A Literary Double-Play on the Game of Baseball

Baseball is, at the very least, two things: exciting and complex. However, once you get to the game, sit down, get the lineup written down on your score card and have your hot dog and drink in your lap, baseball is one more thing, great fun.Two new books on the game of baseball, Hornsby Hit One Over My Head: A Fan's Oral History of Baseball by David Cantaneo and The Joy of Keeping Score: How Scoring the Game Has Influenced and Enhanced the History of Baseball, by Paul Diskson will leave you with "Let's play ball!" echoing in your head.Gale Carey, a 42-year-old baseball fan explains in Hornsby Hit One Over My Head, "Then the thing I remember is walking up the ramp and bright, bright lights. We walked into the brightness, and there was this great big place, with green everywhere and bright white uniforms. It made such an impression on me. Holding hands, walking up the ramp, and it was like walking into a beautiful church. That's what it felt like."This is typical of what people have to say in Hornsby Hit One Over My Head. Using a very personal, Studs Terkel-like approach to the game, Cantaneo's book is a fan's oral history of baseball and includes stories told by fans of all races, genders and ages. The book is organized from oldest fan to youngest, and while reading the various stories, the reader gets a glimpse of the different issues that have made an impact on both society and baseball in the last ninety years. The separation of races, the World Wars, the introduction of Jackie Robinson, baseball strikes, the progression of players' egos -- from being out on the streets with the fans in the early years, to the much-chastised, distant and overpaid players these days.As Cantaneo says in his preface, "Baseball has been good for us."This book lets the fans tell their stories about how baseball has brought us the most popular headgear of the century and the biggest celebrity (Babe Ruth), taught us loyalty (devotion to a team such as the Yankees or how some people still hate the Dodgers for leaving Brooklyn), math (figuring out slugging percentages) and multiculturalism (it put posters of Reggie Jackson up on bedroom walls and made people figure out how to spell Yastzremski).Of course, as most of the stories remind us, baseball puts parents (even grandparents) in their front yards so that they can play catch with their children. Getting to listen to the fans, not the owners, the players or the sports columnists, speak about the game of baseball is a great way to remember how the game should be thought of and played: not like a job, but with gusto, fun, anticipation and joy from playing backyard corkball to having a box seat at the seventh game of the World Series.Baseball is the type of game which is played as much with memory and in the past as it is in the present. To know who won last year's World Series is only a start to understanding the game. The game is complex, and as The Joy of Keeping Score suggests, people with scorecards, using what may seem like idiosyncratic markings on a piece of paper indicating hits, errors, doubles and strike counts, are exploring, recording and immortalizing the game.The art of score-keeping is alive and well and more interesting than one might expect. A score card lets you see patterns in a game or a season in the way a manager directs his team. The scorecard gives the fan a chance to decide whether a player deserves a hit or an error, and most of all, a good score card lets fans relive a game many years later. By going over a scorecard fans ought to be able to remember the game as if listening to the radio announcer, since every detail is recorded.Just in case you're thinking this is all just a baseball insider's pastime, think again. The official scorekeeper of a game can actually determine whether a game is a no-hitter or not, many a scorekeeper has been booed for a bad or inappropriate call. How a hit that gets through the infield in the eighth inning during a no-hitter has to be determined a hit or an error.This is big stuff; no-hitters are not to be taken lightly. The same hit earlier in the game may be scored differently when there isn't as much at stake; in fact, a scorekeeper will be pushed to change his or her mind if a questionable hit early in the game is the only hit in the game. Also of interest in this book are the photos of scorecards from historic games, such as when Babe Ruth called his home run in the 1932 World Series, Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Nolan Ryan's 300th win and Pete Rose's consecutive hit record.If you're like me, after reading these two books, you'll be glad you have a minor league ball team nearby in Cedar Rapids. In fact, I am off to attend a night game this evening. I want to see the bright lights, smell the green field and score the game. I want to remember playing catch with my grandfathers. Baseball is a game of living history. I score these two books "Gems," or "G!" on your score card.


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