One of the things I look forward to most during the off season is being able to sit back and read baseball books. Of course, I love all the Hot Stove activity too—the speculation, the prognositications, and all the daydreams that come with it. But since there isn't a game to watch tonight, and since there won't be any box scores to pour through tomorrow morning, I love to take this time to drift back into history. The beauty part is I can go back to the 1880s, or the 1940s or the 1980s, or anywhere inbetween.
I have a stack of books that I'd like to get to this winter—including Kevin Kerrane's landmark work on scouting, "Dollar Sign on the Muscle," Mike Sowell's book about Carl Mays and Ray Chapman, "The Pitch That Killed," as well as Leo the Lip's famous autobiography, "Nice Guys Finish Last," which was written with Ed Linn—but my work on the Curt Flood biography for Young Adults will likely occupy most of my spare reading time.
That won't stop me from re-reading the collected writings of Tom Boswell, and Roger Angell, which has become an annual event (their books are the perfect companion for a long subway ride). Here is a an excerpt from "La Vida," a piece Angell wrote in 1987 ("Season Ticket"). It popped out at me now that baseball is done for the year, and I thought I'd share it with you:
Baseball is not life itself, although the resemblance keeps coming up. It's probably a good idea to keep the two sorted out, but old fans, if they're anything like me, can't help noticing how cunningly our game replicates the larger schedule, with its beguiling April optimism; the cheerful roughhouse of June; the grinding, serious, unending (surely) business of midsummer; the September settling of accounts, when hopes must be traded in for philosophies or brave smiles; and then the abrupt running-down of autumn, when we wish for—almost demand—a prolonged and glittering final adventure just before the curtain. But nowhere is this metaphor more insistent than in baseball's sense of slippage; our rueful, fleeting awareness that we tend to pay attention to the wrong things—to last night's rally and tomorrow's pitching match-up—while lesser and sweeter moments slide by unperceived. Players notice this, too. Bob Gibson, the most competitive man I have ever seen on a ballfield, once told me that what he missed most after he had retired wasn't the competition at all. "I don't miss the pitching but I can't say I don't miss the game," the Cardinal Hall of Famer said. I miss it a little. There's a lot I don't want to get back to...I think it's the life I miss—all the activity that's around baseball. I don't miss playing baseball but I miss...baseball. Baseball. Does that sound like a crazy man?"
When I'm not dwelling on whether Bernie Williams will hit .300 and score 100 runs next year, I allow myself to get caught up in the details. I miss the private little smirks that Derek Jeter flashes during the course of a game. Or watching Luis Sojo wrap his arm around one of the players and whisper something in his ear. Or trying to figure out all the finger-snaps and handshakes that go on after a home run. Or how the late afternoon light splashes across a ballfield in the spring and then later on, in the fall. Or coming home at night to find Emily already watching the Yanks. I miss baseball. And that makes perfect sense to me.