The long association between baseball and literature probably began in July 1846, when a reporter for the Brooklyn Eagle named Walt Whitman wrote, "In our sun-down perambulations, of late, through the outer parts of Brooklyn, we have observed several parties of youngsters playing 'base', a certain game of ball." Nowadays, if one were to perambulate through Brooklyn's Prospect Park, one might find SI reporter Nicholas Dawidoff playing that certain game. And when his play is done, Dawidoff, 25, often heads for the nearest volume of poetry.
Dawidoff, the author of the piece on baseball librarian Tom Heitz (page 12), plays shortstop for the combined SI-United Press International team in the New York Press League as well as for the Holsteins, a team that takes on all comers in Brooklyn, but he is just as at home talking about William Carlos Williams as he is about Walter (No-Neck) Williams. His love of baseball and literature was nurtured by his grandfather, Alexander Gerschenkron, who was an eminent Harvard economist. "He introduced me to the Red Sox and Tolstoy when I was nine," says Dawidoff. "We'd sit in his study and listen to games on the radio. He'd explain the subtleties that made Tony Conigliaro a better outfielder than his brother Billy and War and Peace a superior novel to Resurrection."
In his native New Haven, Conn., books were a large part of Dawidoff's childhood—his mother, Heidi, is an English teacher—and television was strictly forbidden. "He's a walking anachronism," says SI writer-reporter Morin Bishop. "Imagine growing up without ever having seen Bonanza." The Dawidoffs were close to the family of A. Bartlett Giamatti, then the president of Yale and now president of the National League, but Nicky went to Harvard rather than Yale, graduating magna cum laude in history and literature. He joined SI in 1985 and has written several stories on baseball history for the magazine.
Although baseball antiquity is a particular love of his, Dawidoff mixes well with the modern-day players he's asked to interview. "I've seen him poring over a crossword puzzle with Keith Hernandez, playing basketball with Reggie Jackson and sharing a long laugh with Frank Viola," says senior editor Steve Wulf. In fact, in the Twins' clubhouse after Game 3 of last year's American League Championship Series, Viola raised a question that we've all been meaning to ask the perpetually disheveled Dawidoff. "Nicky," asked Viola, "do you brush your hair with a shoe?"