Magazine article Information Today

Meet You at the Ball Game, Minus All Your Theories

Magazine article Information Today

Meet You at the Ball Game, Minus All Your Theories

Article excerpt

This past summer was my season to read baseball books. For no clever or provocative reason, but simply because I ended up in the baseball section of the village library I patronize. There were no other people in that section the day I visited the library and, having a clear shot at every book in the 796.357 alcove, I left die premises with eight books that I intended to dump on a table some place and return to the library only in sufficient time to avoid the social stigma of paying in overdue fine.

The Pitch

I don't read books on baseball. I guess I'm rather fussy. I don't read books on dentistry, contour plowing, or interior decorating. I've never read a book on asphalt paving or Quark Express. Never saw the need to.

But out of malaise, a wish not to return to the library, and the need to present myself at the beach with something other in hand than the letters of Henry James (admirable though they be), I found myself turning the pages of Summer of 49 (David Halberstam) and reliving the pennant race between the Yankees and Red Sox. More historical prelude than I would have wished, but still a good book that survives some unnecessary detail.

The essays in Fred Lieb's Baseball As I Have Known It don't have a lot of dazzle, but they are at least simple, plain, factual accounts of the early days of the game. I couldn't get into Kuhn's The Boys of Summer. For me, too much nostalgia and old lace. The good old days when nothing was amiss with the world. Forget it. Nor could I get involved with My Turn at Bat so I just looked at the pictures of Ted Williams and put the book aside.

Reggie Jackson's autobiography was okay. The only difficulty for the reader is Jackson's perverse belief in George Steinbrenner after an almost unbearable succession of personal humiliations at the hands of the owner. "There was a stretch when I was bitter about some of the things he did. Our relationship soured, sure, but hate?" Yeah, come on, call it hate.

I learned a lot from George Wills and while some critics thought Working Men suffered from too much intellectualization, I think Wills has his analysis of the sport pretty much within bounds. And he is the source of discriminating anecdotes, such as the recalling of Wes Westrum's (New York Giants) insight that baseball is like church: "Many attend but few understand,"

A Line Drive

But I hit paydirt (a term I would never employ were I not writing about books I would never read) with Collision at Home Plate. This is the account, written by James Reston, Jr., of Pete Rose's banishment from professional baseball at the hands of Commissioner A. (for Angelo) Barlett Giamatti.

This book actually says something about baseball, about the conditions under which it is played, about America, and about contemporary society.

I'll spare you the details of the book, but here's the central argument. Pete Rose assumed that major league baseball was a rough-and-tumble business that called for full-tilt dedication, a high degree of observation and, of course, hustle. Giamatti, who had also revered baseball since his early childhood, thought of baseball in the context of a Yale professor of comparative literature. Baseball to Giamatti bespoke of logic, order, die past repeated in the present, agreed upon protocols, and pleasant rituals. While Rose saw Fenway Park as a proving ground on which his career and livelihood would be settled, Giamatti saw Fenway Park with its grass and chalk marks as a Renaissance garden, a place of harmony, balance, and reason.

I don't imagine many spectators would have been happy sitting in the stands next to either Giamatti or Rose, one resigning as president of Yale to find solace in the national pastime as Commissioner of Baseball, and the other who demanded so much immediate return out of sports that he was led to bet on practically everything that moved. Rose, of course, ended up doing some time in a locked room. …

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