I don’t go to the beach because my skin could accurately be described as white.
If Sherwin Williams named a paint color for me it would be “Atomic White.” I am as white as freshly sprinkled confectionary sugar on fried dough. When I take off my shirt at the beach, people put on a second pair of sunglasses. I wear four-digit SPF sun screen. My brother used to call me “Casper.
I am also a terrible swimmer. I failed beginners class at Oakdale Lake in Hudson several times. Desperate to pass, I would fake the crawl stroke in shallow water by putting my hands on the bottom of the lake to "swim." When we had young children and I was forced to go to the beach, I used to say that the best thing about going to the beach was leaving the beach.
So when I see lists this time of year for beach reading, I can feel my shoulders burning and my hydrophobia kicking in. I just can’t be expected to read a book while hiding under a hat, towel, umbrella, and lead vest. My preferred summer reading habitat is a dark, wood-paneled bar with cheap draught beer. For purposes of this blog post, let’s call my fantasy summer reading place the White Horse Tavern from the mind of novelist Richard Russo.
Now that we have the location, what are the best books to read in the summer? Baseball, of course. After all, it’s The Summer Game (see below). This summer I am reading Richard Sandomir’s The Pride of the Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary Cooper, and the Making of a Classic. It focuses on the 1942 biopic on the doomed Yankee great Gehrig. It’s a fascinating read filled with new details, particularly for Yankee and movie fans.
Reading it convinced me that I should do my own summer reading list focused on baseball. Why baseball? Just read a few pieces by the greatest baseball writer ever, Roger Angell of The New Yorker, who called baseball boxscores, "my favorite urban flower." Or consider the consummate Angell quote:
"Since baseball time is measured only in outs, all you have to do is succeed utterly; keep hitting, keep the rally alive, and you have defeated time. You remain forever young."
I am calling this my White Horse Tavern Summer Reading List for Baseball Fans. These books can be read on a corner barstool with the Yankees on the TV and enough of your money on the bar to get you through six or seven chapters.
Can't Anybody Here Play this Game?, by Jimmy Breslin. A hilarious account of the worst team ever, the 1962 Mets: "The Mets opened their season on April 11 and closed on September 30. In this time, the players did enough things wrong to convince even casual observers that there has never been a team like them. From the start, the trouble with the Mets was the fact that they were not too good at playing baseball."
Pitch by Pitch, by Bob Gibson and Lonnie Wheeler. Gibson goes through every pitch of his transcendant performance in Game One of the 1968 World Series in which he struck out 17 Tigers. Makes you feel like you are on the mound with Gibson.
Ball Four, by Jim Bouton. The Long Season made Ball Four possible. Bouton, a former Yankee power pitcher in the early 1960s, chronicles his 1969 season throwing knuckle balls for the lowly Seattle Pilots. Its honest revelations about what really happens in the clubhouse and after games made it one of the most controversial and influential sports books of all time.
Shoeless Joe, by W.P. Kinsella. Yes, "if you will build it, he will come," is now cliche (with many replacing "he" with "they") but this quirky, lyrical and dreamlike novel is much better than the film it birthed, Field of Dreams.
The Celebrant, by Eric Rolfe Greenberg, a fictionalization of the life of New York Giants star pitcher Christy Mathewson and the fictional story of a Jewish immigrant family of jewelers. The best novel about baseball.
Bang the Drum Slowly, by Mark Harris. Bruce Pearson is a catcher for the fictional New York Mammoths, a lovable rube, and a dying man. This novel poigniantly chronicles his death across a baseball season.
The Boys of Summer, by Roger Kahn. A history of the Brooklyn Dodgers by a sports writer who grew up near Ebbets Field and loved the great -- but hard-luck -- Dodgers to distraction. For casual baseball fans, this is the book to read.
A Day in the Bleachers, by Arnold Hano. From the subway ride to the game to the other fans surrounding him, Hano provides a captivating time capsule of what it was like to sit in the cheap seats at the Polo Grounds. It's Game 1 of the 1954 World Series and Mays still makes the catch.
The Summer Game, by Roger Angell. Any Angell books is a gem but this collection of pieces stuck with me because it focuses on baseball's glory days of Mays, Mantle, and Koufax, and for its witty and precise descriptions of what happens on the field: "Choo Choo Coleman, a catcher for the early Mets, “handles outside curve balls like a man fighting off bees.” (Sorry for picking on the Mets again).
That's it, my White Horse Tavern Summer Reading List for Baseball Fans. Look for it on Dozenbestbooks.com, a great site for bookaholics founded by PR legend John Onoda. Then head off to that dark bar.