A rash of baseball books read between games and even during commercial breaks.
Wild Pitches – Jayson Stark
Stark has been one of ESPN’s baseball ‘insiders’ and columnists for nearly two decades, and had been covering baseball nationally long before that. This is a collection of his favorite columns from his ESPN years. I should have read the back cover and realized that before I checked it out. I thought it would be more a collection of his thoughts on baseball with a few columns sprinkled in. I’m not a huge fan of his writing style, so I didn’t love it.
A Great And Glorious Game – A. Bartlett Giamatti
A must read for any baseball fan, especially his essay on the end of the season, “The Green Fields of the Mind.”
Bob Feller’s Little Black Book of Baseball Wisdom – Bob Feller with Burton Rocks
Another very slim book that seemed perfect for passing time between innings. In brief sections Feller shared memories of his career, his thoughts on pretty much every aspect of the game, and life in general.
It’s a hoot, a term I believe Feller would approve of. Although published in 2001, it feels like it was written in the 1950s when Feller was still playing. Which is both great and terrible. It’s great because it harkens back to that mythical golden age of baseball when every red-blooded American boy dreamed of nothing other than playing in the World Series. It’s terrible because it feels hopelessly dated (Feller insists any woman that has children should stay home, because the best thing you can do for a child is be home when they get home from school).
And his co-writer did not do him many favors in cleaning up the content. A good editor could have been useful. There are so many inane observations and explanations. For example, when writing about Jimmy Foxx, “He died fairly young and his nickname “Double X” was because his last name had two x’s in it.”
Really? I would not have figured out that’s how he got his nickname. And Feller is always “deeply saddened” about the death of every player who came before him, or played with him. At one point he simply throws in a sentence about the daughter of a friend that has no context to the paragraph that surrounds it. Sloppy work.
But then there are the wacky, 1950s-ish sayings that made me laugh out loud. Like this one, for example: “I see a lot of advertisements on how to pick up five or ten miles per hour on a fastball by going to a certain clinic. Not true! It’s a lot of malarkey.”
Malarkey! Love it.
The Guerrilla Factory – Tony Schwalm
Finally, a book that was most assuredly not about baseball. I saw this one on a shelf in the library and it touched on a childhood fascination with the US special forces. Here Schwalm tells his story, from his days as a tank officer in the US Army in the mid–1980s through his efforts to become a Green Beret over the next decade or so. It’s a pretty interesting journey.
What made this book good was that Schwalm was an English major in college. I wouldn’t say it is high literature, but it’s quite well written. And although he has spent his entire adult life in the military and has a great love for the service, his educational background separates him from the average jarhead. He wasn’t just in the Army to blow things up, and was drawn to the Green Berets by the community building efforts they often have to do on the ground. His one deployment as a Green Beret was not behind enemy lines but rather in Haiti in the 1990s as the country was disintegrating. The troops he commanded prevented local militias from causing chaos, but also helped build basic facilities in villages, helped to settle disputes, rescued dozens during a terrible flood, and generally provided stability to an area that desperately needed it.
When I was 11 or 12, I thought I wanted to be a Green Beret after I found some of my uncle’s old National Guard gear packed away in my grandparents’ attic. That’s pretty laughable looking back. But after reading Schwalm’s accountings of the brutal training soldiers have to go through to earn their Green Beret, it’s even more ridiculous to imagine me trying to do that.
- Why I made the jump from National Guard to special forces, I can not explain. ↩