Archive for Sunday, March 30, 2008

National pastime

The art of baseball

March 30, 2008

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Ballplayers read 'Casey at the Bat'

Young baseball and softball players recite the classic poem. Enlarge video

There is a grace to the game of baseball. Its leisurely pace is interrupted by bursts of speed and strength, not unlike ballet.

Perhaps that's why artists often gravitate to it in word, music and film.

To commemorate baseball's opening day, the Journal-World asked experts in the game and the arts to compile their list of the best baseball books, photographs, movies and song.

Just like there is no right answer to the question of who was a better center fielder, Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle, we expect the lists to prompt a discussion or two.

Five must-reads

Ron Kaplan hosts Ron Kaplan's Baseball Bookshelf, a blog about the game's literature. Here are his five must-read baseball books, along with his comments:

¢ "Ball Four" by Jim Bouton. "The content pales in comparison to more lurid contemporary efforts, but if not for Bouton's courage and intelligence, there would be no tell-all exposes like Jose Canseco's 'Juiced.'"

¢ "The Glory of their Times" by Lawrence Ritter. "The first of many oral histories on the national pastime. Often imitated, but never duplicated. It proves that early 20th-century ballplayers were not ignorant roughnecks or rubes."

¢ "The Natural" by Bernard Malamud. "Forget the upbeat ending of the Robert Redford film. This was the first adult baseball novel, a jarring departure from the positive 'Jack Armstrong' role models."

¢ "The New Bill James Historical Abstract." "The 'Father of Sabrmetrics,' and Lawrence resident, goes beyond statistics with his entertaining and educational treatise on some of the most intriguing concepts of the game."

¢ "The Thinking Fan's Guide to Baseball," by Leonard Koppett. "There are many guides to the game. Some are more encompassing in their coverage of the myriad aspects - statistics, biography, strategy, etc., straining to be all things to all people - but none is more eloquent yet accessible than Koppett's."

Picture this

With millions of images taken of ballplayers, it's impossible to pick the best. So we turned to John Horne of the A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. The center has more than 500,000 images. Here are the most popular photos requested:

1. Hank Aaron's swing on his 715th home run, passing Babe Ruth on the career home run list in 1974.

2. The induction class of the first Hall of Fame Weekend in 1939. The photograph doesn't include the great Ty Cobb, who arrived late.

3. Roger Maris connecting on home run No. 61 in 1961, passing Ruth, who hit 60 homers in 1927.

4. Jackie Robinson with Branch Rickey announcing that Robinson would join the Brooklyn Dodgers as baseball's first black player.

5. Ruth and Lou Gehrig on the day Gehrig made his "Luckiest Man" speech in 1939.

Baseball movies

Journal-World entertainment editor Jon Niccum says to forget about throwaway flicks like "Major League" or the overrated "The Natural." Here are his top five movies about baseball.

"The Bad News Bears" (the 1976 version): "A woeful Little League team eventually works its way to the championship game thanks to their boozy manager (Walter Matthau) and star female pitcher (Tatum O'Neal). 'Bears' is profane and hilarious, but it's also an unflinching look at competition in American culture."

"Bull Durham": "Want to know what pitchers and catchers really talk about during those meetings on the mound? The comedy 'Bull Durham' answers that question and more, with crackling dialogue and a compelling plot involving a veteran catcher (Kevin Costner), a raw pitcher (Tim Robbins) and the sexy minor league groupie who gets between them (Susan Sarandon)."

"61*": "Baseball devotee Billy Crystal directed this Emmy-winning HBO project about the 1961 home run chase by Yankees Roger Maris (Barry Pepper) and Mickey Mantle (Thomas Jane). The casting is eerily convincing, and the inherent drama - involving tradition, expectations and unwanted celebrity - often proves devastating."

"Eight Men Out": "Based on the Black Sox scandal that nearly crippled Major League Baseball, this sobering drama follows the talented, underpaid Chicago White Sox team that fixed the 1919 World Series ... and shattered their careers."

"Bang the Drum Slowly": "An all-star pitcher (Michael Moriarty) befriends a mediocre, dim-witted catcher (Robert De Niro) with an incurable disease in this emotional picture based on a 1956 Mark Harris novel. The film is particularly good at showing the day-to-day details of life on the road for a pro player."

Baseball in song

Jeff Campbell is producing his 10th volume of "Diamond Cuts," a collection of classic baseball songs, and a 100th anniversary commemorative CD of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." He is co-chairman of the Baseball in the Arts Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research. Here are his favorite baseball songs:

"Centerfield" by John Fogerty. "Baseball has been used as a metaphor for life in many songs, but this one is tops. One of the best songs for the summer."

"The First Baseball Game" performed by The Graverobbers. "Biblical characters as baseball players, a very fun song. It was originally called 'Brother Noah Gave Out Checks for Rain' when written in 1907. Johnny Mercer added lyrics in 1947 and renamed it 'The First Baseball Game.' The Graverobbers released it in 1997."

"The Ballad of Eddie Klepp" by Chuck Brodsky. "Chuck Brodsky is one of the most prolific writers of baseball songs. 'Ballad' is about a white pitcher who played in the Negro Leagues."

"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" performed by George Winston and Johnny Guarnieri. "There have been well over 500 versions recorded of our National Pastime's anthem, and my favorites are piano instrumentals by George Winston and Johnny Guarnieri. Winston's rendition is New Orleans-style blues. Guarnieri's takes the listener on a rollicking piano ride with his amazing stride-style playing. Both are stunning."

"Bill Veeck the Baseball Man" by Hit and Run All-Stars. "This song was written for Bill Veeck's granddaughter Rebecca, who is Bill Veeck's greatest fan. The former owner of the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns left an important legacy on the game. Current owners should adopt Veeck's philosophy of putting the fans first."

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