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Baseball Roudnup

Baseball Books

Baseball Roudnup


Baseball dodged a bullet when players and owners came to their senses and decided to sign the labor agreement that will calm fans' shaky nerves for the next few years. As the season winds down to the World Series, the media reminds us, through flowery prose, dramatic music and sepia-toned images, of the rich tradition of the National Pastime, despite all the recent problems.

Curt Smith is an extraordinary chronicler on myriad aspects of the game. He has written about ballparks (STORIED STADIUMS: Baseball's History Through Its Ballparks and OUR HOUSE: a Tribute to Fenway Park) and broadcasters (VOICES OF THE GAME). In his new book, WHAT BASEBALL MEANS TO ME, he takes on the sport as a whole, via this collection of anecdotes from a wide variety of devotees. He blends these misty-eyed tales with pictures meant to represent the everyman quality associated with the national pastime.

Smith has amassed the sentimental views of over a hundred famous and semi-famous people, from politicians, musicians, actors, athletes (and not just baseball players) and journalists. Among those giving their voice to WHAT BASEBALL MEANS TO ME are such notables as George Bush and George W. Bush, Dan Rather, Tim Russert, Marvin Hamlisch, Dave Barry and Billy Bob Thornton. Their memories might consist of a single Little League at bat, or something much deeper, such as how baseball brings people together socially.

Many of the contributors for Smith's collection doubtlessly can quote verbatim the timeless poem, CASEY AT THE BAT. Since its debut over 100 years ago, dozens of versions have been published, either continuations of the legend of Casey ("Casey's Daughter," "Casey's Revenge"), or parodies following the same fashion and general meter.

One of the most renown artists of our generation, LeRoy Neiman, has lent his unique style to illustrate the words of Ernest Lawrence Thayer. Joe Torre, manager of the New York Yankees, offers his thoughts of the importance of this classic in the book's introduction.

Most illustrators put the brawny batter in turn of the 20th century attire, with high collars and pillbox style caps worn at the time. Neiman, however, takes a rather unconventional step, depicting the mighty Casey as a modern-day player, perhaps with a nod to younger readers. Some might consider such a view as heretical, preferring that comforting illusion of baseball played in a simpler, more rustic time. Nevertheless, no one can argue with Neiman when it comes to expressing the dynamic imagery of sports.

When it comes to penning a primer on how to play the game, could you find a better choice than the Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio? 

BASEBALL FOR EVERYONE, written with Tom Meany, one the great New York sportswriters of the era, was originally released in by McGraw-Hill 1948, when the Yankees were in the middle of establishing their great dynasty. With the New York team celebrating its centennial, what better time to remind readers about the team's heydays?

One of the most graceful players ever to don Yankee pinstripes, DiMaggio followed in the footsteps of Ruth and Gehrig to lead the team. Taking advantage of his superstar status, he collaborated on this instructional primarily for the aspiring athletes (although the subtitle reads "A Treasury of Baseball Lore and Instruction for Fans and Players"). He offered detailed information on both offensive and defensive aspects, although when he lectures on how to play each position, one might wonder what a Hall of Fame centerfielder could offer in the way of pitching tips. The title page gives credit to an "advisory board" consisting of such experts in the field as New York Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell, St. Louis Cardinals infielder Frankie Frisch, and his own Yankee teammate, catcher Bill Dickey.

DiMaggio also delved into the mental part of the game such as working with coaches and dealing with slumps. There's also a chapter by the dean of sportscasters, Red Barber, on how to keep score.

And while the Yankees might have missed the Series this year, they are still the most celebrated team in sports, as evidenced by the large number of titles about the Bronx Bombers. One of the most comprehensive is YANKEES CENTURY, by the team of Glenn Stout and Richard A. Johnson.

Stout, series editor of The Best American Sports Writing since its inception, and Johnson, curator of the Sports Museum of New England, collaborated on Red Sox Century: 100 Years of Red Sox Baseball as well as similarly handsome volumes on Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Jackie Robinson.

With all the new titles about the Yankees out this year --- Harvey Frommer's A Yankee Century: A Celebration of the First Hundred Years of Baseball's Greatest Team (Berkeley) and Pennants and Pinstripes: The New York Yankees, 1903-2002 (Viking Studio) by Ray Robinson and Christopher Jennison are examples of other coffee table books --- YANKEES CENTURY might just be the most comprehensive, combining text by Stout and other notable writers such as Ring Lardner, Ira Berkow and David Halberstam, with dozens of illustrations selected by Johnson.

Many Yankee fans are only familiar with the team in recent years, whose ranks included Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, Roger Clemens and David Wells. But students of the game will no doubt find the early history fascinating, before the team became perennial pennant contenders.

Fans of the baseball literary genre might ask "Do we really need another book by Yogi Berra?" the man who has made a cottage industry of befuddled speech.

But WHAT TIME IS IT? DO YOU MEAN NOW? is unlike previous collection of Berra's mangling of the English language. Written with Dave Kaplan, director of the Yogi Berra Museum in New Jersey, Yogi gets serious, about life, goals, dreams and other philosophical issues not normally associated with the former Yankee catcher. Despite the weighty issues (Yogi on death and dealing with the bad times?), he manages to infuse each item with his self-deprecating humor. This slim volume may not rank up there with the writings of the Dali Lama, but the man known to some as Lawrence Berra proves that he's not called "Yogi" for nothing.

--- Reviewed by Ron Kaplan (
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