Baseball's Biggest Bookie

June 26, 2006
June 26, 2006

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June 26, 2006

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Baseball's Biggest Bookie

If you bring only4,000 baseball books to the beach this summer, make one of them Veeck As inWreck, the best baseball book ever written, if you ask Karl Cicitto, who hasroughly 4,000 baseball books in his house. "I have way too many, and I haveto stop buying them," says Cicitto, of West Suffield, Conn., navigating ahedge maze of books in his master bedroom, where he and his wife, Lisa, sleepwith countless other covered companions, including Designated Hebrew by RonBlomberg, Memories of a Yankee Batboy by Frank Prudenti and--winking from thenightstand--Baseball Forever by Ralph Kiner, with whom Cicitto will retiretonight.

This is an article from the June 26, 2006 issue Original Layout

And why not? Godmade trees for three reasons: to give us books, to give us baseball bats and togive us shade in which to read books about baseball.

A 49-year-oldfather of three, Cicitto sees more merit in Idiot by Johnny Damon than TheIdiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. "Damon says he'd remove his batting helmetwhile rounding third on a walk-off home run because it really hurts whenteammates pound on the top of his helmet at home plate," says Cicitto."I like knowing that."

Books arescattered throughout his house in a kind of urbane sprawl. There's highbrow(The Boys of Summer), lowbrow (Baseball's Zaniest Stars) and unibrow (Moe Berg:Athlete, Scholar, Spy, one of several books about the catcher and OSS agentwhose single eyebrow calls to mind Bert from Sesame Street).

Moe Berg onceendorsed Lord Thomas Macaulay's sentiment that he'd rather be a poor man in agarret filled with books than a king who didn't love reading. By this measureof wealth Cicitto is Bill Gates. His books rise in colorful stacks, a growingbar graph of one man's content. Cicitto can tell you that the best umpiringmemoir is Tom Gorman's Three and Two!, though the best title of an umpiringmemoir remains Durwood Merrill's You're Out and You're Ugly, Too!

There is nocentral organizing principle to Cicitto's library save one: The manifold booksabout his beloved Red Sox are shelved together, less a Dewey decimal systemthan a Dewey Evans system.

In his basementthere must be 100 books about Babe Ruth, including The Babe and I by the secondMrs. Babe Ruth. "She writes that the Babe wasn't just an All-Star on thefield," says Cicitto, with an if-you-catch-my-drift arch of theeyebrows.

He buys books atflea markets, on vacations and at library sales, at which titles have been tornfrom his hands by other collectors. For most of them the elusive Holy Grailremains Pitching in a Pinch, a rare 1912 classic by Christy Mathewson.

On a shelf in theden is a small replica of the Lincoln Memorial. "He's heroic, poetic,everything good about a person," says Cicitto, pointing not at Lincoln butto the autobiography behind him, The Way It Is by Curt Flood, who challengedbaseball's reserve clause. Indeed, the books in this house include a fairhistory of the United States, a condensed Library of Congress.

Baseball's GoldenAge: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon is a book of portraits of dentallyneglected big leaguers taken by Conlon from 1904 to '42. "Look at thoseteeth," says Cicitto, transfixed by the British smile of Joe"Ducky" Medwick.

The first bookCicitto would save in a fire is his signed early edition of Veeck As in Wreck,by the late White Sox owner Bill Veeck and Ed Linn. But what are the worstbaseball books of all time--the Dreck As in Bleeck? Though it's on somepeople's list of best books, Joe Pepitone's off-off-off-colorautobiography--Joe, You Coulda Made Us Proud--is not a paperback Cicitto wantsto pick up again soon, at least not without the aid of salad tongs.

His library islargely bereft of fiction, so Cicitto doesn't yet know the joy of Philip Roth'sThe Great American Novel or the first 100 pages of Don DeLillo's Underworld.But those oversights are more than made up for by multiple copies of Brendan C.Boyd and Fred C. Harris's The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Tradingand Bubble Gum Book, 144 pages of bliss published in 1973, when I turned seven.My local library had a leather chair made to look like a giant baseball mitt,and I would drop into it, like a soft fly ball, to read Five Seasons by RogerAngell.

Cicitto'sbasement, like most of his books, is unfinished. At his present reading rate of25 baseball books a year, he knows he'll never finish a fraction of his ownlibrary. But he vows to beat on, borne back ceaselessly into the past."Books are full of ideas," he says. "They're full ofknowledge." Better still, an ancient Bob Gibson biography can instantlytransport him to Middletown, Conn., where he is 12 years old, smelling the tarmelt on Smith Street. "A book can take me back to 1968," Cicittomarvels. And his smile speaks volumes.

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God made trees for three reasons: to give us books, togive us baseball bats and to give us shade in which to read books aboutbaseball.