Tales from a Bygone Era
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 Mellifluous essays on the dawn of baseball, by a veteran sportswriter (My Life in the North Woods, 1986, etc.). ``When I inhale the full and mellow fragrance of a new baseball glove,'' writes Smith, ``I find it easy to summon the light of other years around me.'' His evocation begins with his own youth: playing sandlot games with a ball wrapped in black friction tape and watching it crash through a neighbor's window; visiting the Red Sox dugout, where he sees ``an exceptionally happy looking'' Babe Ruth. Baseball was different then: Players cheated in ways that now seem innocent (freezing baseballs to deaden their kick, angling mirrors from the bleachers to blind the batter); every town had its amateur or semipro team; prep schools paid good money to have top players on their roster. From these halcyon days, recalled with tenderness and humor, Smith backpedals to the sport's infancy in the 1860's, when umpires wore top hats and players sanitized their on-field wounds with tobacco juice. Smith resurrects many forgotten names, including great black players from the early Negro Leagues, and, sadly, a number of stars ruined by alcohol, like slugger Ed Delahanty, who tumbled down Niagara Falls. As he returns to the 20th century, his opinions sharpen: Among pitchers, Satchel Paige--who entered the major leagues in his 40s, a victim of the boycott against blacks--was ``quite possibly the best who ever lived''; legendary Commissioner Judge Landis was ``possessed of a breathtaking egotism.'' He pooh-poohs Joe DiMaggio's famed hitting streak, warms to Mickey Mantle's accounts of boyhood antics, and, stepping outside the diamond, paints a devastating portrait of restauranteur Toots Shor--whose establishment catered to many baseball giants--as a whining sycophant. Elegant, lovingly detailed all-star memories. (Sixteen pages of b&w photos--not seen.)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-671-73930-1
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1993