Roger Angell always looks to baseball to tell about more than hits, errors and final scores.
In this collection of articles, most culled from earlier books, Angell explores such topics as a special friendship that began thanks to baseball ("In the Country"), the arrival of the split-finger fastball ("The Arms Talks") and St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson ("Distance").
Angell takes baseball beyond its standard confines. Of Gibson's retirement, he writes, "Even those of us who have not been spoiled by any athletic triumphs of our own...are aware of a humdrum, twilight quality to all our doings of middle life, however successful they may prove to be. There is a loss of light and ease and early joy, and we look to other exemplars—mentors and philosophers; grown men—to sustain us in that loss."
This volume then should fit quite snugly next to Angell's other pennant winners: The Summer Game, Five Seasons and Season Ticket. (Ballantine, $18.95)
Karen Mullarkey, editorial director
A variation on the Day in the Life of series, this collection of photographs taken in 1990 is the photographic equivalent of a .265 hitter—useful, steady, unembarrassing but nothing to go all superlative over.
Too many pictures (shot by 50 photographers) are routine or a split-second off. Typical is a Little League World Series scene at first base—a pickoff try, apparently—shown with the runner being called safe. It's not clear if the first baseman's eyes are closed due to disgust, despair or mere bad timing of the photographer.
Then there's the poignant moment when Ken Griffey Sr. and his son Ken Jr., the first father and son to play on the same major league team, embraced on the field. The picture is underexposed and hardly worth including.
There's not enough anguish nor elation and so little drama the book seems to be the work of a football fan.
The book is best in its mood-setting shots, such as one of a minor league game in Salt Lake City, where the backdrop of a picturesque sunset and the promising glow of the Derks Field lights suggest the anticipation and pleasure a ball game can represent. (Collins, $45)
by Henry Aaron with Lonnie Wheeler
In some ways, Aaron's career began April 8, 1974, when he hit a slider from the Dodgers' Al Downing into the left-field bullpen of Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium. That home run—Aaron's 715th—broke Babe Ruth's record and elevated the Braves' slugger to a rare media stardom.
And just as "Hammerin' Hank" banged away at big league pitching for 23 seasons (retiring in 1976 with 755 homers), he has used his celebrity ever since to decry the lack of representation blacks have faced at the game's higher levels. Though he has been in the Braves" front oilier since 1977, other blacks, he says, "have found...that baseball is a lot like the ivy-covered wall of Wrigley Field—it gives off a great appearance, but when you run into it, you discover the bricks underneath."
That is the theme of this engrossing, at times angry, autobiography that is enhanced by the commentary of Wheeler, a Cincinnati sportswriter, and a Greek chorus of ex-teammates and opponents. Recounting his accomplishments, Aaron is as decisive with his assessments as he was with his scimitarlike bat.
He is especially frank about Willie Mays, in whose shadow he played, claiming, "I've never seen a better all-around player than Willie Mays, but I will say this: Willie was not as good a hitter as I was. No way." And he is candid about being able to separate his on-and off-the-diamond lives: "One of the most important qualities I had as a player was the ability to play on despite what was happening in my personal life." (What was happening included a rough 1971 divorce from Barbara, mother of his four children.)
The most thrilling and chilling chapter of the book recounts the frenzied period before homer No. 715, when Aaron received 930,000 letters, many from whites outraged that a black man was going to break Ruth's sacred record. A number began, "Dear Nigger." (The more polite ones started, "Dear Mr. Nigger.")
Aaron was outraged that Commissioner Bowie Kuhn wasn't in the park when he broke the record. It's such slights that keep Aaron hammering away at age 57: "Baseball needs me because it needs somebody to stir the pot, and I need it because it's my life." (HarperCollins, $21.95)
by Susan Sloate
While this book about the childhoods of some famous players is intended (or youngsters in the 10—12 range, adult fans may learn something too.
Sloate, a contributor to Baseball Card News, engagingly recounts, among other things, an early manifestation of Ty Cobb's competitiveness (he beat up a fifth-grade classmate for making a spelling bee error) and Jackie Robinson's touching relationship with his older brother Mack (who placed second to Jesse Owens in the 200-meter dash at the '36 Olympics).
There's too much filler, though, such as an irrelevant picture of an adult Cy Young captioned, "Cy Young is the only pitcher in history to win 200 or more games in both leagues." (He's not even one of the players profiled.) Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo's 1990 book, Little Big Leaguers (Simon and Schuster), has better photos of modem big leaguers as kids. Still, Sloate spins a telling anecdote and writes intelligently, never patronizing her audience. (Sports Illustrated for Kids, $17.95)
PEANUTS AND CRACKERJACK by David Cataneo A Boston writer salutes the best thing this side of a triple—the baseball anecdote. (Rutledge Hill, $18.95)
THE HOME RUN HEARD 'ROUND THE WORLD by Ray Robinson A New Yorker studies the dramatic 1951 Dodger-Giant playoff. (HarperCollins, $19.95)
TOTAL BASEBALL Edited by John Thorn and Pete Palmer The Baseball Encyclopedia is more wieldy, but this volume is a mass of data, including such meretricious neo-statistical notions as the League-Average Replacement Player—basically a player who is more average than anyone else. (Warner, $49.95)
FIELDER'S CHOICE by Rick Norman A first novel tracks a man's journey from Arkansas to the majors to World War II. (August House, $17.95)
THE CUBS READER Edited by David Falk and Dan Riley An anthology on Chicago's beloved bumblers has a piece by the nerdiest of diamond scribes, George Will. (Houghton Mifflin, paper, $9.95)
EXTRA INNINGS by David Whitford A free-lancer chronicles the 1989—90 winter league for semi-old-timers. (HarperCollins, $19.95)
ON A CLEAR DAY THEY COULD SEE SEVENTH PLACE by George Robinson and Charles Salzberg Browns fans, arise! Your heroes aren't represented in this book on history's worst teams—but the '52 Pirates and '88 Orioles are. (Dell, paper, $8.95)
- Lorenzo Carcaterra,
- Ralph Novak,
- Dick Friedman.