THE AMERICAN WEST (mostly): Fact and Fiction (mostly fiction)

"NOBODY GETS TO BE A COWBOY FOREVER." -- Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) in MONTE WALSH (NG, 1970)

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Tis the season!  No, not those seasons.  I’m talking about the MLB postseason. 

I’m not the fanatical fan (fan being derived from fanatic) I once was. Free agency (an overdue and absolute necessity) means that players jump from one team to another resulting in less team continuity which in turns makes it virtually impossible to root for players for the entirety of their careers (I’m looking at you Albert Pujols). To further shore up my credentials as a fan of dinosaur vintage, I will add that I don’t like the DH, interleague play or, especially, the newly instituted instant replay appeal rule, which sometimes brings an already slow game to a complete standstill.

Stanley Frank Musial: Classic stance and classy guy
I say all this in order to say that I still have a nostalgic delight in the team (Cardinals, of course) and the games they played in the past.  My first hero was Stan Musial.  Because in my youth we lived too far away to attend games and the team was never featured on TV’s Game of the Week, my picture of Stan the Man was one created by voices on the radio.  And what voices they were.  It is hard to imagine, but there was a time when Harry Caray, Joe Garagiola, and Jack Buck were in the same broadcast booth.  I don’t know how it held them.

In later years, I moved closer to St. Louis and was able to attend games on a regular basis.  But by that time, however, Stan had been retired for a decade and I was too old for sports heroes.  But I sure did admire a couple of Redbirds by the name of Gibson and Brock and later a wizard at shortstop named Ozzie.




Today I am a more passive, more detached follower of the exploits of the Cardinals.  At the moment, they have a slender lead in their division as they attempt to return to the World Series to avenge the loss to the Red Sox a year ago.  But if it happens, it won’t be against the Red Sox, a team that fell from first to last in its division and has engaged in a fire sale this season ridding itself of players and slicing its payroll. 

I own over a hundred baseball books and who knows how many I have actually read.  I certainly don’t.

If you are interested, and of course you are, here is a list of my favorite baseball books.  On the list are ten nonfiction books and one novel (baseball fiction for the most part has not been great).  They are listed in no special order, except for the first, which is number one on my list.

Gibby v. Mickey, October 1964

October 1964David Halberstam

This account of a year featuring a young team (Cardinals) on its way up and an old team (Yankees) on its way down is a jewel written by an outstanding journalist.  Like all good baseball books, it is about much more than just baseball.

Ball FourJim Bouton

This groundbreaking tell all book shocked many people and made many people angry (especially the Yankees).  I loved it! Bouton wrote an enjoyable follow-up titled “I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally.”  Bouton, by the way, was one of the stars of the ’64 Yankees team that was defeated by the Cardinals.

The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood -- Jane Leavy

This book proves one of two things: as outrageous as Bouton’s book was thought to be at the time, he 1) didn’t tell everything he knew or 2) he didn’t know everything.  And Leavy’s book proves it. Mantle’s story is a sad, sad story of what-could-have-been and what-should-have-been.

Southern League: A True Story of Baseball, Civil Rights, and the Deep South's Most Compelling Pennant Race Larry Colton

This book by a former pro player is as inspirational as Leavy’s book is sad.  It is too bad that it is not better known, for it should be read, by not only baseball fans, but also everyone.  You can read a review here. 

 The 33-Year-Old Rookie – Chris Coste

Coste’s story of how after many, many years of toil in the minor leagues, he finally managed to make it to the big leagues at an age when many players have already retired or are seriously contemplating it.  He stayed there four years.

Hank Aaron and the Home Run that Changed America Tom Stanton
The long title pretty well tells the story of a great player, but more than that, a great man.  As far as I am concerned, he is still the career leader in home runs.

The Curse of Rocky Colavito: A Loving Look at a Thirty-Year Slump  Terry Pluto
A humorous, but often sad, especially for Cleveland fans, account of the strange, sometimes tragic, bordering on unbelievable bad luck of the Indians and their fans in the wake of Colavito’s trade to the Tigers.

A Day in the Bleachers – Arnold Hano
A play-by-play account of a World Series game at the Polo Grounds in which a young outfielder by the name of Willie Mays made one of the most spectacular catches in baseball history and broke the hearts of the Cleveland Indians and their fans, written by someone who was there. And this was before the Colavito trade.  Maybe this is where the jinx began.

The Boys of Summer  Roger Kahn
The classic account of the Brooklyn Dodgers of the ’50’s, written by a man that many have anointed as the best baseball writer ever.

1941 – The Greatest Year in Sports Mike Vaccaro
It was not a great year in all ways, of course. In fact, in many ways it was a tragic year.  But the title is correct and baseball was front and center.  It was the year that Joe DiMaggio hit safely in a record 56 consecutive games and Ted Williams hit .406.  Nobody since has come close to DiMaggio’s record and Williams is still the last hitter to top .400.
Bang the Drum Slowly Mark Harris

Mark Harris wrote a number of baseball novels all of which were narrated by a pitcher named Henry Wiggen who threw and thought left-handed.  They are all worth reading, but this is the best one.  As far as I am concerned, it is the classic baseball novel.

The Whiz Kids had won it,
Bobby Thomson had done it,
And Yogi read the comics all the while.
Rock 'n' roll was bein' born,
Marijuana we would scorn,
So down on the corner the National Pastime went on trial.

We're talkin' baseball (Kluzewski, Campanella),
Talkin' baseball (The Man and Bobby Feller),
The Scooter, The Barber and The Newk,
They knew 'em all from Boston to Dubuque,
Especially Willie, Mickey and The Duke.

Well Casey was winnin',
Hank Aaron was beginnin',
One Robby goin' out, one comin' in.
Kiner an' midget Gaedel,
The Thumper an' Mel Parnell,
An' Ike was the only one winnin' down in Washington.

We're talkin' baseball (Kluzewski, Campanella),
Talkin' baseball (The Man and Bobby Feller),
The Scooter, The Barber and The Newk,
They knew 'em all from Boston to Dubuque,
Especially Willie, Mickey and The Duke.

Now my old friend The Bachelor,
Well he swore he was The Oklahoma Kid,
An' Cookie played hookey to go an' see The Duke,
An' me I always love Willie Mays,
Those were the days.

Well now it's the eighties,
An' Brett is the greatest,
An' Bobby Bonds can play for everyone.
Rose is at the Vet,
Rusty again is a Met,
An' the great Alexander is pitchin' again in Washington.

I'm talkin' baseball (like Reggie, Quisenberry),
Talkin' baseball (Carew an' Gaylord Perry),
Seaver, Garvey, Schmidt an' Vida Blue,
If Cooperstown is callin' it's no fluke,
They'll be with Willie, Mickey an' The Duke.

Willie, Mickey an' The Duke,..
(Say Hey! Say Hey! Say Hey!)
It was Willie, Mickey an' The Duke,..
(Say Hey! Say Hey! Say Hey!)
I'm talkin' Willie, Mickey an' The Duke,..
(Say Hey! Say Hey! Say Hey!)

-- Terry Cashman

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