Doug Wolter: April is for baseball books
I am not yet convinced that the 2014 version of the Minnesota Twins won’t be vaguely like the 2013 version, so the time has come to delve into worlds that only books can create.
I firmly believe that April was made not just to turn a sportsman’s fancy to baseball, but also for books about baseball. I am presently reading George Will’s modern classic on inside baseball, “Men at Work” and marveling at the intricate workings of manager Tony La Russa’s mind. Most fans watch baseball at a superficial level, but Will’s work is incredibly instructive about the brain games that go on in dugouts.
I want to buy Will’s latest baseball book, “A Nice Little Place on the North Side”, which tells the history of the star-crossed Chicago Cubs. But, alas, it would set me back about $15, so I think I’ll wait until I can purchase it for less online.
I tend to buy books used. They’re cheaper that way.
So the other day I bought a few more for squirreling away. For a mere penny I bought “Once More Around the Park”, a collection of the very best baseball columns of one of the best baseball writers there is, Roger Angell. And for $2.85 I bought “Ty Cobb” by Charles C. Alexander. Cobb has always fascinated me, and it has been decades since I read Al Stumpf’s biography of Cobb. I have begun to suspect that Stumpf’s assessment of Cobb is not entirely accurate, so I shall peruse Alexander’s analysis to compare.
There are countless good baseball books out there that are as interesting today as they were when they were written. If you’re into the off-beat and the bizarre, you might enjoy the fantasy, “The Iowa Baseball Confederacy” by W.P. Kinsella. I think he was on a hallucinogen when he wrote it. Or you might like Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four.” Bouton caused a sensation when it came out in 1970. Back then, you just didn’t reveal the secrets he revealed and be forgiven for it.
Things have changed since then, obviously.
I loved “Babe” by Robert Creamer, which I devoured shortly after it was first printed in 1974. The historical treatment of Babe Ruth was then called the best biography ever written about an American sports figure, and it probably still is the definitive story of the Sultan of Swat.
Read “The Glory of Their Times” by Lawrence S. Ritter if you want to get marvelous stories of the early days of baseball by the players who lived it. Here’s another thumbs up for “Crazy ‘08” by Cait Murphy, which tells the story of what the writer calls “the greatest year in baseball history.
And for the fan who loves baseball’s stats and what they mean, check out the original as well as the revised “ Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract.” James rates Joe Morgan the greatest second baseman of all time, and Eddie Collins No. 2. Personally, I would have flipped them. But to each, his own. It’s fun to rate the greats.
I’ve read all of the afore-mentioned books, and after I finish the ones I’m reading now I plan to check out a few more that I haven’t read yet. It is baseball season, after all.
I must confess that my recent fixation on baseball probably stems, in part, from a book of my own that I’ve been working on since the onslaught of last winter. It’s all finished now, and two of my daughters are collaborating on the cover. It will be self-published on Lulu.com within a few weeks, and although it will never reach a wide audience, it gives me pleasure whenever my little creations are noticed by friends and family. It’s my fifth book (the others are about various subjects, not just sports) and this one is about a middle-aged baseball fanatic with an unhappy life who attempts to drown his sorrows in the only thing that gives him pleasure – baseball. He goes to Twins games at Target Field and begins to see old-time baseball players from the 1920s and 1930s that cause him to wonder if he might be losing his mind. Then something even more incredible happens. He sees his baseball-loving father, who had died of a heart attack 15 years earlier.
It’s a fantasy about baseball, and about fathers and sons. About where baseball daydreams begin and end. And when it comes down to it, isn’t baseball really about fantasy, after all?
It’s April and there’s a ton of baseball reading out there. The 2014 Twins are still in the hunt in the AL Central. We must hold onto our fantasies for as long as we can.