Midweek books: American Pastimes and the pastime

On Wednesday I highlight a few noteworthy new sports books, with links to reviews, interviews and other information about the subject and/or author.

All this week at The Stacks, Deadspin‘s new classic sportswriting blog, Alex Belth is featuring the work of Red Smith in honor of the recent release of “American Pastimes: The Very Best of Red Smith.”

While not limited to baseball, the Library of America collection is perfect for fans easing into midsummer and the heart of the season.

American PastimesTo introduce this week’s feature on The Stacks, Belth offers this Smith gem from Jerome Holtzman’s “No Cheering in the Press Box.” Smith talks about sports, the craft of writing and his own life, with roots in Green Bay and Notre Dame and eventually the East Coast newspaper world, culminating with his tenure at The New York Times:

I won’t deny that the heavy majority of sportswriters, myself included, have been and still are guilty of puffing up the people they write about. I remember one time when Stanley Woodward, my beloved leader, was on the point of sending me a wire during spring training, saying, “Will you stop Godding up those ball players?” I didn’t realize what I had been doing. I thought I had been writing pleasant little spring training columns about ball players.

If we’ve made heroes out of them, and we have, then we must also lay a whole set of false values at the doorsteps of historians and biographers. Not only has the athlete been blown up larger than life, but so have the politicians and celebrities in all fields, including rock singers and movie stars.

“American Pastimes,” which includes an introduction by baseball historian and former Times ombudsman Daniel Okrent, leads off with some of Smith’s most memorable baseball work, including “Miracle at Coogan’s Bluff.”

But there’s plenty of boxing, horse racing, Olympics and outdoors sports, sometimes collected in decade-by-decade clusters that are a real treat for serendipitous readers.

Jonathan Yardley reviews the book for The Washington Post; and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has a synopsis included with other books by Wisconsin authors.

Terence Smith, a noted journalist in his own right, has this retrospective of his father:

The column was his contract with life. As long as he was writing it, he felt he was in the center of things, that he still mattered. That’s why he kept at it until the week he died. As long as he was writing, he was part of the world he had lived and loved. Newspapermen were not just his colleagues, they were the best of his friends, the people he chose to spend time with, on and off the beat.

Also newly released

• Tom Clavin’s “The DiMaggios” goes beyond baseball to illustrate how the trio of brothers symbolized a generation of immigrant sons. the dimaggios

In The Boston Globe, Bill Littlefield writes that Dom DiMaggio may be the star of the family:

The contrast to Joe’s haughty isolation is dramatic, and Tom Clavin’s admiration for Dominic DiMaggio as a ballplayer and, more significantly, as a man, is palpable.

An excerpt here on that very subject; and another review from Baseball America.

• Mickey Mantle, who succeeded Joe DiMaggio as the Yankees icon, is the subject of numerous biographies. Allen Barra explores his relationship with another New York baseball legend in “Mickey and Willie: Mantle and Mays, the Parallel Lives of Baseball’s Golden Age.”

Unlike the DiMaggio brothers, Barra illustrates the friendships and similarities of two men from very different backgrounds.

Former Mets outfielder Ron Swoboda reviews the book for The New York Times.

Barra has an excerpt at The Atlantic.

• When did the Chicago Cubs become baseball darlings beyond the Windy City? In “Mr. Wrigley’s Ball Club: Chicago and the Cubs during the Jazz Age,” Roberts Ehrgott dates it to the 1920s, when a talented club started breaking hearts in earnest.

At that time, the Cubs — with a young Bill Veeck as a rising executive — were less than 20 years removed from their last World Series victory. With Hack Wilson and Rogers Hornsby on the roster, among others, this was a team built for glory but ultimately fated to perpetuate what’s become more than a century of failure.

An interview with Ehrgott here by Littlefield on Only a Game; NPR’s Scott Simon, a Chicago native, pens a review for The Chicago Tribune; Bob D’Angelo of The Tampa Tribune says the author’s writing style stands out as much as the story:

Ehrgott’s use of the transcript of a meeting between baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis and Hornsby, Bush, English, Pat Malone and Charley O’Leary might be the most complete version ever published about the Rajah’s gambling debts. The drama that unfolds is fascinating.

By the time the Jazz Age ended and the Great Depression settled in, the Cubs “were more like Everymen, friends and neighbors who went out each day and did the best they could — ‘old neighborhood’ guys who weren’t above picking up their own groceries,” Erghott writes.

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