The Head Game
Frommer's Sports Book Review
Title: "The Head Game"
Author: Roger Kahn Publisher
Publisher: Harcourt Brace
With October upon us, baseball takes
center stage. The playoff battles leading up to the World Series, the
tension of pitcher versus batter, the second-guessing of managerial moves
-- all of these are part of the season.
A terrific part of the baseball
reading season is a new book -- "The Head Game" by Roger Kahn.
Subtitled "Baseball Seen From the Pitcher's Mound," it is filled
with musings, trivia, insights, interviews and asides, making for an
entertaining and illuminating read.
Roger Kahn, who wrote the classic
"The Boys of Summer" about the old Brooklyn Dodgers, is in the
classic mode again with this newest effort, a book that seemingly had its
origins way back when.
"In the waning days of Harry
Truman's presidency," Kahn writes, "I rode a noisy, bumpy,
propeller-driven aircraft out of an uncertain New York March and into the
torporous warmth of Miami, Florida. There the Brooklyn Dodgers of sainted
memory were working their way through spring training ..."
It was back in that long ago year of
1952 that Kahn became friends with a right-handed pitcher on the Dodgers
named Clem Labine. The title of this book and probably the idea for it
were born then.
So this is a book that was a long time
coming and took a great deal of planning. But there are rewards on
virtually every page. There are insightful comments from Don Drysdale, Bob
Feller, Johnny Sain, Tom
Glavine, pitching coach Leo Mazzone and others. There are Kahn's
on-target and often consciousness-raising commentary on the dirty
baseball, the lively baseball, the only player ever killed by a pitcher's
"The Head Game" is a work,
in Kahn's phrasing, that gives us "pitching as history, and pitching
as combat, and indeed, pitching as life." The curveball first thrown
by Candy Cummings; the windups of different pitchers through the decades;
grips, speeds and tactics; baseballs of varied sizes and surfaces; the
classic battle between the pitcher and the batter -- all these are part of
the deftly covered menu.
A few pitching personalities get
For example, there's Bruce Sutter, the
former Cubs and Cardinals reliever who was famous in the late 1970s and
early '80s for his devastating split-finger fastball, which sank
dramatically just as it reached the batter. "If it wasn't for the
splitter," Sutter said, "I'd still be a printer's assistant back
in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania."
And then there was the great Christy
Mathewson, "who was known to weep after losses."
One finds little to complain about
this well researched and carefully composed book. But an index would have
helped, and so would an annotated table of contents for foraging through
the many details.
The scrupulously thorough Kahn does
supply his own list of the greatest pitchers of all time. Christy
Mathewson heads the list, followed by a three-way tie for second place
among Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal. But the list will stir
arguments. Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, Whitey Ford, Randy
Johnson and Roger
Clemens are nowhere to be found.
Nevertheless, "The Head
Game" is a classy book full of information and opinions. Roger Kahn
has complete control of his stuff and little wasted effort. Put this fine
baseball book on your shopping list.
Speaking of pitchers, from the
University of Massachusetts Press comes "Cy Young" by Reed
Browning ($26.95, 283 pages). This is an in-depth biography about the man
who won 511 games, more than any other pitcher, and it makes for
"Splendor on the Diamond" by
Rich Westcott (University Press of Florida, $24.95, 317 pages) is a
collection of profiles and interviews with 35 stars from the decades
following World War II. Players include Ralph Branca, Al Kaline, Bobby
Avila and Alvin Dark. This is a winning book, and Westcott has done a
"Going, Going, Gone," with
an intro by David Halberstam and a foreword by Bobby Thomson (HarperResource,
$40,167 pages), is a celebration of the home run in words and pictures.
This is a good book to give or receive.
You can reach
Harvey Frommer at:
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.
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Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz Frommer are the authors of
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