I came out of the closet last week. At least in Pittsburgh fashion. I’m not a Steeler’s fan, I don’t bleed Black & Gold and I wouldn’t put a mini Polamalu jersey on my Labradoodle or Yorkie – if I had one or the other, or any other pet for that matter. I’ve lived this lie for the 21 years my wife and I have lived here. I fake my Sundays between August and January and it has to stop. My wife grew up with Big 10 Football and went to a Big 10 school for undergrad, she’s an honest fan. So’s my daughter who was born here and has only known the Steelers, that’s her choice. I won’t pretend anymore though. Rest assured, it’s not about the Steelers or some other team; it’s about Baseball.
I grew up on Long Island, about 45 minutes from midtown on the LIRR (Long Island Railroad) and 15 minutes from Shea Stadium by the same train. When I was born, there wasn’t National League baseball in NY – it had gone west a year earlier. (The three most evil people in the world? – Hitler, Stalin, Walter Alston.) My parents were both from Brooklyn and the Dodger strain ran deep. I grew up with the Mets and by extension their National League opponents. If there were must see games back then, it was the Giants and/or Dodgers for sentimental love/hate reasons (and always to see Willie Mays,) the Cubs because it was Chicago – the second city, and the Bucs because man for man they were usually the most talented team that came to town. The Yankees? They were the humorless also-rans from the Bronx. If Pittsburgh looks north with disdain to Cleveland, so too do the Children of Kings (County) look up the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway) and the Bruckner to the borough that serves as a gateway to Upstate.
Why now? That’s easy. DID YOU watch any of the World Series? It was poetry; it was Agatha Christie without a solution until it happened. It was unadulterated fun to not see the usual suspects; no Yankees or Red Sox, no Atlanta or Philly. It was mostly well-played, well executed baseball until Texas’ pitching collapsed in Game 7. More than that, it was just fun to watch or even listen too. It reminded me – some 20 years and 2 kids later – why we chose Pittsburgh over other cities. The tie-breaker between here and some other places (including Baltimore) became “Does it have major league baseball?” Pittsburgh won because it had National League vs. Baltimore’s American League with its flawed Designated Hitter accommodation. It may have been something subliminal too; who did the Miracle Mets soundly thrash in 1969? The same Orioles the Bucs whupped in both 1971 and 1979.
Just remember: Pitchers and Catchers report in 104 days (not counting today.) In the meantime . . . to tide you over until then.
The best game ever : Pirates vs. Yankees : October 13, 1960 / Jim Reisler – How can you not include the game in the Series with the most dramatic conclusion in baseball.
“Whoever was up at the time was the team you thought was going to win.”
Ball Four : the final pitch / Jim Bouton – The first and best baseball tell-all. It makes the game and the players real. Their sins? – nothing like steroids and shaved bats.
“The word on Tim McCarver of the Cards was that Sandy Koufax struck him out on letter-high fastballs. Which is great advice if you can throw letter-high fastballs like Koufax could.”
Men at work : the craft of baseball / George F. Will – Will gets the experts of the day to expound on how mastering the fundamentals takes more than just physical prowess. Among the interviewees, Tony La Russa of the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.
“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.”
Can’t anybody here play this game? / Jimmy Breslin – Breslin, an irascible writer if there ever was one, recounts the first miserable season of the awful, incomparable and unabashedly loved 1962 NY Mets.
“So the Mets started with the worst pitching, backed by the most deplorable infield and outfield, ever assembled on a single diamond.”
Willie’s time : a memoir / by Charles Einstein – My personal favorite. A well written overview of the grandest period in baseball with Mays as the constant, against 25 years of contemporary American history and current events.
“Branca, taking the mound, threw a called strike past Thompson. Sitting there without premonition, I watched Thompson swing at the next pitch, and out it tracked toward the left-field stands.“
The Last icon: Tom Seaver and his times / Stephen Travers (Ebook only) – Overall a good, fast read. What I truly enjoyed here were the recounting of games, especially during the 1969 and 1973 seasons that I distinctly remember listening to, watching, or attending. Travers gets a little lost in the book, elevating Tom Terrific a little too high, even for my tastes, and bringing in extraneous or marginal baseball issues instead of staying on topic.
“Swoboda rolled, displayed the glove to the umpire who made the out call, and in one motion came up throwing home to try to nab Frank Robinson.”
Summer of ’49 / David Halberstam – Baseball has finally returned to some post-war, post integration normalcy, and “the” rivalry is about to emerge, personified by the respective excellence of Joe Dimaggio for the Yankees and Ted WIlliams of the Red Sox in one of the greatest pennant races of any era.
“The crowd of 35,000 rose as one to give the star outfielder of the hated Yankees a standing ovation.”
Baseball [videorecording] / a film by Ken Burns – A fantastic 10 DVD set that reintroduces you to everything about baseball, from the beginning. The original release concluded in the mid 90s when we still (naively) thought Bonds, Sosa and McGwire had cleanly reinvigorated the game. Since then, additional content brings the viewer through the 2009 season (Yankees beating Phillies in 6.)
“It is played everywhere . . . by small boys and old men.”