F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “Baseball is a game played by idiots for morons.” Well, count me among the morons, Francis, because I love it. As I write this post on a cold January day with icy rain clicking against the windows, I’m wishing I could find a game on the radio from anywhere in the world.
The long off-season is made bearable for me by knowing that in the absence of baseball games, there are always baseball books. What follows here are some thoughts about the baseball books I’ve read in the past year or so.
Since my last post about baseball books, some really good ones have come my way. Easily the best baseball book I’ve read in several years in John Grisham’s Calico Joe. Mr. Grisham knows how to write thrillers, obviously, but his feel for the human drama in sport is also strong. Calico Joe focuses on how one baseball moment affects the lives of two players for decades after it occurs. This excellent novel includes a moment near the end that is as poignant as anything I’ve ever read in fiction.
Some other recent baseball novels were intriguing if not quite as satisfying as Calico Joe.
Blockade Billy by Stephen King: This was a disappointment. As I said on Goodreads, In order for Blockade Billy to achieve believability, a reader is asked to accept that most baseball games and series include numerous plays at the plate with runners trying to score from third and colliding with the catcher at home plate. That might happen once or twice in a three-game series but not with the frequency that Blockade Billy needs in order for the story to work.
The Zamler’s Last Stand by Matthew Caldwell: Douglas recommended this one to me, and I’m glad he did. Caldwell’s e-book reminds me of Eric Rolfe Greenberg’s The Celebrant and includes several interesting characters. Some of the mystical cultural context lost me, but I liked the baseball parts.
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach: This novel gained a lot of attention and ended up on many “Best of 2012” lists. I’m not alone in thinking it was over-rated, and it’s just barely a baseball book. If it had been a hockey or soccer book, I probably would have bailed out by page 50.
I greatly enjoyed two nonfiction baseball books last year. The first was Cardboard Gods by Josh Wilker. This was recommended on the ESPN “Baseball Today” podcast, a reliable source for baseball book recommendations. Wilker takes us through his childhood by examining a series of baseball cards from his collection. The faces, names, poses, and stats on the cards provide ways for Wilker to make sense of his family, friends, human nature, and the world around him.
Jonathan Eig’s Opening Day provides important new insights into Jackie Robinson’s first year in the major leagues. Eig’s specialty is re-examining archival information, uncovering new documentation, and seeking commentary about what he unearths from as many of the actual participants as possible. This inherent drama in Robinson’s 1947 season allows the story to almost tell itself, but Eig illuminates it in new ways based on his own discoveries.
This year I also read four new baseball-themed picture books. The best one was Audrey Vernick’s Brothers at Bat, the true story of the twelve Acerra brothers who played organized baseball together from the 1930s into the 1950s.
A close second was There Goes Ted Williams by Matt Tavares. The large pictures here reinforce the heroics of Ted Williams, both on and off the field.
Douglas Florian’s Poem Runs should appeal to the youngest baseball fans because of its bright pages and explorations of baseball sounds.
Lucky Luis by Gary Soto was fine but probably would not hold up to repeated readings.
Before I check in again with another post about baseball books, I hope to get to Picture Perfect. It’s been on my to-be-read list for a long time, but I just haven’t gotten to this oral history of Armando Gallaraga’s perfect game that was ruined by umpire Jim Joyce’s blown call, and the classy ways that both men handled its aftermath.
I also want to read at least one book by Dirk Hayhurst, also recommended on the ESPN “Baseball Today” podcast. Hayhurst, whose career was mostly spent in the minor leagues, has published two memoirs about his time in the minor leagues and his brief major league career: The Bullpen Gospels and Out of My League. A new book is expected from Hayhurst in 2013.
Finally, I’ve tried forever to find this book, and it arrived just this week from Paperback Swap: Sandlot Peanuts! Published in 1977, Sandlot Peanuts is a collection of the Peanuts newspaper comic strips dealing with baseball from both daily editions and Sunday color editions. I think I’ll go read it now.
Opening Day is still weeks away, but books like these make the wait more tolerable for us “morons.”
Do you have other recommendations for me? Thanks.