Picks and Pans Review: Baseball Anecdotes

updated 07/10/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/10/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Daniel Okrent and Steve Wulf

The game of baseball is as much theater as it is sport. There is high drama—the sixth game of the Boston-Cincinnati 1975 World Series; Roger Maris hitting his 61st home run off a Jack Fisher hanging curve. There is tragedy—Tony Conigliaro taking a fastball to the face, losing vision in one eye, a great career ended.

And there is humor—the speeches of Casey Stengel, the antics of Bo Bolinsky, the understated logic of Choo Choo Coleman, a mediocre catcher who was once asked by Hall of Fame outfielder-turned-announcer Ralph Kiner, "What's your wife's name and what's she like?"

"Her name is Mrs. Coleman and she likes me," Choo Choo said.

Finally, as with all good theater, there's a colorful batch of homegrown characters who hold the puzzle in place, from Reggie Jackson to Stan the Man to Alexander Joy Cartwright, the long-bearded, long-winded bank clerk and volunteer fireman credited with inventing baseball (sorry about that, Abner Doubleday).

Baseball Anecdotes makes fine use of all these elements as it traces the sport from its disorderly early days to the free agent, four-division, prime-time present. The authors (Okrent is the editor of New England Monthly, Wulf is a senior editor at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED) selected their anecdotal targets with an experienced eye. Aside from a few annoying typos (one on the first page), the book is a joy for those fans who are never saturated with baseball lore. A perfect between-innings book, it will bring smiles to any devoted fan:

"A radio interviewer once told Yogi Berra before a broadcast, 'We're going to do free association. I'm going to throw out a few names, and you just say the first thing that pops into your mind.'

" 'Okay,' said Berra.

"On the air, the announcer said, 'I'm here tonight with Yogi Berra, and we're going to play free association. I'm going to mention a name, and Yogi's just going to say the first thing that comes to mind. Okay, Yogi?'

" 'Okay.'

" 'All right, here we go then. Mickey Mantle.'

" 'What about him?' said Berra."

So play ball: This is a lively book about a priceless sport. (Oxford, $18.95)

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