Classic review: The Armchair Book of Baseball
Let the games begin!
[The Monitor occasionally reprints material from its archives. This review originally ran on Nov. 20, 1985.] There's a rumor spread about by scientists and songwriters that the days grow short as you reach September, November, and on through the winter months. Baseball fans know this isn't true.Skip to next paragraph
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For them, the longest days of the year stretch maddeningly from October's final game right through the following April, when the games resume....
I've found The Armchair Book of Baseball edited by John Thorn to be a truly miscellaneous anthology weighted toward the best baseball writing of the past 20 years and determined, as its editor emphasizes, to avoid duplicating the contents of the standard anthology in the field: Charles Einstein's three-volume "Fireside Book[s] of Baseball'' (1956-68).
Mr. Thorn includes 61 prose and verse selections arranged alphabetically by author. There's a great deal of assorted commentary and humor, not all of it equally interesting. Scientist Stephen Jay Gould explains `"The Extinction of the .400 Hitter'' memorably and succinctly (". . . the boundaries of baseball have been drawn in and its edges smoothed. The game has achieved a grace and precision of execution that has, as one effect, eliminated the extreme achievements of early years'').
Other writers look to "extreme achievers'' of the past, in such vivid pieces as Gay Talese's profile of Joe DiMaggio in retirement ("The Silent Season of a Hero''); Thomas Boswell's insouciant evaluation of "Mr. October,'' Reggie Jackson; and Red Smith's tribute to Howard Ehmke, the unlikely veteran hero of the 1929 World Series.
Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First'' comedy routine comes across surprisingly well on the printed page, and Russell Baker's imaginary interview with Yankees' president George Steinbrenner (on the subject of firing employees) is wryly amusing. But few readers will find anything funny in the labored "Quotations from Chairman Pete [Rose],'' or much worth preserving in the boring, overheated prose of the late celebrity-sportswriter Jimmy Cannon.