Play ball – or just read about it

| October 28, 2011 | 0 Comments

For baseball fans, October means the playoffs and the World Series, and the timing is perfect for the release of new baseball movies and books. I’ve been hearing about The “Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach, said to combine a love of baseball with a love of literature—that works for me! “Moneyball,” published in 2003, was great—fascinating and well-written edge-of-your-seat stuff even if you know the ending, even if you aren’t a baseball fan. But now the movie is out, and I’m not sure how much I want to see Brad Pitt throwing tantrums and flinging file cabinets in the role of Oakland Athletics’ manager Billy Beane.

Books written about baseball are as plentiful as fly balls to center field, regaling readers with history and lore, fish stories and anecdotes, scandals from the fixing of the 1919 World Series to the current steroid exposés. Sports writing can be flatfooted, mind-numbing, corny and clichéd—consider the recent tsunami of biographies and ghost-written autobiographies—but in the right hands it can soar out of the park. Writers like Roger Angell and Ring Lardner portray the pathos and the poetry of the game and can bring a tear to the eye or roll-on-the-floor hoots of laughter. Lardner’s 1916 masterpiece, “You Know Me Al,” caught the attention and admiration of none other Virginia Woolf, who thought that he captured what she found fresh and unique about American writing.

Woolf acknowledged baseball as an American tradition, but forty years before it was ostensibly invented in the U.S., Jane Austen describes the tomboyish protagonist of “Northanger Abbey as preferring “cricket, base ball, riding on horseback, and running about the country” in 1798 Regency England. So it appears that our national sport’s birth in Cooperstown, New York in 1839 is a spurious claim, a slice of the myth created in part by Mr. Spalding of bat and glove fame. But then we didn’t invent motherhood or apple pie, either.

My fellow Presidio Sentinel columnist, George Mitrovich, appreciates and practices good baseball writing—he had a terrific piece here a few months ago about being in Boston with his beloved Red Sox. I enjoyed his evocative account except when he claimed that the Red Sox have a greater following than any other team. Say it ain’t so, George. When the Yankees played here in 2004, there were more Yankee than Padres fans in the stands, and it’s that way wherever the Yankees play, except maybe in Boston. Can I prove it? No. But neither can you disapprove it. That was George’s line too. At this writing we don’t know which teams will be in the playoffs, though it’s a certainty the Padres won’t be one of them. Both the Yankees and Red Sox are likely, if not mathematically assured, and if the two teams should meet in the American League championship game, George and I will be in opposing camps but collegially so.

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Category: Entertainment

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