Even thought we’ve already had an Eleventh Stack blog about our winning baseball team in this Steel City, it’s so rare that the major sports news in October should be about anything but the Pittsburgh Steelers. I felt that another post highlighting one of our other black & gold teams–the Pittsburgh Pirates–wouldn’t be overkill, but a tribute to their great season.
This post-season of the Pirates is the team’s first since moving into their new home on the North Shore, just blocks from the Allegheny branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Their level of play this season has been enough to get even the fairest weather of fans behind this team that has a heart as big as the rubber duck docked along the Allegheny River. Personally, I’m thrilled with their success this year, since my family was convinced that both my move to Pittsburgh twenty-one years ago, as well as my inter-rival-city marriage (Cleveland v. Pittsburgh) which took place the same day as the last post-season home game in the Pirates’ modern history, had something to do with this alleged curse on the Pirates. No matter how long this post-season play lasts for the Buccos and their fans, the thrills and intricacies of baseball can last beyond October with some great reads for all ages. Many of these are favorites amongst the rabid baseball fans in my own household.
It’s impossible to recommend any baseball books for Pittsburgh fans without talking about two of our baseball greats: Roberto Clemente and Honus Wagner, who both provide a great deal of literary fodder. Fellow Eleventh Stack blogger, Scott, has listed several great reads, including 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente. The Pride of Puerto Rico: The Life of Roberto Clemente, by Paul Robert Walker, is another great avenue for younger readers to learn about this baseball player and humanitarian. Bruce Markusen’s Roberto Clemente: The Great One is often the go-to tome of the right fielder for adult readers. It will soon be obvious to readers of any Clemente biography why Pittsburgh has a bridge named after the Hall-of-Famer, and Major League Baseball annually awards players who model Clemente’s work on and off the field.
Honus Wagner is another famed Pirate and he is honored in children’s literature through Dan Gutman’s Honus and Me, the first in an historical fiction, time travel series tied to the thrill of collecting baseball cards. In real life, Honus Wagner baseball cards are as coveted as the fictional Willy Wonka Golden Ticket. Gutman uses this rarity as the jumping off point for his children’s book series which goes on to introduce the subjects of racism and women in non-traditional female roles in subsequent titles.
Speaking of female roles, and since I’m the lone female in my household, I would like to take this opportunity to recommend some other titles which either highlight their role in baseball history or are characters in some great baseball literature. For the younger set, and a book I relished reading to my young sons to highlight the importance of women in baseball, check out Sue Macy’s A Whole New Ball Game. If you or your children aren’t aware of the role women played by continuing the tradition of baseball during World War II, when male baseball players were hard to come by due to the war, this is a great introduction to that era of baseball history.
Shirley Wong is one of my favorite female characters in kids’ historical fiction. A Chinese immigrant to Brooklyn, New York, Shirley learns English and how to acclimate to her new world thanks to the Brooklyn Dodgers and Jackie Robinson, in Betty Bao Lord’s In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. While my colleagues and I might tend to recommend the Lupicas and Christophers when it comes to sports fiction for kids, this is one of many non-traditional characters in baseball stories we can point young readers to.
The women in Bernard Malamud’s The Natural and W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe (you might know this one as the movie Field of Dreams) are no shrinking violets. The main female characters in these novels really get into the heads of the baseball-obsessed men in their lives, for good or for bad. And as it turns out, maybe the men aren’t the only ones obsessed with this sport and the drama it can bring to one’s life. If you only know these titles from their movie presence, I would highly recommend that you read the poetry these authors have created in bringing baseball to life on the printed page.
Many of these titles share space on the shelves in my home library, but there are many copies available for borrowing through the library’s Next Generation Catalog. In fact, I just used the catalog to put a title on my own holds list. I’ve recently been introduced to another female in baseball lore, Effa Manley, who apparently played a pivotal role throughout the history of Negro League Baseball, in which Pittsburgh played a huge role with its own Crawfords and Homestead Grays. The biography, The Most Famous Woman in Baseball: Effa Manley and the Negro Leagues, by Bob Luke, is the next baseball read that I can’t wait to get started on. However, it may have to wait until BUCtober is over, because for now, the Pittsburgh Pirates are holding most of my attention.
These are just a few of the multitude of baseball books available to any reader who wants to read more beyond the statistics and standings of the regular season play. The post-season will soon come to an end, and regardless of how the Buccos finish off, there can be plenty of baseball to keep any reader occupied until spring training picks up again next February.