Day 1 of 30 baseball book reviews for April 2019: How great thou art — and how how the wordsmiths got us through the murky offseason

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The book:

“Great American Baseball Stories”
The author: Edited by Jeff Silverman
The publishing info: Lyons Press Classics/Rowman & Littlefield, 252 pages, $16. Re-released in Feb., 2019.
The links: At the publisher’s website, at Amazon.com, at Powells.com

The book:

“The Great American Sports Page: A Century of Classic Columns from Ring Lardner to Sally Jenkins”
The author: Edited by John Schulian
The publishing info: Library of America/Penguin Random House, 421  pages, $29.95. To be released April 9.
The links: At the publisher’s website, at Amazon.com, at BarnesAndNoble.com, at Powells.com

The book:

“No Place I Would Rather Be: Roger Angell and a Life in Baseball Writing”
The author: Joe Bonomo
The publishing info: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 232 pages, $27.95, to be released May 1.
The links: At the publisher’s website, at Amazon.com, at BarnesAndNoble.com.

The reviews in 90 feet or less

The most humanizing writers, in the sports department or otherwise, have found to give baseball a voice that it might never find on its own. In the process, they can serve as a warm blanket during a long winter as a way to wait for the frost to melt and spring to finally arrive.

9781493039012Exhibit A: We note that these 22 stories collected by Silverman, a former Los Angeles Herald Examiner columnist, first came into being in 2003 and has several re-releases under the title “Classic Baseball Stories” under several publishing houses. But putting it back on the mass-market shelves with another rebrand never gets old.
“I feel honored by the chance to dust off some deserving old warhorses … insert them into a new lineup and send them up for another cut,” Silverman has written in the introduction.
Because they still connect, classic as advertised, now from a publishing house that has dedicated itself to high-quality books on fishing and hunting, nature, animals, military history, American history … and sports.
We can almost hear them being pounded out on the typewriters of such notable characters as Grantland Rice, Ring Lardner, Damon Runyon, Zane Gray, Lester Chadwick, Alfred H. Spink, Hugh Fullerton, Henry Chadwick and Albert G. Spaulding, serving a touchstone for where the game was more than 100 years ago.
Rice, Lardner, Fullerton and Runyon are all winners of the Spink Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame, honored during the first wave of voting in the 1960s. But maybe we are more amused by “Why Base Ball Has Become Our National Game” from 1911, from Spaulding, who insists the sport has no other choice but to carry that distinction (even at a time when he was invested in pushing the game forward to help his burgeoning sporting good’s company).
“I claim that Base Ball owes its prestige as our National Game to the fact that no other form of sport it is the exponent of American Courage, Confidence, Combativeness; American Dash, Discipline, Determination; American Energy, Eagerness, Enthusiasm; American Pluck, Persistence, Performance; American Spirit, Sagacity, Success; American Vim, Vigor, Virility …
“(The American Ball Player) may be a veritable Beau Brummel in social life. He may be the Swellest Swell of the Smart Set in Swelldom; but when he dons his Base Ball suit, he says good-bye to society, doffs his gentility and becomes – just a Ball Player!”
That’s not just another stump speech.
Silverman, who also edited the Lyons Press’ “The Greatest Baseball Stories Ever Told: Thirty Unforgettable Tales from the Diamond” in 2001, notes that the stories not just stand a test of time, but “they satisfy the most readily measured threshold – legs – with ease.” I

9781598536126Exhibit B: Of the 98 pieces from 46 writers in “The Great American Sports Page,” a few dozen are baseball specific. It starts with Runyon’s 1923 New York American column “Stengel’s Homer Wins It For Giants, 5-4” and races home with Joe Posnanski’s 2006 piece “RIP Buck O’Neil” for the Kansas City Star. In between, many more diamond gems, again from Rice, Lardner and Runyon, more Baseball Hall of Famer writing winners.
Add to that the L.A. Times’ Jim Murray, Heywood Broun, Frank Graham, Red Smith, Shirley Povich, Dick Young and Wendell Smith.
Others of note in this book: The Chicago Tribune’s Westbrook Pegler, on “The Called Shot Heard Round the World” by Babe Ruth in 1932; Wendell Smith’s account in the Pittsburgh Courier of Jackie Robinson’s 1946 appearance for the Dodgers’ Montreal farm team; W. C. Heinz’s piece on Babe Ruth for the New York Sun in 1948 and Dick Young’s “Obit on the Dodgers” in 1957 for the New York Daily News.
One more of note: Bill Plaschke’s humanizing feature on Dodgers blogger Sarah Morris that the L.A. Times published in 2001.

 

Exhibit C: At the American Writers Museum website,  Roger Angell is simply called “the greatest living baseball writer.” He is, by the way, 98, and will hit 99 when the playoff races heat up in September.
818FaELZtWLThere are lists of “must-read” Angell books, including “The Summer Game.”
The Tom Verducci Sports Illustrated piece on him from July, 2014 came out when Angell finally recognized with the Hall of Fame’s Spink Award.
But this way to honor Angell’s career at the New Yorker, going back to 1962, “is not a biography but a look at Angell’s writing over the decade,” writes Bonomo, better known for his rock music prose.
Bonomo rightfully adds it’s “unlikely we’ll ever see a baseball writer like Angell again. He wrote in an era when high-circulation magazines were bursting with lengthy articles and essays for the audience that gave itself over to long stays with the writing.”
In interviewing Angell, Bonomo captures the quotes of someone who isn’t so enamored with today’s version of the game, or in how it’s televised in the MLB Network-type of cut-up highlights.
Baseball, Angell insists, is supposed to be “stuffed with waiting.”
It’s not a long wait to get through this, but it’s a rich adventure.

How they all go down in the scorebook

We’re tempted to call this a Tinkers to Evers to Chance triple play — the Chicago Cubs’ infield that was a creation more of lyrical prose than of actual ability. One doesn’t have to be stranded on a desert island to request any of these to help retain some sanity. They work just as well during an airport layover, an afternoon at the beach, or on a Saturday afternoon waiting out a rain delay.
Just as cool, it makes us also seek to relocate our copies of “The Roger Kahn Reader: Six Decades of Sportswriting,” which came out last June, and “Guys, Dolls and Curveballs: Damon Runyon On Baseball,” by Jim Reisler in 2005.

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