Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Reading by the Pool

One of the best parts of these yearly trips to Mom's in Florida is the time it affords to catch up on reading. With a new business and with life in general, there isn't time to read which is still one of the Fan's favorite activities. Besides the two novels that were just fine, several baseball books have happily passed the time. Here are some thoughts they provoked.

The first of the books poured through was a ten year old book from Joe Garagiola. It was an enjoyable read though some of the old catcher's humor can be hokey. But if nothing else, the book brought to mind all the wonderful years Garagiola partnered with Curt Gowdy and then Vin Scully on the Saturday games of the week. How much better those guys were than anything we have now. Garagiola was like an old friend when he did the broadcast. He made you smile, but he also taught you a lot about the game. And since he wasn't a Hall of Fame player, he didn't have a chip on his shoulder like so many of today's color guys (ahem Joe Morgan).

It was personally disappointing when Garagiola used his baseball broadcasting career to springboard to NBC's Today show and then game shows that he hosted. It seemed demeaning for a baseball guy. But in retrospect, the guy was trying to make a living and you can't blame him. But one thing is for sure, after listening to several games with Ken Harrelson and Steve Stone for WGN or Tommy Hutton for the Marlins, Garagiola's broadcasts are sorely missed.

Next up was another older book by Fay Vincent. It had to be an older book because the guy is dead isn't he? Whoa. Better look that up. Oops! He's alive and the book was from 2007. Anyway, Vincent compiled a fascinating book where several players from the 1930s and 1940s who told their own story much like an oral history. To hear (read) those stories from those old-time players was a joy.

After that was the Larry Tye book, Satchel Paige: The Life and Times of an American Legend. This 2009 book was a much anticipated read and it did not disappoint. Growing up in the 60s and 70s, Satchel was still a mythic legend. he pitched that one game in 1965 when he was 59 years old (he pitched three shutout innings!) but that was before the days of instant highlights and recap shows and Internet feeds. So most of us never saw it. In fact, the Fan went to YouTube.com to see if any old footage existed there on old Satchel and there was only one really short clip which didn't really give you the idea of how good he was.

Tye did a solid job of telling a complete story about Paige without sugar-coating his personal weaknesses or over-hyping his accomplishments. The story made the reader wish he could be transported back in time to see one of those games when Satchel Paige was the best pitcher in America who didn't get a shot at the major leagues until he was 42 years old.

The author also accomplished his mission of emphasizing that Satchel Paige made what happened with Jackie Robinson in 1947 possible. Tye showed us how Paige had elevated the Negro Leagues to a degree that in many cases, their games were out drawing the major leagues. Robinson's legacy was as much about economics for Branch Rickey as it was about advancing black players.

The one stumbling block concerning the book is that Tye spend hundreds of pages showing how Paige overcame the prejudice and awfulness of his times. But twice in Tye's description of Paige, he exposed his own inner prejudices. One time, Tye described Paige's arms as hanging below his knees (they did not) and another time states that it seemed that Paige's hands dragged on the ground when he walked. The Fan doesn't know about you, but those two descriptions are demeaning and almost compromised everything Tye was trying to accomplish.

All in all, though, Satchel Paige is a tremendous read and highly recommended.

Next up, the Fan is about a third of the way through James S. Hirsch's, Willie Mays: The Life and Times. It's another fascinating book and the Fan is just up to 1951 and Willie's rookie season. The contrast between Paige and Mays is striking. Paige made his own way and used his talent and his legend to make more money than many of the great white players of his day. Mays was born at the right time where he only had to play in the Negro Leagues for two years and could showcase his talents in the majors at a young age. The Fan can't wait to read the rest of it.

Baseball books are such fun because they connect the present game with its historic past. The tomes, when well done, flesh out legends so they are more tangible. When really well done, the past comes alive and you can almost taste it.

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