In this sparkling collection, the late paleontologist and popular science essayist (The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister’s Pox, see above) gathers random writings on one of his many passions: baseball.
All right-thinking people worship the game, of course, and as Gould remarks in his wind-up to these pieces (originally published in venues such as the New York Review of Books, American Heritage, and the Wall Street Journal), intellectuals have taken to it more than to any other sport except, perhaps, boxing—though, he notes, “I don’t for a minute attribute such favoritism to any inherent property of the game itself.” Gould’s own addiction to baseball began in the late 1940s and early ’50s, a glorious era during which all New York kids were baseball nuts, “barring mental deficiency or incomprehensible idiosyncrasy.” After all, he notes, in that more innocent New York, the separate boroughs, city-states of a kind, fielded their own major and minor teams, and a kid didn’t have to look too far to find a hero. (Gould notes that ethnic groups tended to favor their own: among his relatives’ Jewish heroes were Moe Berg, “a mediocre player, but absolutely outstanding character,” Hank Greenberg, and Sandy Koufax.) And in all events “between 1949 and 1964 a New York team played in the World Series in all years but 1959,” with the Yankees alone winning nine pennants. Still, ever the statistician and contrarian, the author names not a New York team for his choice as the greatest squad in modern baseball, but the 1954 Cleveland Indians, who had “an incredible winning percentage of .721” and slaughtered just about every team they met that year. Gould’s assessments of baseball players and teams, books about the game, and the sport itself are smart, well-written, and eminently entertaining, even though devoted fans may find themselves arguing with some of his pronouncements, just as Darwinists were forever taking issue with Gould’s stands on evolution.
Just the thing for spring training, and a lovely farewell gift from a clear-headed and passionate thinker.