Sunday, June 20, 2010

For Dad's day, a list of best-ever baseball books

It's Father's Day, and baseball season is in full swing. While kids may be thinking "gee, my dad always can use another tie," Dad may enjoy a good book while the kids are splashing in the pool (and before he has to fire up the barbeque). From Levi Asher's Literary Kicks website, here's a selection of baseball books for Dad that teens may like, too. Look for these on Amazon and World Catalog by using the search boxes here on BookBag -- and maybe give Dad a break from the grill today.

Bang the Drum Slowly, by Mark Harris: The story of a smart pitcher and his dumb, ill-fated catcher, this novel will draw tears from even the hardest-hearted Yankees fans. Any of Harris’s baseball novels are worth reading -- The Southpaw, Ticket for a Steamstitch -- but this one will make you cry. The closing pages of Bang the Drum Slowly rank right up there with The Great Gatsby in my personal literary ballpark. "From here on in, I rag nobody.” It’s one of the few great baseball books made into a good movie, starring Robert DeNiro and Michael Moriarty.

Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings by Bill Brashler: Though fiction, this novel accurately depicts life on the Negro League barnstorming circuit during the bleakest days of segregated baseball. The book is dedicated to Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, and Cool Papa Bell, three of the best players in history, who also appear in the story. John Badham actually made a pretty decent movie out of this, starring James Earl Jones and Richard Pryor, in 1976. It’s probably the most truthful portrait of a barnstorming team in the days of segregated baseball.

The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. by Robert Coover: A proto-Rotisserie League set in Dante’s Inferno, Coover’s book is disturbing in all the right ways. Henry Waugh is a paunchy Everyman whose real life is falling asunder, so each night he retreats into a fantasy baseball game he’d originally invented to kill some time. As he begins to invest his emotions upon every outcome, the game takes over his life like a psychological kudzu and, well, you can guess the rest.

A False Spring by Pat Jordan: A minor league pitcher confronts the weighty issues of existence and gets the hell beat out of him by Elrod Hendricks in the bargain. Jordan bases this remarkable novel on his own experience as a promising pitcher in the Braves organization. The title refers to the collapse of that promise, as the cruel arm of fate tosses him some unhittable curveballs, all of this beneath the impossibly huge skies of McCook, Nebraska.

You Know Me, Al: A Busher’s Letters by Ring Lardner, Jr.: Until the Black Sox scandal, Lardner was baseball’s biggest, most perceptive fan. These fictional letters, first serialized in Chicago newspapers in the second decade of the 20th century have his patented ear and eye, among the greatest in literature. Written in the form of letters from rookie pitcher Jack Keefe to his pal Al back in Indiana, this novel is his finest. Keefe was an American original, noted critic Jonathan Yardley -- who wrote a superb biography of Lardner -- whose “expression of the vernacular ... had a lasting effect on the way American writers describe American talk.” Lardner published an entertaining sequel to this book called Alibi Ike.

The Natural by Bernard Malamud: Even though Malamud was swinging for the metaphysical fences with this novel -- attempting, as he did in all of his fiction, to pit good against evil -- he got enough of the idiom and the action right to have come damn close to the perfect morality play. A bat called Wonderboy carved from a tree cloven by a thunderbolt?

The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant by Douglas Wallop: Inspiration for Broadway’s Damn Yankees, this old yarn hits all the right diehard fan buttons. Joe Hardy arrives out for nowhere, two years after Malamud’s Roy Hobbs did the same thing in The Natural. Only Wallop’s book has a happy ending. That is, Joe Hardy -- er, Boyd -- is reunited with his long-suffering wife, but more importantly, the damn Yankees lose the pennant to the pitiful Washington Senators.

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