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Baseball's Biggest Bookie
Steve Rushin
June 26, 2006
If you bring only 4,000 baseball books to the beach this summer, make one of them Veeck As in Wreck, the best baseball book ever written, if you ask Karl Cicitto, who has roughly 4,000 baseball books in his house. "I have way too many, and I have to stop buying them," says Cicitto, of West Suffield, Conn., navigating a hedge maze of books in his master bedroom, where he and his wife, Lisa, sleep with countless other covered companions, including Designated Hebrew by Ron Blomberg, Memories of a Yankee Batboy by Frank Prudenti and--winking from the nightstand--Baseball Forever by Ralph Kiner, with whom Cicitto will retire tonight.
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June 26, 2006

Baseball's Biggest Bookie

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If you bring only 4,000 baseball books to the beach this summer, make one of them Veeck As in Wreck, the best baseball book ever written, if you ask Karl Cicitto, who has roughly 4,000 baseball books in his house. "I have way too many, and I have to stop buying them," says Cicitto, of West Suffield, Conn., navigating a hedge maze of books in his master bedroom, where he and his wife, Lisa, sleep with countless other covered companions, including Designated Hebrew by Ron Blomberg, Memories of a Yankee Batboy by Frank Prudenti and--winking from the nightstand--Baseball Forever by Ralph Kiner, with whom Cicitto will retire tonight.

And why not? God made trees for three reasons: to give us books, to give us baseball bats and to give us shade in which to read books about baseball.

A 49-year-old father of three, Cicitto sees more merit in Idiot by Johnny Damon than The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. " Damon says he'd remove his batting helmet while rounding third on a walk-off home run because it really hurts when teammates pound on the top of his helmet at home plate," says Cicitto. "I like knowing that."

Books are scattered throughout his house in a kind of urbane sprawl. There's highbrow (The Boys of Summer), lowbrow (Baseball's Zaniest Stars) and unibrow (Moe Berg: Athlete, Scholar, Spy, one of several books about the catcher and OSS agent whose single eyebrow calls to mind Bert from Sesame Street).

Moe Berg once endorsed Lord Thomas Macaulay's sentiment that he'd rather be a poor man in a garret filled with books than a king who didn't love reading. By this measure of wealth Cicitto is Bill Gates. His books rise in colorful stacks, a growing bar graph of one man's content. Cicitto can tell you that the best umpiring memoir is Tom Gorman's Three and Two!, though the best title of an umpiring memoir remains Durwood Merrill's You're Out and You're Ugly, Too!

There is no central organizing principle to Cicitto's library save one: The manifold books about his beloved Red Sox are shelved together, less a Dewey decimal system than a Dewey Evans system.

In his basement there must be 100 books about Babe Ruth, including The Babe and I by the second Mrs. Babe Ruth. "She writes that the Babe wasn't just an All-Star on the field," says Cicitto, with an if-you-catch-my-drift arch of the eyebrows.

He buys books at flea markets, on vacations and at library sales, at which titles have been torn from his hands by other collectors. For most of them the elusive Holy Grail remains Pitching in a Pinch, a rare 1912 classic by Christy Mathewson.

On a shelf in the den is a small replica of the Lincoln Memorial. "He's heroic, poetic, everything good about a person," says Cicitto, pointing not at Lincoln but to the autobiography behind him, The Way It Is by Curt Flood, who challenged baseball's reserve clause. Indeed, the books in this house include a fair history of the United States, a condensed Library of Congress.

Baseball's Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon is a book of portraits of dentally neglected big leaguers taken by Conlon from 1904 to '42. "Look at those teeth," says Cicitto, transfixed by the British smile of Joe "Ducky" Medwick.

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