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Beyond the Dream
Occasional Heroes of Sports
By Ira Berkow

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

Two reviews on a breezy summer's day: A reprise of Ira Berkow's columns at the New York Times, and Phil Pepe's collaboration with the Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter, "Still a Kid at Heart."

Berkow's works, compiled in Beyond the Dream, Occasional Heroes of Sports, once again point out the timelessness of the performers who make up the sporting landscape. With a new introduction by the author, and the foreword by Red Smith from the first printing in 1975, Beyond the Dream offers 73 vignettes reflecting Berkow's 26 years as column writer, recounting not so much the games but the personalities involved, ranging from such diverse characters as Muhammad Ali to Ted Williams.

The collection is broadly broken up into five categories: Youngbloods (see the legendary collegiate wrestler Dan Gable's poignant piece on his only loss ever); Prime Time (see the former NFL receiver George Sauer's return to sandlot glory); and A Few Kicks Left (see a wonderful account by the tennis legend Pancho Gonzalez), Beyond the Rainbow (among them, Joe DiMaggio's return), and The Sidelines' Other Side (enjoy a short look on the eternal box score, of all things).

Despite all the many years that have passed and the inevitable emergence of new stars, Beyond the Dream is a worthwhile (and worth a "triple") acquisition. You can pick it up, read a piece of two, put the book back down, pick it up on another day and select another remarkable look at an athlete in his everlasting realm.
Still a Kid at Heart
By Gary Carter with Phil Pepe

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

In "Still a Kid at Heart" Pepe masterfully describes Gary Carter's eternal, dare we say kid-like enthusiasm for the game of baseball. Carter's recent intrusion into the Willie Randolph turmoil as Mets manager might seem despicable to some, but if you read this work, you'll probably come away with Carter's almost-innocent zeal for baseball and perhaps permit him some leeway in an apparent social gaffe. (Reviewer's aside: We had not an iota of negative reaction to Carter's attempting to let Mets ownership know he was available to manage. Carter never criticized Randolph, never denigrated his leadership, didn't have one thing bad to say, but merely indicated his desire to manage in New York. Take that as you will.)

In any event, Pepe's latest effort does a solid job painting a picture of a guy who actually intended to be an NFL quarterback, whose mom died suddenly in the prime of her life when "Kid" was a kid of 12, and who helped bring the Magic back to the Mets in that wonderful season of 1986. Through it all shines Carter's deep love of the game. But Carter was not simply enthusiastic, he was good -- very good -- and, as he states, is in very good company as one of only four catchers to have scored more than 1,000 runs and had more than 2,000 hits, more than 300 home runs, and more than 1,200 RBI. The others in this select company? Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, and Carlton Fisk.

Carter, now managing in an independent league in California, helped find some meaning in his life through the Gary Carter Foundation, which is devoted to raising money to fight leukemia, the disease that took his mother. The Foundation also provides financial support to nine schools in underprivileged areas.

Coming up the professional ranks, Carter mentions several managers in particular: Karl Kuehl, who remains one of his closest friends to this day, and Gene Mauch, the boy genius with the Phillies in the 60s who blew a six-and-a-half-game lead with 12 to play in 1964; the unconventional but wizened Dick Williams; and Bill Virdon, from whom he learned discipline.

As might be expected, Carter also addressed the Steroid Era in baseball. He is honest in his admission that he would have been tempted to use but is also resolute enough to think he would have ultimately resisted. Unfortunately, writes Carter, because of steroid use, everybody is suspect from that period in the game.

Carter mocks today's penchant for pitch counts and radar counts, giving countless examples of pitchers who would have bee overlooked by the current crop of scouts. Carter points to Jim Kaat, who was never on a pitch count and yet lasted 25 years in the major leagues, and to Robin Roberts, who once pitched 28 consecutive complete games. Carter said he would rather look to a player's desire and competitiveness, which is not surprising given Kid's own desire and competitiveness.

"Still a Kid at Heart," is an uplifting, home-run account of a man who apparently refuses to lose his youthful enthusiasm.

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