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The books that made me a fan and who I am

I received an email yesterday from Bob of the best bubble, informing me that my other Beckett magazine article is out.

This one is about my Dodgers fanhood and is in the latest Beckett baseball magazine. I don't have a subscription to that, so I'll have to wait until I have time to find a Barnes & Noble or grocery store that's carrying it. I need the extra time anyway because I haven't even devoted a post yet to my article that is in Beckett Vintage Collector this month.

So with two magazine articles out now, and writing almost every day on this blog, and an actual job that involves -- guess what? -- writing, it's obvious that writing is what I do. What I like to do. What I need to do. Who I am, basically.

But how did I get here?

You'd have to go back to when I was a kid with a flourishing and overwhelming need to read. I read as a child a lot. From Sesame Street books to the Hardy Boys to The Bronx Zoo. By the time I was about 10, just about the only thing I wanted to read involved baseball.

For the most part, magazines like Baseball Digest, The Sporting News, Sports Illustrated and Baseball Magazine took care of my need for baseball knowledge. But there were books, too.

One of the first was one of the Bill Gutman "At Bat" books of the '70s that packaged four stars of the time period into a four-subject biography.

These were the first baseball biographies of substance that I read and it got me interested in reading about other players. This Gutman book has a 1976 copyright, so I was right around 11 when I read this.

I received this book for Christmas in 1980. It's a chapter-by-chapter publication addressing all different facets of the game, from how to play to equipment to ballparks, famous players, baseball language, spring training, etc. It's compiled like a scrapbook, with not just photos but cartoons, boxscores and lists.

The book came out in 1980 and I took to it immediately. I didn't know it at the time but it blended together my love of writing and memorabilia. I put together scrapbooks of the 1981 and 1982 seasons and I used this book as a model for how those scrapbooks looked.

The Sparky Lyle/Peter Golenbock book, "The Bronx Zoo" came out in 1979. It was everywhere. I ended up reading a copy, I think a friend loaned it to me. And then after that I checked "Ball Four" out of the library. "Tell-all" baseball books were all the rage at the time and many others followed.

One I liked a lot, probably because it was about a then-current Dodger, was "Five O'Clock Comes Early," which was about Bob Welch's battles with alcoholism. It also was a milestone book because players just didn't make addictions public at the time. I can't say these are my style of books anymore but at the time it gave me a glimpse of what ballplayers go through and was feeding my interest in the human experience, as it pertained to the game.

The first Roger Angell book I received was "Five Seasons," which documents the 1972-76 MLB seasons along with other fascinating baseball stories written by Angell (who just celebrated his 101st birthday yesterday).

I don't know when I first received that book but I know I was too young to appreciate it. It sat on a shelf for a little while. But I picked it up one day and didn't put it down. Soon afterward I bought "Late Innings," which is my favorite of the Angell compilations, even though it is a dark tale of the tumultuous 1977-81 baseball seasons. Yet there are so many good stories in that book and all of the others. I actually have another Angell hard cover that includes some of his earlier works in "The Summer Game," among others.

Angell quickly became my favorite baseball writer. I don't really know who made me feel like I wanted to become a sportswriter, it was probably a combination of writers, but if Angell wanted to take credit, I wouldn't argue. To this day I've never seen anyone write better than him, and that covers any topic.

In the early 1980s, Thomas Boswell, the recently retired Washington Post writer, put out the first of a couple of collections called "How Life Imitates the World Series." The book spoke to a lot of people and to me, who always thought that you could draw comparisons between life and baseball.

I've always liked Boswell as a writer -- back when we used to run sports columns in the paper all the time, Boswell was an automatic go-to. He covers topics very well, gets terrific quotes from like everybody and his writing is smooth and uncomplicated.

And you can tell he loves baseball. His next book was called "Why Time Begins On Opening Day," which the non-baseball fans around me thought was a terribly obnoxious title. I loved it.

I never kept copies of "The Bronx Zoo" or "Ball Four," as I got a bit older I became more interested in Dodgers books only. Golenbock, who wrote "Zoo," also wrote "Bums," and this was my chance to have a known author tell me the history of the Brooklyn Dodgers, which I knew very little about at the time.

I don't know what happened to book jacket, it looks like I spilled cocktails on it.

I wrote about this book when Roger Kahn passed and before that, too. It is the baseball book that has had the most impact on my direction in life.

I didn't connect right away with Kahn's story, all of that beginning stuff about his family and how he got into the newspaper business was boring and confusing to me. But by the time he reached those early 1950s seasons and then -- the hammer -- revisiting the players 20 years later, I was transfixed.

I had changed my major in college and moved on to a different school. But I still wasn't sure whether journalism was my thing. I remember reading this book every night on the bed of my room at my grandmother's, where I roomed for a time in college, thinking, "yeah, I want to do this," and "yeah, I can see myself doing this."

By the early 1990s, I was immersed in the sportwriting world, had gotten a couple of jobs in the business and it was a huge part of my life. My work partner and I would talk about writing all the time, who we liked and who we didn't, what was a good lead, and what was crap.

At this time a collection of newspaper and magazine stories started to appear in book form. Glenn Stout published "The Best American Sportswriting". Sports writing still had to prove to itself that it was just as worthy as regular news writing (it still does) and this was showing the world how great sports writing could be.

The actual first book in the series that I picked up was from 1993, it's still my favorite. So many great stories across a wide variety of sports. It was like reading a novel, except all of the people and stories were real. The series became a franchise and although I've never found one as great as 1993, I bought the books from 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997 and 2002 (interesting how my purchasing fell off after I added "editor" to my title in 1997).

Today, this is what I am "reading."

I use "reading" in quotes because I don't know if picking up the book once a week counts. I know the youngster who used to read a book every night, or even more often, wouldn't think so.

But with a blog and online reading and the usual adult work responsibilities getting in the way, I don't read actual books as often as I should or want to. I'm not one to listen to books on tape or podcasts reads or anything like that. I'm too much of a slave to music for that.

But I've been focusing on books a little bit more lately in my own pathetic way. I'm still looking for one that I can connect to like I did the Roger Angell books or Boys of Summer. I don't know if that will ever happen now that I'm much older.

Oh, and for those of you who are disappointed that there were no cards with this post. Here's my bookmark for the last three books I've read:

I have a whole bunch of Bowman washouts standing by as future bookmarks.


Nick said…
I can always get behind a book-themed blog post! I recently read Angell's "The Summer Game" after hearing about it on your blog, and it was every bit as terrific as I thought it'd be. Definitely want to read more. I also have that same exact paperback of "The Boys of Summer," though I somehow haven't read it yet.

(Also glad to see I'm not the only one who uses baseball cards at bookmarks. I have a ravaged '87 Fleer Reggie Jackson currently holding my page.)
John Bateman said…
Like Baseball cards, Baseball Books were the best in the 60s and 70s. Never saw the AT Bat books. In 9th grade (1979) remember reading a book about Sandy Koufax.

I bought Angell 5 seasons during the pandemic.

Did not enjoy reading 5 O Clock comes early when it came out. I equate Bob Welch the pitcher with Bob Welch the singer who had a hit ebony eyes in the late 1970s
bryan was here said…
I also tackled baseball books with equal fervor. The first baseball book I remember reading was Gaylord Perry's "tell-all" book, Me and the Spitter. I believe it's still in my mum's attic.

Five O'clock Comes Early hit home with me, because I had an uncle who had just given up drinking around the same time I read it in 1983. When he gave up drinking, he started collecting baseball cards. He passed away in 2012 twenty- nine years sober and nearly a million cards later.
Adam said…
I don’t think I’ve read any of those to be honest. My first introduction to Roger Kahn and Peter Golenbock was through the ESPN series on the Brooklyn Dodgers from the 90s. I’ve always liked “The Glory of Their Times” and also any books talking about the history of old ballparks.
Nick Vossbrink said…
Feeling like a slacker because my entry would be the Baseball Hall of Shame series…
Fuji said…
I owned a copy of The Baseball Catalog by Schlossberg when I was a kid. Totally forgot about that book until I saw the photo in this post.
Brett Alan said…
I don't think I've read any of the books you show, although I definitely read The Bronx Zoo which you mention. I know I started on the Matt Christopher baseball books and a lot of Scholastic's non-fiction baseball books such as Strange But True Baseball Stories and that sort of thing. I had This Great Game and Pete Rose's Charlie Hustle too. I think my Dad had Ball Four but I don't remember reading it.
Unknown said…
This is a great blog, and a great blog article. I enjoy your writing. I'm a life long reader too, beginning with a voracious appetite as a kid, though fiction has always been my thing. My reading dropped off for a while, then picked up again 8 years ago. Then one day, as I was going through a period of having a drink at a dive bar on a reguler basis, I read a volume of Bukowski poetry. At the age of 55 I figured out what I wanted to do when I grow up. Collecting baseball cards is still getting more of my time than writing bad self involved / self absorbed / self centered / adolescent poetry, but that will change eventually. ["abide" on TCDb]
GTT said…
I really enjoyed that post. I read a ton, primarily baseball and fiction. Part of me wants to become a writer, and the other part knows that like crime, writing usually doesn't pay. My grandpa was a long time journalist with the New York Daily News, and is still free-lancing in his 80s. So I don't know if I'm going to be a writer, but I know I'll keep reading.
AdamE said…
There is a good chance you already read it but anyone that loves baseball and books needs to read "The Soul of Baseball" by Joe Posnanski. (his upcoming Baseball 100 is excellent too.)
Anonymous said…
I thought Sentimental Lady was a bigger hit.
NPB Card Guy said…
Love Angell's and Boswell's writings. I echo AdamE's recommendation of Joe Posnanski - "The Soul Of Baseball" is amazing and I'm looking forward to his Baseball 100 book. "The Machine", his book on the mid-70's Reds, is also very good as is his Harry Houdini biography (even if it isn't about baseball).

You scared the hell out of me when you tweeted the photo of Angell's books - I was afraid he passed away!