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Red Smith on Baseball

by Harvey Frommer

Harvey Frommer - Click to Enlarge

The sub-title for this sports book is "The Game's Greatest Writer on the Game's Greatest Years". There would be many who would argue with this publisher's hype.

But there won't be many who would argue that Red Smith was among the best in a long line of legendary baseball writers. RED SMITH ON BASEBALL (Ivan R. Dee publishers, 363 pages, $24.95) is a collection of Red's most memorable columns, 167 total, from 1941 to 1981. And there is not a loser in the whole batch.

Legendary people Smith wrote about include: Jackie Robinson, Casey Stengel, Willie Mays, Bill Veeck, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Yogi and Campy and Gil Hodges...

Walter W. (Red) Smith hit his prime in 1945 as a sports columnist for the "New York Herald Tribune". When that newspaper went out of business, he became the main sports columnist for the "New York Times" until his death in January 1982. That time period and those two newspapers serve as the well from which the columns in this book were drawn.

"New York Times" sports columnist Ira Berkow, Smith's biographer, wrote the foreword to the book. He explained that while Smith "wrote on subjects from the Olympics to harness racing, from Super Bowls to hoops, it may be that he loved baseball best of all". Red had a lot of practice writing about baseball, as early as 1929 when he was 24 years old.

The book starts off with a column Smith wrote in October 1941 - Winning by Striking Out. "It could happen only in Brooklyn," Smith begins. "Nowhere else in this broad, untidy universe, not in Bedlam nor in Babel nor in the remotest psychopathic ward nor the sleaziest padded cell could the Thing be.

"Only in the ancestral home of the Dodgers which knew the goofy glories of Babe Herman could a man win a World Series by striking out."

That is a mouthful.

And the book ends with a column called "Leave Him to the Angels" written January 18, 1981. "A young woman asked: 'What was Casey Stengel like?' I thought she was pulling my leg when I realized she was nine years old when Casey, retiring as manager of the New York Mets, dropped out of public view." The rest of the column is a reprint of wandering, confusing, circuitous yet insightful remarks on baseball - remarks Casey made on July 9, 1958 before the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly. It is delightful.

         The comment "Baseball is dull only to those with dull minds," was attributed to Red Smith, who many called "The Shakespeare of the Press Box". To browse through the pages of RED SMITH ON BASEBALL is to realize how nuanced, how interesting and how immortal the game and its characters are.

Book Ends: SLOUCHING TOWARD FARGO by Neal Karlen (Spike Books, $4.00, 362 pages) won the Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of 1999. Newly released in paperback, the book is a humorous look at two years with the bush league St. Paul Saints. This is a feel-good book, ultimately.
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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in the millions and is housed on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.
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Dr. Frommer is the Official Book Reviewer of Travel-Watch. 
*Autographed copies of Frommer books are available .

Other Frommer sports related articles can be found at:   

Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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