For baseball readers, the season's pennant-winning books
The days are dwindling down to a precious few, and we'll soon be faced with the unpleasant reality of several months without baseball. How best to cope, and remember, through the long gray days ahead? Well, here's a sampling of the past year's baseball books - fuel for the baseball addict's imagination, and sustenance to help us through our forced hibernation.
The Wrong Stuff, by Bill Lee with Dick Lally (Viking, $15.95), is the maverick southpaw's story of his career up to, during, and since the time when he was the major leagues' resident eccentric player. Predictably opinionated and funny, and often obscene, the book abounds with references to Zen, assorted interstellar theories, and other arcana - and also, fortunately, with vivid anecdotes that give a memorable impression of ''the Spaceman's'' defiantly unconventional personality. Best of all, there's a lively account of the great 1975 World Series.
There's nostalgia and much more in Ty Cobb (Oxford, New York, $16.95), Charles C. Alexander's flavorful biography of the Detroit Tiger immortal, whose lifetime record of 4,191 hits will be excelled some time next year by Pete Rose, who is, oddly, like Cobb himself, a brash, abrasive, hell-for-leather player who excites as much dislike as admiration. This is a warts-and-all portrayal that effectively re-creates the way baseball was played early in this century. It unforgettably conveys Cobb's sullenness, jealousy, and violence - and, for all its damning evidence against him, elicits our respect for baseball's ''most fiercely competitive spirit.''
In another excellent biography, Stengel: His Life and Times (Simon & Schuster , New York, $16.95), Robert W. Creamer surveys the long career of the ''Old Perfesser,'' whose immortality was earned, not just by managing the New York Yankees to five consecutive World Series titles (1949-53), but also by his later tenure as field general of the fledgling New York Mets, whose ''perverse popularity'' offered a curiously appropriate parallel to Casey's gradual climb to folk-hero status. Creamer wonderfully re-creates Stengel's career as a player (he was a fine one), and contributes definitive retellings of all the deathless Stengel stories - including Casey's never-to-be-forgotten testimony in 1958 before a US Senate subcommittee on antitrust and monopoly. This is a virtually perfect baseball book, one of the best of its kind since Creamer's biography ''Babe'' (1971).
Baseball (Abrams, New York, $35) is a sumptuous coffeetable production. It matches an eloquent valedictory text on ''the great alterations that baseball has undergone in my lifetime,'' written by the indispensable Roger Angell, with 100-plus wonderful photographic images that are the work of Walter Iooss Jr., a former Sports Illustrated staff photographer. Angell's contribution is, of course, more than competent, but it's Iooss's pictures - action shots and stills catching players in quiet moments, recordings of home-plate collisions, and scenes capturing the shapes and lines and shadows of various stadiums or the faces of variously delighted or affronted fans - that make this book a welcome addition to the baseball library.
Finally, there is the welcome (indeed necessary) reissue of Lawrence S. Ritter's The Glory of Their Times (Morrow, New York, $15.95), a new and enlarged version of the 1966 oral history that is generally considered the best baseball book ever written. Ritter's subject is the early days of the game; his sources are immortals like Sam Crawford, Chief Bender, Goose Goslin, and Lefty O'Doul, and also marginal players like Jimmy Austin, Hans Lobert, and Bob O'Farrell. Through tape-recorded interviews, they offer remembrances of the great players they knew (Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and all the others) and great events they were privy to. In many cases they provide what amount to miniature autobiographies.
What comes across most strongly is their enduring amazement and gratitude at how fortunate they were - that baseball rescued them from the farming or mining or factory towns that imprisoned their families, making them part of an experience that continued, long years afterward, to dominate and enrich their lives. Their words are the best possible testimony to the effect that this best of all possible games continues to have on us all.