Books Red Smith's heavenly writing, the Angels' hellish history and some glorious baseball photos

April 02, 2000

RED SMITH ON BASEBALL
Ivan R. Dee, $24.95

Smith has been anthologized about as often as Edgar Allan Poe,
but not recently on his own, so this latest collection is more
than welcome. And it comes not a moment too soon, because there
may be dot.com drones out there who are unfamiliar with the work
of the sportswriting craft's one acknowledged genius. The guilty
parties should tear themselves away from their infernal
computers long enough to read at least a sampling of the great
man's work.

Smith was, for the better part of half a century,
sportswriting's voice of sanity. He resisted the two most common
failings of the business--cynicism and sentimentality--and
employed in their stead an amused detachment and the gifts of a
born storyteller. Smith had his icons (Joe DiMaggio, the "club
pro") and his adversaries (anyone who served as baseball
commissioner), but he never lost his perspective or his sense of
humor. Further, he was a flawless writer of the E.B. White
school of absolute clarity. The words flowed with a seemingly
effortless grace that belied the "bleeding" he said he suffered
before the typewriter.

This book covers Smith's work from 1941 to 1981 (he died, at age
76, in 1982), and what strikes the reader foremost is that
though there's nary a clunker here, the man actually got better
with age. Read, for example, his affectionate but unsparing 1973
profile of Babe Ruth or this 1980 condemnation of the designated
hitter rule: "It relieves the manager of all responsibility
except to post the lineup card on the dugout wall and make sure
everybody gets to the airport on time."

Good to have you back, old friend.

THE ANAHEIM ANGELS
By Ross Newhan
Hyperion, $14.95

The Good Lord has not been kind to the Angels. This, in fact, is
a team seemingly star-crossed from the day it first took the
field as the Los Angeles Angels, in 1961. Not only has it
experienced the customary assortment of injuries, freak
accidents and sorry disappointments that afflict other hard-luck
outfits, but it has also endured tragedy. Two players were
killed in auto accidents, another was murdered and a third
committed suicide. This is not to mention a batting champion who
went balmy or a bus crash that almost cost the manager his life.

At the center of all this misfortune was the team's genial owner,
movie cowboy Gene Autry, a man loved by all and betrayed by many.
It's a helluva story, and Newhan, a veteran L.A. sportswriter,
tells it with just the right touch of irony. Despite all the
gloom, there are some hearty laughs along the way.

IMAGES OF AMERICA
New York Giants; Baseball in Detroit; Baseball in World War II
Europe; Baseball in Tampa Bay
Arcadia Publishing, $18.99 each

This is an interesting pictorial series, some of it dealing with
conventional subjects (the Giants, the Tigers) and some with the
relatively obscure (armed services baseball during World War II,
Tampa Bay baseball history). The photographs are excellent, and
the caption writing, by different authors, is informative enough,
save for some peculiar constructions in the Tampa Bay book and
the odd statistical error in the Detroit volume. (Hank Greenberg
hit his 58 homers in 1938, not '39, as the caption incorrectly
informs us.) But the price is right.

COLOR PHOTO: IVAN R. DEE COLOR PHOTO: HYPERION COLOR PHOTO: ARCADIA PUBLISHING

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)