THE best baseball reading in the stores today are old books, new editions of old books, and one new book that's filled with old writing. The Armchair Book of Baseball II is the only anthology ever likely to offer both Walt Whitman and Ted Williams between the same covers. It's also timeless baseball literature, with Garrison Keillor on playin' ball in Lake Wobegon; E.L. Doctorow's ``Ragtime'' characters on an excursion to the Polo Grounds; and Mark Harris speaking through the positively irresistible Henry Wiggin. Open to any page - it's all peerless prose; but don't miss Marty Appel on milestones or John Lardner on the Black Sox.
Bill Veeck's ``Veeck - as in Wreck'' is 25 years old, but one never tires of reading about the iconoclastic owner's adventures with his button-down brethren in the owner's fraternity or with Eddie Gaedel, ``the best darn midget who ever played big-league ball.''
Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer is 15 years old, but it has never been more timely, for this is the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's Brooklyn Dodger debut, and Kahn's book contains some of the most stirring and perceptive insight into Robinson's place in the world far beyond Ebbets Field. The Jackie Robinson Dodgers of the 1950s were also one of baseball's most appealing teams - Greek heroes in flannel knickers, and Kahn's passionate portraits will bring a tear to the eyes of erstwhile Brooklyn fans. Both the Veeck and Kahn books are out in new editions.
Still in print are the complete works of Tom Boswell and Roger Angell. Boswell's books are How Life Imitates the World Series and Why Time Begins on Opening Day. He writes for the Washington Post and no one sees the game with greater clarity. Roger Angell writes for The New Yorker, and no one writes of this game with greater gentleness. His trilogy of books - The Summer Game, Five Seasons, and Late Innings - comprise a running chronicle of the game from the early '60s to the early '80s.
Trying to choose between Boswell and Angell is like trying to choose between Mantle and Mays.