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THE 34-TON BAT by Steve Rushin


The Story of Baseball As Told Through Bobbleheads, Cracker Jacks, Jockstraps, Eye Black, and 375 Other Strange and Unforgettable Objects

by Steve Rushin

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-316-20093-6
Publisher: Little, Brown

A veteran writer for Sports Illustrated takes us through baseball’s odd attic, pointing out and narrating the history of the quotidian and the curious.

Few objects escape the notice of Rushin (The Pint Man, 2010, etc.), who invests each not only with the skill of a career sportswriter, but also with the passion of a fan. He begins with some personal history (as a youth he prepared hotdogs at Minnesota Twins’ games) and then proceeds to the most significant object: the baseball. He offers some amusing (and even frightening) tales of players trying to catch balls dropped from great heights, as well as the story of Spalding and the slow move by clubs to let fans keep balls hit into the stands. Rushin then moves on to the story of bats, with Louisville sluggers and metal and the threat of the ash-borer all figuring prominently. He describes early spring training sites and then embarks on an enthusiastic history of the glove, noting that a 1938 X-ray of Lou Gehrig’s glove hand showed 17 breaks. Next come the uniforms and the slow evolution away from flannel (in which players baked for decades) to double-knit pieces. Rushin also relates the history of the baseball cap, noting how its design has spread around the world. He pauses to chat about eye black, the development of headgear for hitters, cups to protect the family jewels and sufficient urinal space in the ballpark (a necessity, he notes, due to the torrents of beer consumed). Owners offered salty food (to increase beer consumption) and then numerous other gimmicks and novelties to brand fans and make megabucks. The author rounds third with stories about ballpark seating and slides home with a return to his own story—with some comments about the construction of the bases themselves.

Not just sportswriting, but also graceful and gripping cultural history.