In the Ballpark: The Working Lives of Baseball People
by George Gmelch and J.J. Weiner
Smithsonian Institution Press, $21.95
This book was written as a scholarly study of the workaday world of baseball. Over a four-year period Gmelch, an anthropology professor at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., and Weiner, a former student of Gmelch's, interviewed not only major and minor league players and managers but also scouts, trainers, groundskeepers, vendors, P.A. announcers, front office functionaries, broadcasters, mascots, ushers and clubhouse attendants. Perhaps as a result, this is—despite the pervading tone of academic solemnity—one of the funniest of all baseball books.
Consider, for example, Phillie Phanatic Tom Burgoyne's comparison of his character with another famous mascot: "Unlike the Chicken, the Phanatic is 6 feet, 8 inches tall and has an 86-90-inch waist and an unknown shoe size." Or his formula for eliciting surefire laughs: "shining bald heads, eating fans' popcorn, spilling popcorn, goosing vendors, stealing ice cream...things like that." Or Camden Yards beer vendor Jerry Collier acknowledging his celebrity: "My wife and I can't go into a Baltimore restaurant without somebody saying, 'Hey, it's the beer man.' "
Then there's umpire Durwood Merrill's theory of higher mathematics: "Your body might only have 80 percent to give today. But if you can give 100 percent of that 80 percent, then you're...okay." Or this from New York Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams's wife, Waleska, who counsels groupies: "If the young women that have these fantasies about being with ballplayers really knew what it was like being married to one, they might not be so eager."
The serious stuff is pretty good, too, such as minor leaguer Scott Jaster's explanation of what has kept him in the game: "The thing of it, though, is that when you're on the field, under the lights, and the crowd's energy is beating on your back, it's magical out there....That's what keeps you going, when the magic outweighs the crap."
That just about says it all.