The Head Game
By Roger Kahn/Harcourt, Inc. $25
The Baseball fan with a sense of history and an abiding respect for the written word will rejoice in what is fast becoming a late-season literary bonanza. It is rare indeed when even one good book of baseball scholarship finds its way into the marketplace. But this is one of three.
Kahn, the immortalizer of The Boys of Summer, is almost a patriarchal figure in the literature of the game. There have been times, however, when his self-absorption has all but overwhelmed his subject matter.
That, happily, is not evident in The Head Game. The title refers to the battle of wits between pitcher and batter, which is the essence of baseball. Kahn sides with pitching, and in a narrative that is both analytical and anecdotal, he rewards the reader with what amounts to a scholarly treatise on the craft. He does so through engrossing portraits of pitching masters, from Candy Cummings, the reputed inventor of the curveball, to Bruce Sutter, the popularizer of the split-finger fastball. Kahn also presents us with Christy Mathewson on the fadeaway, Warren Spahn on the changeup and Don Drysdale on the duster.
This book is Kahn at his best, which is pretty damn good.
Going, Going, Gone...
The History, Lore and Mystique of the Home Run
Edited by Brian Silverman/ Harper Collins, $40
The mighty sluggers of history are all portrayed here, alongside accounts of memorable swats by lesser figures. Included are essays on the dinger by writers such as Robert Creamer, David Halberstam, Donald Honig, Leonard Koppett, Ed Linn and Ray Robinson.
There's amusement, too. In the section on tape-measure shots, for example, we have this observation by former Yankees pitching great Lefty Gomez: "When Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, he and all the space scientists were puzzled by an unidentifiable white object. I knew immediately what it was. That was a home run ball hit off me in 1937 by Jimmie Foxx."
Red Sox Century
One Hundred Years of Red Sox Baseball
By Glenn Stout and Richard A. Johnson/ Houghton Mifflin, $40
"Losing-particularly the way Boston has lost, which always seems to be in the most excruciating fashion and always when victory has appeared most certain—poses a moral question that challenges a way of thinking and leads fans into self-doubt: What have I possibly done to deserve this?"