Red Smith on Baseball
by Red Smith
Amazin' by Peter Golenbock
Have you ever flirted with a book? I have seen Red Smith on Baseball on bookstore shelves for years, passing it over every time. Sometimes another book caught my eye, sometimes the trip was designated a browsing expedition only, who knows why. But the book never came home with me. I knew of Red Smith, certainly- newspaper columnist from the DiMaggio-Mays-Mantle era, wrote for a New York paper, usually mentioned as influential by other writers. I guess I imagined he was a caricature-a cantankerous, old fashioned, hard drinking, conservative old coot who thought noone would ever be better than the Babe and Larrupin' Lou.
I don't know Red Smith, of course, but to read Red Smith on Baseball has been one of the most pleasant surprises in my baseball reading life. It's the sort of book that makes you sad as you note your bookmark's progress across the top-because you now can never read it for the first time again, and you must only envy those who can. Roger Angell introduced me to lively, intelligent baseball writing, and indeed to baseball writing in general, and none will ever surpass his art in my mind. But Red Smith comes awfully darned close.
Smith writes like Stan Musial hits-smoothly, clearly, cleanly. He covers memorable games and personages, of course, and the major events of his time, such as integration and the battle for free agency. His attitudes, to my surprise and delight, are positively modern, referring to Satchel Paige in 1946 as a “proven pro” and commenting that organized baseball responded to Curt Flood “'that at these prices they want human rights, too?'”
But it is Smith's language and bright, lively mind that make his work such a joy. Hank Greenberg “got hold of a pitch by a left-hander named Charley Gassaway and drove it into the left field seats on a line as flat as old beer”. Ebbets Field during a tense World Series game is “so still you could here a pretzel drop away off in (Hugh) Casey's saloon.”
Fenway Park for a game with Joe DiMaggio's Yankees is “a day when malice lay over everything, thick as mustard on a frankfurter.” The 1957 Milwaukee Braves “raided Yankee Stadium, the impregnable fortress of baseball, which palefaces doubted they would dare to enter, and put the torch to the Yankees' pretensions as champions of the world.”
Golenbock's work is another in a series of team oral histories he has produced. Along with editorial comment and filler adding in details about seasons and events, Golenbock has collected in Amazin' an oral history of the New York Metropolitans. This work, like his other similar works, have probably already been read by dedicated fans of the team, and hold only slight benefits for the casual fans. Golenbock has shown a somewhat casual regard for the truth in some of his books, and certain sections are dominated by one or two personalities, leaving open the question of what other subjects might have had to say. Overall, not a book generally worth much investment in time or money.