- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 12, 2002

A couple of baseball books to keep you reasonably occupied while waiting for the real thing to return to the Washington area:
"What Baseball Means to Me," edited by Curt Smith ($34.95, Warner Books, 270 pages, illus.) Smith, a former presidential speechwriter whose "Voices of the Game" is the definitive history of baseball broadcasting, has compiled the comments of more than 150 persons in this handsome coffee table book. The trouble is, your eyes glaze over after a certain number, so it's better to take them in small doses.
As always with this sort of thing, both the commentators and the comments range from silly to sublime. Certainly, the thoughts of Hall of Famers like Ernie Banks, Ted Williams and Monte Irvin or legendary broadcasters like Jon Miller, Chuck Thompson, Jack Buck, Vin Scully and Ernie Harwell are valuable. But do we really need to hear the praises of baseball sung by Robert Goulet and Pat Boone?
President Bush also is represented along with predecessors Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush but I would rather have him demonstrate his interest by getting on his soapbox and demanding a team for Washington.
What in the world are Mike Ditka, Fuzzy Zoeller and Mike Eruzione doing in a baseball book? And who in the world are Norman Augustine, John Franzen and Jim Schmakel?
Still, there are some moving moments. Broadcaster Joe Buck, Jack's son, promises he won't gush over the game's glories and then does just that. Paul Kirk, the former Democratic national chairman, gets it just right by saying baseball "allows little boys to dream of their manhood and old men to dream of their boyhood." And actor Steve Guttenberg wins the prize for pithiness with five words: "Baseball is the greatest time!"
One George Fisher collects the self-serving prize by blathering that anyone can enjoy baseball "just like anyone can enjoy taking pictures." Oh by the way, he's a former chairman of Eastman Kodak.
"Glove Stories, the Collected Baseball Writings of Dave Kindred (The Sporting News, $24.95, 288 pages) Although I usually don't like reprints of newspaper columns, this book performs a valuable service in reintroducing Washington area fans to the smooth prose of Kindred, a sports columnist for the Washington Post before moving to the Sporting News in 1990.
Kindred turns his gentle, humorous style on all aspects of baseball, starting with youth games, and does so with rare insight. This is how he described the hollow hoopla of last season when it was over:
"Somehow, and it's odd, it didn't matter if [Barry Bonds broke the home run record] or not. In sports today in life today, for that matter there's an excess of excess. Or am I the only person in America who has seen too many choreographed celebrations? We have lost the true joy of Yogi-in-Larsen's-arms spontaneity. Even Cal Ripken, who made real history, called it 'embarrassing' to hear ovations each time he came to bat on his farewell tour. He's a baseball lifer who respects the game, and all the huzzahs, sincere though they are, have nothing to do with baseball."
Or this, in the aftermath of September11: "We'll remember how ineffably sweet it sounded to hear 'God Bless America' as a preamble to 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game.' We'll remember the Yankees, like little boys wishing to be their heroes, wearing FDNY and NYPD caps. We'll remember all those games when folks got knocked down and got up. We'll remember, too, that for a moment, one sweet moment, we felt better some."
As always, Kindred is a keeper.


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