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The Anatomy of Baseball

An Anthology Edited by Lee Gutkind and Andrew Blauner

Reviewer: Marc Maturo, MarcMyWords.net; Lifetime member of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) and sports copy editor for The Journal News, White Plains, N.Y.


Just in time for another baseball season and a perfect gift for any sports fan worn down by incessant discussion of steroids comes this marvelous anthology of 20 essays tied together by the authors' apparent love of our national pastime.

Each essay is well-written and thought provoking, though each is new except for classics by George Plimpton, Roger Angell and Frank Deford. Two of those featured are by students of Gutkind's (Jake Young and Caitlin Horrocks, who are, offers the professor, "exceptional writers").

Baseball, of course, lends itself to various forms of inspection and the authors offer a wide range of interest -- from simply playing the game, to those who focus on equipment including three doted to the timeless connection between the player and their glove or "mitt."

Interestingly, there are also four essays by women revealing the significance of baseball in their lives and their connection to it. Baseball having become a worldwide game, there is a marvelous essay by Rich Harsch, an expatriate managing a team in Slovenia.

Kevin Baker opens this work with "At the Park," in which the odd beauty of the old ballparks are remembered as something that can never be consciously recreated. Baker notes that the old parks were eccentric without trying to be so, he describes the attraction of ticket windows, how no one ever played polo at the Polo Grounds in New York, and that the past is not so easily regained.

Yet, the late Plimpton is rediscovered as he offers a gracious treatment of playing right field and Deford offers a brief but interesting piece on baseball caps.

Stefan Fatsis' biography of his glove hits second in this 20-essay anthology. In it, a Rawlings rep notes how most big-leaguers know very little about their gloves because gone are the days when it took a year to break in a new mitt. Dwight Evans, the great Red Sox outfielder, used the same glove throughout his entire career while Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees gets six delivered at a time. Fatsis? He still has his 1977 model (Rawlings, XPG6): The leather is smooth, dark, unblemished, still perfect.

Susan Perabo, an English professor, hitting third in the order, comes to the realization that even the aging veteran Jim Edmonds is younger than her. This came about because of an often overlooked detail she writes about, the jumbotron at RFK Stadium in Washington, which gives the public each batter's date of birth among all the other stats.

Michael Shapiro writes movingly about the tragic death of Billy Southworth's son, Billy Jr., a wartime pilot who perished in 1945 on a routine training mission at Mitchell Field in New York. The elder Southworth, writes Shapiro, returned to Ohio, then to the Cardinals but was never the same man again.

Another great piece on the glove is given by Christopher Buckley, whose father's glove he finally decided to use was left alone, unguarded, and was stolen -- exactly as his father had predicted. "It would be two years before a replacement was bought," remembers Buckley, who also succinctly embraces the connection between the player and the glove. "Put a mitt on your hand," he says, "pound your fist in the pocket, and you have your memories -- you have your life."

Angell's piece "On the Ball" puts the finishing touch to Anatomy of Baseball. He provides an impish outlook on the now-banned spitball, about control -- or the lack thereof -- by such legendary hurlers as Steve Dalkowski, Ryne Duren, and Rex Barney, and provides a wonderful discourse on the advent of the knuckleball and the slider.

Even the memorable Freddy the Fan at Yankee Stadium is given a firsthand look by Sean Wilentz. Fred Schuman, he writes, deserves immortality, along with all the other fans who came before and who will come after him.

This connection between baseball, the fan, and life is also warmly revealed in the essay by Matt Wood, who walked away from the game and discovered that life goes on, who discovered that one's relationship with the game in not unlike friendship and life. This moving on, so to speak, is also addressed by Dr.Warren Goldstein, who understands that even if you're happy in the game, you need to find a way out of the ballpark.

But perhaps at the heart of it all, the lure of the game itself, is best summarized by the aforementioned Jake Young, who devotes his entire chapter on a shortstop, Augie Ojeda, running down a bloop! Young draws out this endeavor over several pages, as the reader and Ojeda track down the bloop in a nondescript game, linking Ojeda's play to Willie Mays' famous catch of Vic Wertz's long drive in a World Series game in 1954 and likening it further to the demolition of the Polo Grounds.

Young's treatise, like the book, is a grand slam.


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