Armour: The baseball book that changed my life

From SABR member Mark Armour at The National Pastime Museum on December 29, 2015:

My early baseball education came mainly from Topps’ baseball cards and Random House’s “Big League Library” series (Jim Brosnan’s Great Baseball Pitchers, George Vecsey’s Baseball’s Most Valuable Players, and a dozen others). The late 1960s and early 1970s was a great time for young baseball readers, and my school libraries had a fair sampling of books on such heroes as Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays. I read all I could find.

A turning point in my baseball reading, when I began to appreciate the impressive history of the game’s literature, came with my teenage discovery of Charles Einstein’s three (later four) volumes of The Fireside Book of Baseball, an anthology of game accounts, columns, poems, illustrations, and cartoons covering several decades. The series had been around a while before I ran across it, but I first read the words of Ring Lardner, Heywood Broun, and Damon Runyon in the pages of these books, checked out of the Groton (Connecticut) Public Library in the mid-1970s. Some of it was tough sledding for a teenage boy. Runyon, who later became one of my favorites, wrote in a colorful stylized language that was not yet familiar to me. The same was true of most of the prewar material.

A piece by Arnold Hano highlighted the first Fireside volume (1956); it was a chapter from his book A Day in the Bleachers. The book is a first-person account of sitting in the Polo Grounds’ bleachers for Game 1 of the 1954 World Series. The excerpt is about a single play—a sensational catch by the Giants’ Willie Mays. I knew of this play, but I so loved Hano’s chapter that on my next trip to the library I checked out the whole book.

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Originally published: January 4, 2016. Last Updated: January 4, 2016.