Last weekend, I finished 42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story by Ed Henry. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this book, going into it. I don’t consider myself a religious individual, and the thought of a book — even one about baseball — trying to shove faith down its readers’ throats was not an appealing possibility. But I’m glad I gave the book a shot in spite of my hesitation, because it really didn’t do that at all. Yes, it talked about religion quite a bit, but more from an objective, this-is-how-religion-factored-into-these-events kind of approach.
This book isn’t just about Jackie Robinson, but just as much about Branch Rickey and about the rest of the Brooklyn Dodgers team during Robinson’s time with them. It serves a biographical purpose when it comes to the lives of both Robinson and Rickey, while also, of course, highlighting the role of religion and faith for both men, both in their everyday lives and in the steps they took in breaking baseball’s color barrier.
His religious convictions, Henry writes, are a big part of what prompted Branch Rickey in his determination to bring a black player into the big leagues. Based on his research, Henry insists that Rickey was not as certain about his decision to break the color barrier as history now suggests, but rather his faith provided him with the resolve to move forward with the undertaking. And it was Robinson’s faith that sustained him through the slings and arrows flung at him on the diamond, even as he kept his promise to Rickey not to fight back.
The scope of the book doesn’t stop with these two men. Most notably, Henry also takes a long look at Ralph Branca, a devout Catholic and good friend to Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers team. Branca, fans might recall, also happens to be the pitcher who gave up the “Shot Heard Round to the World” to Bobby Thomson in the 1951 National League pennant race. Ed Henry delves into the role Branca’s religious beliefs played in his friendship with Robinson and in how he responded to the aftermath of the 1951 pennant race.
Ed Henry references Robinson’s unpublished memoirs to a great extent in this book. In his research, he also drew from previously uncovered sermons and traveled to perform interviews with Robinson’s and Rickey’s family and friends. Overall, I’d say this book is worth the read. True, it is another Jackie Robinson book in an already-large collection of Jackie Robinson books, but I think that Ed Henry does a great job looking at this story from a different angle, even talking about faith and religion without getting preachy.
Now obviously, in peacetime a one-legged catcher, like a one-armed outfielder (such as the Mundys had roaming right), would have been at the most a curiosity somewhere down in the dingiest town in the minors – precisely where Hot had played during the many years that the nations of the world lived in harmony. But it is one of life’s grisly ironies that what is catastrophe for most of mankind, invariably works to the advantage of a few who live on the fringes of the human community. On the other hand, it is a grisly irony to live on the fringes of the human community.
~Philip Roth, The Great American Novel
R.I.P. Mr. Roth…
I do what I’ve trained my whole life to do. I watch the ball. I keep my eye on the ball. I never stop watching.
I watch it as it sails past me and lands in the catcher’s mitt, a perfect and glorious strike three.
There isn’t any actual new information on either page. Mostly I thought it would be nice to have a centralized location that I, and potentially others, can reference. I’m the kind of person who will occasionally do a web search for various lists of books or other sorts of media in order to get ideas, and I imagine there are others out there who must do the same. In the process of creating these lists, I’m noticed there are a number of movies that I’ve yet to write about here, so that’ll be a nice little project for me to get on.
Feel free to check the pages out, share them with others, or ignore them completely.
This weekend I finished reading Last of the Third by John Lindholm. I hadn’t heard of the book prior to coming across it, but the summary sounded fascinating — and, of course, it’s about baseball — so I figured I’d give it a shot.
The novel’s main character, twenty-two-year-old Shawn McMaster, used to play baseball in his home town of Quail, Pennsylvania as their star left fielder. Shawn was a brilliant fielder, but really just an average hitter, and his performance at the plate caused him no small amount of anxiety. As the story opens, however, the reader quickly realizes that Shawn is in hiding, and we further learn that he hasn’t been home, nor played baseball, in four years. Shawn’s reason for going into hiding remains a mystery for much of the book, as Lindholm reveals that detail of the story inch-by-excruciating-inch over the course of the novel.
One night, Shawn’s whereabouts happen to get discovered by Larry Schneider, better known in Quail as Larry Last, the town oddball and best friend to Shawn’s grandfather, DJ McMaster. Larry relays the details of Shawn’s location to Shawn’s parents, and Shawn’s mother, Greta, convinces her son to return home at last.
Things are awkward, of course. While things in Quail don’t seem to have changed on the surface, Shawn soon realizes that his disappearance has had a profound impact on his parents, his friends, and his girlfriend, CeCe. He continues to struggle with his own self-deprecation, however, and it’s not until his father’s sudden, unexpected death that Shawn finally pulls his head out of his self-loathing and realizes that it’s time to take some responsibility for himself and those he cares about.
Meanwhile, the McMaster property in Quail is in trouble. Larry Last, who was with DJ McMaster in his last moments alive, has a couple of clues on how to save the property, but he is struggling to make sense of them. Lindholm does a fantastic job of dropping enough hints to keep the reader puzzling over the mystery, but not so many as to make it easily solvable. When the solution finally presented itself, I had to tip my hat to the author for his cleverness.
The plot does not follow a linear timeline, but rather jumps back and forth between the novel’s present events and flashing back to those events that brought the characters to where they now stood. I like the general structure of utilizing flashbacks in a story like this, though at times I found myself wishing it didn’t happen quite as often in this book. Most of the chapters are short, and most chapters take place in a different point in time, and so I found myself constantly having to refer back to the dates at the start of each chapter in order to orient myself. I certainly wouldn’t change the structure so much as just combine some of the shorter chapters into longer ones.
I have to confess, there were several instances while reading when I grew quite irritated with both Shawn McMaster and with his girlfriend CeCe. Then it occurred to me, about halfway through the novel, that my irritation with these two characters mirrored my irritation with the college-aged folk whom I deal with on a regular basis. That being said, I came to realize that Lindholm’s character development with regards to these two was actually spot on, and that my frustrations were not due to bad writing, but to really good character portrayal. I’m sure that sounds like a rather convoluted reaction, and it probably is. But it makes sense to my own mind, anyways.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. It is nice, for a change, to have an outfielder be the star of the baseball team, rather than a pitcher or a shortstop or the team’s slugger. It’s definitely a coming-of-age story, though it’s one that happens in an older age group than usually seen in literature. Last of the Third takes the familiarity of baseball, small towns, and pie, and adds a couple of interesting twists to make it unique.
In a recent browsing session through the public library, I came across this book by Tom Stanton: Ty and The Babe: Baseball’s Fiercest Rivals: A Surprising Friendship and the 1941 Has-Beens Golf Championship. Tom Stanton is a journalist and associate professor of journalism at the University of Detroit Mercy. Ty and The Babe was a finalist for the Quill Award in 2007.
Naturally, I chose to read this book because of its coverage of two great figures in baseball, though, as one might guess from the title, the book is almost as much about golf as it is about baseball. The book covers the rivalry between Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth during their baseball careers, which simmered to a sort of grudging respect by the time Cobb retired. Years after both their baseball careers had ended, Cobb challenged Ruth to a golf competition, which Ruth accepted.
As America made its way into the 1920s, Babe Ruth burst onto the baseball scene as a power hitter on the field and a late-night carouser off the field. Everything about the Babe’s style of play and personality clashed with that of Ty Cobb, who was comparatively meticulous about his self-care, his preparation, and his in-game approach to baseball. Furthermore, Ruth’s presence in the game now threatened Cobb’s claim to being the best player in baseball. Cobb represented an older style of baseball, which revolved around more of a “small ball” approach involving bunting, stealing, and effective base running, while Ruth represented the newer, flashier, slugging style that now took the country by storm.
The early relationship between the two ballplayers was laden with jealousy, pettiness, and mind games. When facing one another on the diamond, the two snarked and jabbed at each other constantly, at times going out of their way to do so. The book covers a number of their encounters, bringing them to life on the page with a level of detail that makes them seem like they happened just last week.
Over time, Cobb was forced to acknowledge that Ruth understood baseball at a much deeper level than just a platform for displaying his brute strength and garnering attention. Though the two men continued to compete with one another, they also came to respect each other, and even acknowledged this respect publicly. By the time Cobb retired from baseball, the two even had seemed to become friends.
I struggled a bit with the last portion of the book, which revolved around the golf competition between Cobb and Ruth. This isn’t a knock on Stanton’s writing so much as a reflection of my own indifference to the game of golf. The descriptions of the approaches and personalities of Ruth and Cobb continued to captivate my attention, but when details about the actual golf matches became the focus of the narrative, I confess that I largely skimmed through those parts.
Perhaps what I enjoyed most about the book came in Stanton’s refusal to demonize Cobb in the manner Cobb often gets portrayed in baseball histories. Not that Cobb was without his flaws, Stanton acknowledges, but contrary to popular belief, he did have friends and he never actually sharpened his spikes. The image of Cobb as a fierce, hard-sliding, no-holds-barred ballplayer started, for the most part, with his autobiography, ghostwritten by Al Stump, and perpetuated through popular culture.
In spite of the golf, I have to say that I’m thoroughly pleased with this book and I certainly don’t regret reading it. Stanton presents a refreshing look at both these ballplayers, and looking at each of them through the lens of their relationship with one another offers a fun perspective.