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GUYS, DOLLS, AND CURVEBALLS by Jim Reisler Kirkus Star

GUYS, DOLLS, AND CURVEBALLS

Damon Runyon on Baseball

By Jim Reisler

Pub Date: April 5th, 2005
ISBN: 0-7867-1540-5

Just in time for the new season: a collection of hitherto scattered baseball pieces by the legendary newspaperman and writer.

Baseball historian and journalist Reisler does a great service to lovers of Angell, Kahn, Stump, and other chroniclers of the game—to say nothing to literate fans of baseball, period—by gathering Damon Runyon’s baseball writings over three decades, beginning in 1911. Runyon held a staunchly democratic view of the game, protesting, for instance, the fact that the rich, and not true-blue fans, got the best seats in the house: “I do not know just how I would arrange it if they left the job to me,” Runyon admitted, “but I would certainly make some provision for the regulars getting the best seats when the best seats are really worth having.” Populist politics aside, Runyon also had an evident interest in the game’s characters, in men such as the unlucky New York Giants pitcher Bugs Raymond, who defied his coach’s ban on drinking and gambling and was forced down to the semi-pros, only to die at the age of 30. “He might have been drawing as much salary as any pitcher in the world,” Runyon sighed in 1911, “not excepting [Christy] Mathewson.” Runyon’s blow-by-blow account of the clincher game of the 1926 World Series, which involved a dramatis personae as great as any baseball has seen—Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Grover Cleveland Alexander, et al.—is the standout piece here, though even Runyon’s minor sketches and dispatches hold up. That is especially true when Runyon, always a playful writer, goes subversive: for reasons of his own, for instance, he filed one 1919 piece in what Reisler calls “virtual shorthand,” turning in such epigrammatic notes as “Jack Quinn pitched well for us, but not well enough” and “An attempt was made to squeeze Jacobson home, but ‘Baby Doll’ was eradicated at the pan.”

A first-class anthology. Fans know that Runyon hit almost every word he wrote straight out of the park, and those new to his work are in for a treat as well.