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.
I have been listening to a biography of Elon Musk on audiobook, and it certainly caught my attention when the audiobook mentioned that Musk had sponsored a documentary called Baseball in the Time of Cholera. I don’t know whether Musk actually has any interest in baseball, but apparently he had visited the area of the cholera outbreak in Haiti, bringing with him gifts for an orphanage. The documentary was made shortly after.
I managed to find the documentary on YouTube. It’s only about half-an-hour long and certainly worth the watch. The cholera outbreak in Haiti began in 2010, and from what I’ve been able to tell online, continued until May 2017. I do have to caution, this documentary is a bit grim (the baseball helps to lighten things up slightly). Nonetheless, things like this are important to be aware of in our world.
I came across this book while browsing the library yesterday. Baseball, Boys, and Bad Words is a small book, and I found the title intriguing, so I decided to go ahead and check it out. It would be a nice, fast, easy read, and it was about baseball.
The story takes place in 1970, when the author, Andy Andrews, was eleven years old. He and his friends were returning for another season of Little League baseball. This year, they were getting a new coach who was “new to the area.” The new coach’s manner of speech at first confuses the boys, but then leads to some amusing moments throughout their season. We hear about themes familiar to anyone who’s ever played Little League: the worst player is in right field, the coach’s son is automatically the pitcher, etc.
It’s a very short story, so I don’t think I can say much more about it without giving the whole thing away. If it were typed in a straight text format, I can’t imagine this tale would take up more than a couple of pages. Obviously the text is broken up to allow for conversion into book format. Besides the story itself, the book is littered with a variety of pictures and baseball-related quotes, which, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you would know is something I enjoy.
Though I enjoyed the story (I literally laughed out loud a couple times) as well as the quotes and the photography, if you are curious about this book, I would encourage you to look for it at the library. It might make for a fun gift for a young ballplayer’s birthday, but outside of that, I honestly can’t say it’s worth the money you’d spend on it. It might have been better published in a magazine or other periodical, to be read and enjoyed once, but not something truly worth taking up space on your bookshelves.
This piece was originally published in 1972 in All in Sport, one of many poetry collections written by Richard Armour. This one is a fun little baseball logic puzzle, which I think I’ve been able to work out, though as I read it over again and think about it further, it seems there are multiple answers to this one.
One runner’s safe, one runner’s out,
Or so the ump has beckoned.
The one who’s safe touched second first,
The one who’s out, first second.
Whenever you have a tight situation and there’s a close pitch, the umpire gets a squawk no matter how he calls it.
Baseball really is a glorified game of throw and catch. And if you don’t have guys who throw it really well, you can’t compete for long.
~Tucker Elliot, Tampa Bay Rays IQ: The Ultimate Test of True Fandom
This poem is a bit of a deviation from what one usually finds in the world of baseball writing. It doesn’t revolve around baseball per se, but around an imaginary back story to some pieces of broken glass found around home plate of a baseball diamond. This piece was originally published in 1999 in Selfwolf.
The guys who drank quarts of Busch last night
here by the backstop of this baseball diamond
had names given them by their mothers and fathers—
“Jack” and “Kenny” let us say.
Jack might be
a skinny guy in a black fake-leather jacket,
he’s twenty-five, his gray pants are too loose on his hips,
his jaws always have these little black extra hairs,
his mother won’t talk to him on the phone,
she lives on french fries and ketchup,
he hasn’t been able to send her any cash
in the last two years, ever since he lost
his job unloading produce trucks at Pathmark;
Jack’s father disappeared when he was ten.
“No big deal,” Jack says, “he was a bastard anyway,
he used to flatten beer cans on the top of my head.”
Kenny offers a laugh-noise. He’s heard all that before.
Kenny is forty-eight, a flabby man with reddened skin,
he is employed at the Italian Market selling fish
just four hours a day but his shirts hold the smell;
his female companion Deena left him a note last month:
“You owe me $12 chocolate $31 wine $55 cable TV plus
donuts—I have had it—taking lamp and mirror
they are mine.” Kenny hasn’t seen her since.
He hangs with Jack because Jack talks loud
as if the world of cops and people with full-time jobs
could be kept at bay by talking, talking loud . . .
(I’m talking gently and imaginatively here
as if the world of bums and jerks could be kept far off—)
Jack and Kenny. (Or two other guys dark to me with wounds
oozing in Philadelphia ways less ready to narrate.)
Last night at midnight they got cheesesteaks at Casseloni’s
and bought four quarts at the Fireside Tavern
and wandered into this park. After one quart of Busch
Jack said he was Lenny Dykstra
and found a stick for his bat. “Pitch to me asshole” he said
so Kenny went to the mound and pitched his bottle
for want of anything better and Jack swung in the dark and missed;
Kenny’s bottle smashed on home plate and Jack heard in the sound
the absurdity of all his desiring since seventh grade,
absurdity of a skinny guy who blew everything since seventh
when he hit home runs and chased Joan Rundle around the gym
so Jack took his own empty bottle and smashed it down
amid the brown shards of Kenny’s bottle.
Then they leaned on the backstop to drink the other two quarts
and they both grew glum and silent
and when they smashed these bottles it was like
what else would they do? Next morning
Nick and I come to the park with a rubber ball
and a miniature bat. Nick is not quite three
but he knows the names of all the Phillies starters
and he knows the area around home plate is not supposed to be
covered with jagged pieces of brown glass. Like a good dad
I warn him not to touch it and we decide to establish
a new home plate closer to the mound (there’s no trash can
handy). “Who put that glass there?” Nick wants to know
and to make a long story short I say “Bad People.”
Nick says “Bad? How come?”