A winning anthology devoted to that most satisfying of moments—smacking a baseball out of the park.
“A home run is by no means an easy thing to describe, no more or less than a military historian can wax fondly over the flight of a mortar shell,” writes publisher, author, and professional amateur Plimpton (Pet Peeves, 2000, etc.). Yet, whereas loving descriptions of artillery trajectories are few, American literature abounds in glorious works in which baseball plays some part. Plimpton gathers minor classics such as Grantland Rice’s 1888 poem “That Man from Mudville” (a happy-ending response to Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s spirit-crushing “Casey at the Bat”) and Bernard Malamud’s The Natural, mixes in excerpts from modern novels and the better class of baseball reportage, and seasons the lot with knowing headnotes and a worth-the-ticket-price chronology of home-run history from 1876 to 1999. Although Plimpton’s choices are sound, some of the pieces (such as Paul Gallico’s “His Majesty the King” and John Updike’s “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu”) have been heavily anthologized. The collection is thrown a little off-balance, too, by a 40-page excerpt from Don DeLillo’s Underworld, which, though worthy enough, might have been abbreviated to make room for other pieces. Still, these are minor flaws, for which Plimpton more than atones by tossing in some pleasant surprises—including Gregory Corso’s poem “Dream of a Baseball Star” and a wonderfully curious memoir by Sadaharu Oh (possibly the greatest player in Japanese baseball history), who writes: “As the ball makes its high, long arc beyond the playing field, the diamond and the stands suddenly belong to one man. In that brief, brief time, you are free of all demands and complications.”
The home run as nirvana: a pleasant thought that echoes throughout these pages, which, all in all, are a real treat for baseball fans.