It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone. – A. Bartlett Giamatti, “The Green Fields of the Mind”
As the regular baseball season comes to a close and the post-season takes shape, I’m thinking about my favorite baseball books. Reading about baseball is my favorite way to fill the void over during a long winter. Four baseball books are on my to-read list for this winter:
• Nobody’s Perfect: Two Men, One Call, and a Game for Baseball History by Armando Galarraga, Jim Joyce, and Daniel Paisner. This looks like an oral history of the 2010 game when an excellent umpire ruined a perfect game thrown by an otherwise unexceptional pitcher by blowing a fairly routine call at first base. The aftermath showed two gentlemen behaving with a level of class rarely seen in sports headlines.
• Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season by Jonathan Eig. This has been on my to-read list for too long. Eig’s Luckiest Man is an excellent read (see below), and everyone I know who has read this book has said good things.
• Blockade Billy by Stephen King. I’ve given up on trying to read all of Stephen King’s books, but I usually end up reading about one a year. This will be either my second one of 2011, or the first of 2012. I have no idea what it’s about.
For what it’s worth, here are my favorite baseball books. As soon as I post this, I’ll probably think of a few others, but here is my right-now list, presented in no particular order.
• The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by W. P. Kinsella: Shoeless Joe received all the attention, but I like this Kinsella novel better. Kinsella’s magical realism takes us to Iowa and a game that goes forever, almost.
• The Man with Two Arms by Billy Lombardo. What if a youngster could be raised from birth to be a dominant, ambidextrous pitcher? And what if he pitched for the Cubs?
• Center Field Grasses: Poems from Baseball by Gene Fehler. Page after page of perfect baseball poems. If you only read one book from this list, it should probably be this one. This book was published without a dust jacket, so there is no cover art to display here. Seems like it deserves better.
• The Cubs of ’69 by Rick Talley. The 1969 Cubs looked like they were on the way to World Series, until they collapsed and were overtaken by the New York Mets. Talley tells the story of the team, and brings us up to date on what happened to the players. I’ve hauled my copy of this book around to various events, and it’s been signed by Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins, Glen Beckert, Randy Hundley, Ron Santo, and Don Kessinger.
• October 1964 by David Halberstam. Mickey Mantle. Roger Maris. Bob Gibson. Lou Brock. Curt Flood. The cast of this book is irresistible.
Feel free to say something about or recommend your favorite baseball books!