by Ted Cox
I can't say it's been a wonderful spring for new baseball books, even allowing for last year's The Art of Fielding. I'm already on record admiring Chad Harbach's first novel as a work of contemporary fiction, but dismissing it as a baseball book (too damn mystic for my tastes). Mike Miner's wonderful dissection of a recent Atlantic hatchet job on the book is highly recommended, however.
No, I've been spending the spring with Baseball: A Literary Anthology, a 2002 entry from the redoubtable Library of America, edited by Nicholas Dawidoff, which I picked up recently on what might have been my last visit to Evanston's Bookman's Alley—although I take it it's still hanging on for the time being.
The collection is a fitting successor to The Fireside Book of Baseball, which I have in a 1956 edition edited by Charles Einstein. They share many pieces, of course, such as Franklin P. Adams's "Baseball's Sad Lexicon," which immortalized the Cubs' double-play combo of Tinker, Evers, and Chance, as well as Heywood Broun's enduring game lead from the 1923 World Series ("The Ruth is mighty and shall prevail"), but the new collection digs a little deeper. I was stunned by the quality of "Baseball as the Bleachers Like It," a 1909 piece by Charles E. Van Loan that could run as a Bleader item today if it didn't concern long-dead immortals like Ty Cobb and Hal Chase. Van Loan went on to edit Ring Lardner at the Saturday Evening Post, resulting in the items that became You Know Me Al, still one of the great baseball novels, and one increasingly overlooked in the present day.
That's the place to start with baseball books, before moving on to The Southpaw, Mark Harris's first Henry "Author" Wiggen novel, and Jim Bouton's Ball Four, an essential text debunking the sport's whole star ethos, and Lawrence Ritter's Glory of Their Times, which all but created the oral-history format and remains at the top of the genre.
There, that's enough of a reading list to carry a baseball fan well into the summer.