Even though there are a few games left in the season, I did make it out to Turner Field last week on a cool summer evening for a long (12 innings, but I left after nine) unceremonious farewell to 2011. Even though the final score was Florida 6, Atlanta 5, there was no disappointment for me. Emotionally, my team is the Cubs, which I characterize as “monotonous seasons of losing punctuated with several interludes of spirit-crushing defeat (1969, 1984, 1989, 2003).” This year, the Cubs punched out early. If there was a highlight of the Cubs season, it was probably winning two of three here in Atlanta on Bobby Cox tribute weekend. (shown here).
I don't consider myself a Braves fan, but like many, I developed an appreciation of the ball club during the 1980s when the WTBS was the only way to watch a game daily on television. I tell people I am a Braves follower, because I like the rhythm of tracking a team throughout the season and it's easier to do since I live in the Atlanta metro. This season is no different. Full of ups and downs – Jair Jurrjens All-Star performance before falling victim to a knee injury, the emergence of a lights out bullpen of Eric O'Flaherty, Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters (well, almost lights out), and Chipper Jones has been amazing this year with his clutch hitting. Conversely, I am sympathetic to the situation of the classy Martin Prado as he continues to wait until Chipper retires. This doesn't means I don't root for Atlanta from time to time, especially if it means making the playoffs and eliminating from post season competition the Cubs' arch rivals – the St. Louis Stinkin' Cardinals.
The same mixture of highs and medium lows has been characteristic with the baseball books that I have read this year. By far, my favorite was the reissue of Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, John Updike's classic of Ted Williams final game with the Boston Red Sox. The slender book is a reprint of the essay Updike wrote after he sat in the stands and witnessed Williams' last at bats (See earlier posting).
Right Off the Bat
Coincidentally, the two other baseball books that I looked at over the summer were both penned by Englishmen. In the case of Evander Lomke & Martin Rowe's Right Off the Bat: Baseball, Cricket Literature & Life, it was Martin Rowe who grew up overseas. The premise of the book is simple as the authors explain to cricket lovers about baseball and likewise to baseball fanatics the rudiments of cricket. Since I consider myself quite knowledgeable about baseball (after all Hall of Famer Sam Rice was born near my hometown,) I was anxious to learn more about cricket, but sometimes a book just isn't the way to learn about a sport. I appreciated what the authors were trying to do, but if you're a baseball guy, reading an the explanation about baseball is redundant and the cricket explanation need more diagrams (the first illustration of a cricket field appears on page 184 in the Glossary and some of the artwork left me scratching my head).
But the book, like any baseball season, had its fine moments, more specifically the chapter on Race and Empire, which gives a brief history of the players of color. At first these players, ranging from black players of the Caribbean to the Parsees, Hindus and Muslims who played for India, could only play for England but later competed against the mother country. It was a struggle, reminiscent of Jackie Robinson's integration of major league baseball.
Flip Flop Fly Ball
There is no shortage of diagrams or infographics in Flip Flop Fly Ball: An Infographic Baseball Adventure by Craig Robinson who grew up in England, but didn't begin become an obsessive fan of the game until he moved to Berlin and then finally to New York in 2007. Though there are a few short narratives, the main emphasis of the book is Robinson's quirky graphics illustrating certain aspects of the game: different managers of all the teams during Bobby Cox's tenure with the Braves, the uniform number that clubs have retired the most (after Jackie Robinson), and the longest championship droughts (it's the Cubs of course, by almost 40 years over the Cleveland Indians). Check out his website for more examples. Fun stuff to look at, but the type is so small that Robinson has should have included a coupon for a magnifying glass.
Perhaps complaining about the size of the type qualifies as old fart talk, but judging from the average age of hardcore baseball fans who say good bye to every baseball season, it's a statistic that Robinson should include in his next book.
Disclaimer: Paul Dry Books (who published my book The Book Shopper) provided me a reviewer's copy of Right Off the Bat. I bought my own copy of Flip Flop Fly Ball, but the author himself provided the artwork.