen time, and Martin was a major player in that hectic season of 1977. See here for a BaseballBookshelf profile of Mahler and fellow-Wall Street Journal scribes Seth Mnookin (Feeding the Monster) and Joshua Prager (The Echoing Green).

** Former Times sportswriter Gerald Eskenazi reviews **** and Baseball, Volume I: Entering the American Mainstream, 1871-1948, by Burton A. Boxerman and Benita W.Boxerman in The Forward, a weekly Jewish publication. See here for a BaseballBookshelf profile on the authors.

The All-Literary Team

The things you find when you’re cleaning up. Came across this piece I did for Fastball.com, a now-defunct esoteric baseball site. It’s one of several "theme" teams I created in my obviously too-copius spare time. I’m sure there are many other plasyers who fit the bill since I worked on this.

  • Pitchers: Robbie "Samuel" Beckett (1996), Craig "Larry" McMurtry (1983-95), Jerry "St." Augustine (1975-84), Roger "Samuel" Clemens (1986-), Sheriff "William" Blake (1920, 24-31, 37)
  • Catcher: Mike "F. Scott" Fiztgerald (1983-92)
  • First Base: Bud "Tom" Clancy (1924-30, 32, 34)
  • Second Base: Ed "Ernest" Hemingway (1914, 17-18)
  • Shortstop: Bill "Bertrand" Russell (1969-86) 00robertfrost
  • Third Base: Bill "James" Joyce (1980-92, 94-95)
  • Left Field: Buster "Henry" Adams (1939, 43-47)
  • Center Field: Dion "Henry" James (1983-93, 95-96)
  • Right Field: Chick "Stephen" King (1954-56, 58-59)

  • Manager: Charlie "Brothers" Grimm (1932-38, 44-49, 52-56, 60)
  • Robert Frost at bat.

    Briefly…

    Opposing reviews for Jonathan Eig’s Opening Day. Pro and Con. And an interview with the author.

    ***

    This just in from Onion Sports: Aaron credited with 50 "lost" home runs.

    ***

    I usually don’t consider this type of book, but I was intrigued by the press release. There’s a new bio due out about Phillies’ slugger Ryan Howard. Titled Ryan Howard: King of Swing, 00howardit’s marketed for "fans of all ages." But one look at the cover indicates it’s not on an editorial par with say, The Teammates. Other self-referential accolades include:

    • THE FIRST & BEST BOOK ABOUT
      RYAN
    • ORIGINAL COVER CARICATURE BY GOGUE
    • 120 PAGES OF HOMERUN HITTING PROSE
    • QUOTES THAT WILL MAKE YOU CHEER
    • BASEBALL STATS & COOL CATS
    • TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR GAME

    Think I’ll wait for the movie to come out.

    Review: Casey at the Bat

    "Casey at the Bat" has served as fodder for generations. Ernest L. Thayer’s poem (subtitled "A Ballad of the Republic") has appeared 00neiman_1in several incarnations as a juvenile picture book, portrayed by the likes of Leroy Neiman 00caseypayne and C.F. Payne, among others. In one of the most visually and socially dazzling versions,00_caseymorse Joe Morse depicts the story from an urban, inner-city point of view.

    "Casey" has also led to dozens of imitations and extensions of the original story ("Casey Returns," "Casey’s Daughter") Listen Garison Keeler’s version, "Casey: The Other Point of View" from A Prairie Home Companion; the poem appears at the 35-minute mark in the second part of the show. The poem has been recorded by seasoned performers such as James Earl Jones and baseball stars such as Johnny Bench and Dave Winfield, with full orchestral backup.

    One of my favorites treatises is The Annotated Casey at the Bat: A Collection of Ballads About the Mighty Casey/Third, Revised Edition, released by Dover Publications in 1995, which includes many of the aforementioned versions.

    00caseydefordThe ballad has also spawned several full-length works of 00caseymoviefictional prose, including Frank Deford’s Casey on the Loose (1989), as well as a 1986 film version starring Elliot Gould, Carol Kane, and Howard Cosell. Here’s a review of The Night Casey Was Born, a new non-fiction "biography" of the poem, written byJohn Evangelist Walsh.