We had 60 degrees Wednesday, a whiteout Thursday, frozen rain Sunday. But some of us take heart from the first robins of spring – pitchers and catchers sighted down south.
Then there are advance copies of baseball books, just being distributed to lucky media types like me.
My first CARE package was a literate and knowing little gem, “Off Speed: Baseball, Pitching, and the Art of Deception,” by Terry McDermott, from Pantheon Books, which will be on the shelves in May but has already rejuvenated me.
McDermott, a writer on other serious subjects like terrorism, is also a baseball buff, stemming from childhood in Cascade, Iowa. He describes his first big-league game – a Yankee doubleheader at Comiskey Park, June 28, 1959, on a road trip that reminds me of a boy’s rambunctious bus pub crawl with Welsh elders in the classic Dylan Thomas short story “The Outing.”
Once a year, McDermott writes, the men of Cascade “would charter a Burlington Line train – who knew you could even do this? -- out of East Dubuque, Illinois. They’d fill the train with Knights of Columbus, cold ham sandwiches, and Falstaff beer – or maybe Schlitz in a good year – and head east. My father, known to everyone as Mac took me along as an early birthday gift.”
McDermott adds: “It was my first game, my first train, my first taxi, my first bus, my first time seeing grown men pass out drunk.” Also, his first time seeing and hearing black Americans on the South Side of Chicago.
The hold of baseball -- a rural game played in urban settings -- reminds me of the great book, "The Southpaw," by Mark Harris I wrote about it for opening day in 2005: The young lefty from upstate New York goes to his first game in the big city where he will one day pitch.
In his first pilgrimage to another great baseball town, McDermott witnessed Yogi Berra catching both ends of a doubleheader loss. The great source Retrosheet does not allude to it, but McDermott is sure he saw a foul pop drop untouched near Berra just before an Al Smith homer, 58 years ago. Fans remember stuff like that.
Cascade is a small town, 15 minutes from where Kevin Costner wandered in the corn fields in “Field of Dreams,” and it fielded a weekend team which won 64 of 65 games one season. The star pitcher was obscurely known as Yipe; every male in Cascade had a nickname.
McDermott could have written only about the enduring pull of baseball in a small town (which still has a team) –– and that would have been fine, in fact, beautiful. But the book does much more, economically – the dissection of a perfect game by King Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners on Aug. 15, 2012 – sunny day game after a night game, McDermott duly notes.
He has taken four full seasons to reconstruct that game, talking shop with the scattered principals, lifers who remember every pitch. He uses each inning to illustrate one of nine different pitches in baseball’s arsenal. Some of the old masters include Walter Johnson, Three-Finger Brown, Candy Cummings, said to be the inventor of the curveball, and Cascade's own Urban (Red) Faber, Hall of Famer and next-to-last (legal) practitioner of the spitball.
And more: McDermott was a ballboy one night in Cascade when Satchel Paige 56 going on 1,000, pitched a few innings. Satchel winked and asked the boy to please not clean the dirt off the balls being rotated back into the game. Let’s have some fun, Paige suggested.
This book taught me some things: hitters who start 0-1 in the count bat .230 on that at-bat but hitters who start 1-0 bat .275. Thirteen pitchers have had their perfect game disrupted with two outs in the ninth. And, in this affluent era when barely-used balls are tossed to the fans, the average game consumes 120 balls.
McDermott provides touching digressions about the numerous shoes in his daughter’s closet, and the time his headstrong dad cooked meat on the lid of a garbage can. (It was for the dog, he quickly adds.) He has a great ear for the verbal excursions and minutiae and great truths that baseball produces, more than any other sport.
“Off Speed” will be out soon enough, but my privileged early peek assures me: baseball lives.
2/12/2017 10:26:17 pm
2/12/2017 10:43:52 pm
Roger. Brilliant. I will email McDermott in the AM. You prove the point - good fans never forget, even when it's not in the box score. Why I love baseball, part 7 million. GV
2/13/2017 07:10:43 am
2/13/2017 09:59:44 am
Bom dia, Altenir:
2/17/2017 10:36:28 am
As I have 'fessed before, I was a 10-year-old Yankees fan living in Whitestone in 1969 and was teased mercilessly. The psychological scars of jumping on the bandwagon and rooting for the Mets endure. I seem to recall listening with the rest of my fifth grade class to Swoboda's catch on the radio with Sister Joan in my Catholic school classroom - though that may be a distortion.
2/13/2017 10:18:55 am
Years ago my friend Paul and I played hookey from work and went to a late August afternoon game at Shea. In those days the ushers could be very easily "influenced" and we ended up in the first row behind third base. Paul's young son's favorite Met at the time was Alex Ochoa to whom he had written a long fan letter asking for an autograph. He even included a postage paid return envelope but never received an answer. The game was tied 0-0 in the middle innings when Ochoa led off with a triple. Paul immediately started in on him, "Hey Alex did you get that letter from my son James? A response would have been nice? He's only a little kid." Well, Alex meets Paul's eyes and smiles. I smile. The fans sitting around us smile. Even the umpire smiled.
2/13/2017 10:36:18 am
Roy: great story. Santiago would fire on his belly. He caught a pigeon who deserved it. Probably ruined the guy's career in some vital way. Best GV
2/15/2017 09:07:35 am
2/15/2017 01:21:45 pm
Bruce, I think hockey has the broadest respect for the past -- a shared culture, if you will, even factoring Anglo and Franco Canada. By now there have been major inroads from Sweden, USSR and USA, etc. but today's players somehow know that Gordie Howe was special and so was Gretzky...and Les Habs. And the USSR team had its great time...and USA won two Olympics.
2/15/2017 01:42:50 pm
2/15/2017 02:07:27 pm
Bruce: It was Vince Coleman. To be fair, he could just have been brushing off the reporter. (Always possible, particularly for him.)
2/15/2017 09:19:29 am
2/15/2017 01:14:51 pm
Bruce, that is the way we wear our tie in central Queens. (I grew up half a mile from TrumphHaus...have written about that on this site.) Did you see the piece in the NYT by a fashion writer explaining that the poor clod cannot even tie a tie correcty....and he uses scotch tape to keep the two ends together. That, I swear, Ihave never done. GV
2/15/2017 01:26:55 pm
2/15/2017 03:06:48 pm
2/17/2017 12:26:39 am
When I saw the words “the Art of Deception” in the title of Terry McDermott’s book, I recalled a comment I didn’t get around to sending on the previous thread, re: Billy Cox, the Deceiver.
2/17/2017 01:01:29 pm
Gene, I was sitting right behind 3B that day. It was at least 300 mph.
2/17/2017 01:04:53 pm
Gene, I should add, my friend Jerry Rosenthal from Madison High was in the Milwaukee Braves chain for a few years and has nothing but good things to say about coaches Andy Pafko and Dixie Walker. GV
2/17/2017 01:25:01 pm
3/1/2017 03:40:06 am
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“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.