A Day In The
by Arnold Hano
The Neyer/James Guide To Pitchers
by Rob Neyer and Bill James
THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT
Baseball writing has been a near constant presence in my life, for almost as long as baseball itself has. I believe the first baseball book I ever read was a long vanished magazine style account of the 1975 Red Sox season, one of those quickie versions usually used to capitalize on success. From that time on, I have probably read hundreds of baseball books, from Roger Angell’s lyric prose to Bill James’ keen analytic mind, and either enjoyed them or panned them, but nonetheless devoured them avidly.
Baseball writing begins on the large scale, with works like Bill James’ incomparable Historical Baseball Abstract attempting to cover essentially the entire history of the game, and ends on the very small, with works like Daniel Okrent’s marvelous Nine Innings covering a single game in a book length manuscript. Literally the only other book I have ever read that dares to take on a single baseball game is Hano’s joyous A Day In The Bleachers.
Hano’s tale is very simple-he begins with an early evening decision to attend Game One of the 1954 World Series between the Giants and the Indians, and ends with the Giants winning and Hano deciding to head back home. As simple as it seems, Hano packs his tale with the details of the day in a beautiful, though partisan prose that truly puts the reader inside the adventure. Hano’s book, originally published in 1955, is reproduced for the fans of the new millenium with a new foreword and afterword, but does not suffer for its 50 year remove from the events. It is somewhat surprising, of course, for a 20th century baseball fan to imagine walking up to the box office to see an afternoon World Series game.
Hano’s presence in the text is obvious-not an intrusive presence like Roger Kahn tends to Add to his baseball works, but a necessary one. He is a Giant fan, and a vocal one, and exchanges catcalls during the game with Cleveland fans in the stands with a sense of politesse that is sorely missing from modern exchanges between strangers. The central event of the game is known as The Catch-Willie Mays’ amazing catch and throw from the Polo Grounds outfield that retired Vic Wertz and became a part of baseball history. The Catch is perhaps the longest single event described in the book, and Hano describes it as well as he can-admitting, without the technology of today’s broadcasts, exactly what he does see, while admitting what he missed. Most baseball fans have seen The Catch on documentaries or classic sports broadcasts, and Hano’s description is tremendous to add to one’s memory of the Catch.
The book is marvelous, and fully worth a reader’s time. A single game seems too scanty a frame on which to hang a book, but Hano performs perfectly, balancing personal detail with a true “you are there” level of detail that brings a modern reader back to the Polo Grounds in 1954.
On nearly the opposite end of the scale, The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, staying true to the reputations of both men, is a splendid look at the men on the mound. It is simply one of a kind, an attempt to systematically document the pitching repertoire of every man who spent a significant career in the major leagues. An enormous project to be sure, Neyer and James have done very well, certainly as well as anyone could possibly do given the huge amount of material to be compiled. The book consists primarily of the register, pitcher after pitcher with accounts of whatever can be substantiated about what they threw. Neyer and James apparently went to nearly the ends of the earth, pulling material from TV and radio broadcasts, magazines, personal interviews, books, newspapers to substantiate their material.
Of course, the material varies, with more modern pitchers logically with more data than 19th century hurlers. But the material is simply a joy, with a special appeal for the tabletop player, with the names on the cards now given flesh and life in a way that was simply not possible before the book appeared. Most fans, and most tabletop players, have mental images from descriptions they have read or video tape they have watched for pitchers they never witnessed- Luis Tiant rocking and swaying based on a Roger Angell book, or Bob Gibson’s leap and stagger from numerous sources. But now Sid Hudson, a formerly anonymous pitcher from the 1940s and 50s to me, is now a tall, thin chucker, tossing low curves, changing speeds and dropping sidearm. This is an amazing achievement, which is well worth the price of the book on its own-but the book is supplemented by short biographies, histories of various pitches, and other pitching related essays and columns that make the book of even higher quality.
The first Bill James book I read was the Historical Baseball Abstract, and the first Rob Neyer book I consumed was his book with Eddie Epstein, Baseball Dynasties. Since then, I have read everything available by both men, in some cases multiple times. It is hard to separate loving the work of Neyer and James with the quality of the book itself. I have never been disappointed by either man, and the latest book also does not disappoint. It is a truly unique achievement, and a baseball reference work that is worthy of a place upon the shelf of any serious fan. --Michael Webb