25 May 2011

George Vecsey, Stan Musial: An American Life. New York: Ballantine, 2011.

Stan Musial is easy to overlook. Easy-going, unassuming, and terribly consistent, Musial put together a first-ballot Hall of Fame career over twenty-two years with the St. Louis Cardinals and held seventeen major league records when he retired. But on his special day, a nationally-televised tribute at the 2009 All-Star game in St. Louis, he was over-shadowed by the President, who had come to throw out the first pitch, just as he had been over-shadowed by the flashier greatness of Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams while they were playing.

President Obama made amends, though, by awarding Musial the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, making him just the third ballplayer so honored. George Vecsey, the long-time New York Times sports writer, takes another step toward restoring Musial’s prominence with this thoroughly researched and documented official biography, which finally provides Musial a similar literary treatment to his peers.

Almost conversationally readable, Vecsey presents Musial in short, episodic vignettes relating key moments, propelled by an undercurrent of the respect, even awe, for Musial Vecsey developed as a young Dodgers’ fan watching Musial regularly beat his hometown team. Easily readable, this biography is appropriate for readers of any age and stands beside Musial’s memoir The Man’s Own Story as essential reading on one of baseball’s great gentlemen.

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03 May 2011

A. Bartlett Giamatti, Take Time for Paradise. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2011.

Bart Giamatti was baseball’s philosopher-king, a professor of English and then President of Yale University before serving as National League President (in spite of being a Red Sox fan) and then Commissioner before his death in 1989. Paradise, based on his Cook Lectures at the University of Michigan Law School, is his final work, published just days after his death, and it provides a fitting epitaph.

Drawing heavily on the work of Allen Guttman and Michael O’Laughlin, Giamatti begins by explicating the concept of leisure. He then argues that “Sports represent a shared vision of how we continue, as individual, team, or community, to experience a happiness or absence of care so intense, so rare, and so fleeting that we associate their experience with experience otherwise described as religious....” Finally, he deconstructs the elements of baseball to reveal its fundamental underlying epic narrative: the universal desire to go home.

Giamatti delivers these meditations in a lyrical prose that conveys both baseball’s leisurely pace and exacting precision, with subtle insights that will stop a thoughtful reader for minutes. For instance, Charlie Sheen could benefit from this definition: “Winning” for player or spectator is not simply outscoring; it is a way of talking about betterment, about making one-self, one’s fellows, one’s city, one’s adherents, more noble because of a temporary engagement of a higher human plane of existence.” By this definition, Paradise is certainly a winner.

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