As the calendar turns to November, we enter the darkest portion of the year—the period without Major League Baseball. While this year’s World Series will dip into November (how far into the month you may know by the time you read this), as a rule things wrap up in October, leaving us bereft of the national pastime until February, when spring training gets underway. I am convinced that so many festive holidays are celebrated during these trying months because we need the distraction, so that we do not fall into a ball diamond-shaped funk. But if I’m being honest, the holidays don’t really get the job done for me.
Fortunately, there are some ways to combat the challenges of these months without baseball—including, of course, books. I have a couple to recommend for fans of the game who need a pick-me-up while we wait for baseball to return. They each boast a long title (one so long it requires two colons), but they are also long on great stories to help get you from the end of the World Series to start of spring training.
The Church of Baseball: The Making of Bull Durham: Home Runs, Bad Calls, Crazy Fights, Big Swings, and a Hit by Ron Shelton
Ron Shelton was the writer and director of Bull Durham, the first entry in what I think of as Kevin Costner’s baseball trilogy (Field of Dreams and For Love of the Game are the other two). In The Church of Baseball, Shelton takes the reader deep inside his initial efforts to write the screenplay, the challenges he faced getting the movie greenlit, the joys and frustrations of directing the picture, and the reaction of viewers—both when the film first came out in 1988 and since then.
We also learn how Shelton’s own time as a minor leaguer informed the creation of the movie and its characters. Shelton tells his story well (he reads the audio version himself, and while his enunciation isn’t always sharp, his observations are) and the book is a delightful way to revisit a great baseball film.
The 34-Ton Bat: The Story of Baseball as Told Through Bobbleheads, Cracker Jacks, Jockstraps, Eye Black, and 375 Other Strange and Unforgettable Objects by Steve Rushin
My wife and I were watching the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals when the announcers starting talking about the famous “Birds on the Bat” logo featured on the front of the Cardinals’ uniforms. Loyal St. Louis fans that we are, we were interested in the story the announcer told—and the source of that story, which turned out to be The 34-Ton Bat.
Sports Illustrated scribe Steve Rushin breaks baseball down into its constituent parts to get a unique perspective on the game and its place in our hearts and heads. The book might be engaging even if it had been penned by a lesser writer, but Rushin is in top form as he explores the game’s most central and seemingly most tangential objects. Here is just a snippet of writing about the baseball itself:
“Little wonder that the baseball has been pursued and fetishized more than any other object in sport. When the manager of the Detroit Tigers asked Pope John Paul II for a personalized autograph, the pontiff—accustomed to holy relics—was more puzzled by what he was writing (‘To Sparky’) than by the familiar sphere he was writing on (an office major-league baseball).”
If I were making out the lineup card for a baseball fan’s winter reading, I’d have these books in the top two spots.