Spring is here (according to the calendar, if not always the thermometer) and with it also the return of baseball season. Of all the major professional sports, baseball probably has the greatest sense of history surrounding it, going all the way back to the 19th-century when the game was played with what now seem like absurdly small gloves and catchers didn’t even wear masks. Through the years the game has changed in many ways and there can seem to be a world of difference between the days of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson and the highly analytical game of today. But whatever the era, the drama underlying the contest of pitcher versus hitter remains the same.
In keeping with the season, here are a few suggestions for books that will bring back some memories of baseball days gone by and hopefully inspire you to get out to the ballpark to create some new memories.
And if all this baseball writing makes you feel like spending more time with your fellow fans, please join us for our monthly Sports Discussion Group at the Central Library. It’s a great chance to share stories, ideas and trivia about baseball or whatever sport is close to your heart. The next meeting is Thursday, April 18th at 2:00pm (more information here).
- Summer of ’49 by David Halberstam: David Halberstam chronicles one season in the long Yankees-Red Sox rivalry as the two teams battled for the 1949 American League pennant. With the Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio and the Red Sox’ Ted Williams both having outstanding years as the race went down to the final game of the season, the rivalry turned personal for both teams as well.
- Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season by Jonathan Eig: published in 2007 on the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s historic entrance into the major leagues, Opening Day examines the details of how the color line was finally broken. Relating the stories of Jackson and his fellow Dodgers, the book recalls the elements of an accomplishment in American history that now seems to be taken for granted but the success of which was far from certain at the time.
- Eight Men Out: the Black Sox and the 1919 World Series by Eliot Asinof: arguably baseball’s worst scandal occurred in 1919 when eight members of the Chicago White Sox were permanently banned from the sport for taking bribes from gamblers to intentionally lose that year’s World Series. The most famous of the eight was “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, a star player at the time. The question of his guilt has been a source of controversy ever since with many believing he should be exonerated and his accomplishments restored to the game’s historical record.
- Bottom of the 33rd: Hope and Redemption in Baseball's Longest Game by Dan Barry: a subject of debate these days is whether baseball games have become too long. As the length of games has steadily increased (with the typical game now lasting over 3 hours), some fans worry that baseball is losing fans as a result. But if three hours seems long, imagine an eight and a half hour game! That’s what happened when a minor league game went 33 innings in 1981. The game was actually suspended after 32 innings (with 17 hardy attendees out of the original crowd of 1,700 still in the stadium) and the final deciding inning was played two months later.
- Brooklyn's Dodgers: The Bums, the Borough, and the Best of Baseball, 1947-1957 by Carl E. Prince: baseball doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The Brooklyn Dodgers are an example of a team that came to not only symbolize its city but become part of the fabric of its society. (Of course, Brooklyn wasn’t a separate city but many of its fans would have probably argued otherwise!) This book describes how the Dodgers reflected the social realities of the Brooklyn of their time, a working class-team for a working-class borough.
- The Natural by Bernard Malamud: Malamud’s classic novel centers on the tragic figure of Roy Hobbs--a one-time baseball prodigy who attempts a comeback 15 years after his career was ended by a gunshot from a crazed fan. If you’re familiar with the film adaptation starring Robert Redford and its Hollywood fairytale ending, be prepared for a surprise when you reach the conclusion of this book.