Do you remember The Baseball Bunch? It was a syndicated show that ran (in our market) on Saturday mornings during the summer, often as the lead-in to This Week in Baseball, followed by the NBC Game of the Week. Johnny Bench and a weekly special guest star offered instructional tips to apple-cheeked Little Leaguers, highlights and bloopers got their share of airtime, and Bench tried to hone his acting chops in some amazingly awkward skits with the San Diego Chicken.
Ah ... memory lane. Anyway, I thought I'd spend the summer of 2009 resurrecting the spirit of The Baseball Bunch right here on WHIH. Of course, now that I'm an adult, the idea of laying about on a Saturday morning watching aging Hall of Fame catchers and grown men in mascot suits doesn't really appeal to me. But reading baseball books does. So I'm starting The Baseball Bunch Book Club.
I've picked out six titles for the inaugural TBBBC, and I welcome anybody to join me in this pursuit. I'll read one book per month and discuss it here on WHIH. Or on your web site. Or on Facebook. Or in a bar. Or on a train. Or in a plane. Or on a boat, with a goat. Just not on Twitter -- we're going to get a little deeper than 140 characters will allow.
Here's what's on tap for TBBBC this summer:
April -- The Last Real Season by Mike Shropshire -- I absolutely loved his book Seasons in Hell, which chronicled his time covering the Texas Rangers in the early 70s, back when Ted Williams and Billy Martin made for more interesting copy off the field than Mike Hargrove and Toby Harrah made on the field. The Last Real Season is a look at the 1975 baseball season, so dubbed because it was the final year before free agency blew up the entire economic structure of the game. I started it today and the intro, by Earl Weaver, is a great read. I hope the rest of the book follows suit.
May -- The Entitled: A Tale of Modern Baseball by Frank Deford -- Hard to go wrong with Deford, and I wanted to mix a little fiction into the syllabus. The Entitled is the story of a Tom Kelly-like manager (minor league lifer who gets his shot at managing in the bigs, although much later in life than TK) who has to handle a superstar who sounds like a mix of A-Rod, Barry Bonds and Albert Belle. Don't know much about it, but it's gotten good reviews.
June -- Crazy '08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History by Cait Murphy -- This book got crazy-good reviews when it came out a year ago, and I suppose I should have read it last summer as it was the 100th anniversary of this seminal season in baseball lore. From the World Series champion Chicago Cubs (!) of Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance fame to the New York (!) Giants of Christy Mathewson and John McGraw and beyond, this is a book every baseball historian should enjoy sinking his or her teeth into.
July -- The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O'Neil's America by Joe Posnanski -- Again, if Posnanski's name is attached, you know it's going to be a good read. And Buck O'Neil has always fascinated me, because if anybody had a right to be a bitter, angry, sour old man, it was O'Neil, who missed out on fame and fortune because of the color of his skin. But he was always the classiest, most gracious ambassador the game has ever had, so when he and Posnanski spent the summer of 2005 traveling the country together, exploring and ruminating on baseball, it had to produce a compelling narrative.
August -- The Dixie Association (Voice of the South) by David Hays -- I don't know much about this one either. I was looking for another novel and since I've read most of the big ones (I did my senior thesis on baseball fiction back in my salad days at the U of M), I'm taking a flier on this, based on Amazon's description: "Meet the Arkansas Reds, the oddest, craziest, wildest bunch of sluggers ever to step out of a dugout. An ex-con first baseman named Hog chronicles a season with the Reds as they travel from one seedy southern ballpark to another--always one step ahead of the small-town sheriffs and right-wing evangelists who think the Reds are an insult to 'America's game.'" Sign me up!
September -- October 1964 by David Halberstam -- A true literary lion, Halberstam looks at the dying days of the Yankees dynasty as the Bombers battle the upstart St. Louis Cardinals, the first team with led predominantly by African-American stars. I love books that look at sports within the context of society, and nobody was more up to the task than Halberstam, a Pulitzer Prize winner who got elbow-deep in every major news story from Vietnam through Iraq. I think I'm saving the best for last, plus it will be a good teaser for the World Series.
So there you have it: the inaugural TBBBC syllabus. Please let me know if you're interested in reading and discussing any or all of these books with me. If you're not, too bad -- you're going to get my unexpurgated thoughts and opinions whether you like it or not. Or you won't, if you ignore my posts. But that's not what WHIH is all about, right?