With each baseball season, comes a fresh crop of rookie baseball books, all trying for a place in our hearts (or at least on our shelves). Among recent releases, here are some with all-star potential.
DIAMONDS ARE A GIRL'S BEST FRIEND: WOMEN WRITERS ON BASEBALL, edited by Elinor Nauen (Faber and Faber, 295 pp., $22.95). What do Annie Dillard, Edna Ferber, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Bette Bao Lord, and Anna Quindlen have in common?
They are women writers - and they're baseball writers. Yes, they're more famous for penning works on other subjects. But as this collection of some 70 women writers shows, you don't have to be a baseball specialist to be a top-notch baseball writer.
Among the short works here are poems and essays, contemporary and historical. Many represent the only baseball writing the author has ever done. Yet the prose can be as profound as anything written about the game. A sample: ``A fan without a team is like a hog without truffles - she has nothing to root for,'' Carol Tavris writes in ``Why I Love Baseball.'' ``Promiscuous fans who flirt with team after team and dispense their favors according to which team is on top, are regarded by true devotees as gold diggers. A baseball team, like a family, needs loyalty.''
Who can argue with that?
CRACKING THE SHOW, by Thomas Boswell (Doubleday, 350 pp., $23). A Thomas Boswell column can talk of kings and not lose the common touch. Few sportswriters would dare to lead a piece with the battle of Agincourt and young King Henry V's speech to his troops (courtesy of one William Shakespeare). For Boswell, the oration is an example of the ultimate pregame pep talk. The column works.
In other pieces, Boswell shows he can argue statistics with the best. Why don't batters swing more often at first pitches when they have a better chance to hit safely than later in the count? Blame it on the Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams, Boswell says. Today's players copy his ``take a look at one first'' philosophy - but shouldn't.
Other columns in this, Boswell's fourth collection, target the wide range of colorful characters who populate major-league baseball. He takes consistent advantage of this rich material to provide knowledgeable, enjoyable reading.
MILE HIGH MADNESS: A YEAR WITH THE COLORADO ROCKIES, by Bob Kravitz (Times Books, 249 pp., $22). Does the world need a book on a first-year expansion team that finished 67-95 last year? Bob Kravitz, a sports columnist for the Rocky Mountain News, comes close to making a convincing case.
For one thing, the team set an all-time major-league attendance record, with some 4.4 million fans spinning the turnstiles. First baseman Andres Galarraga undertook an unlikely, yet successful, quest for the batting title. And the team ended the season battling the two division leaders, the Braves and the Giants, managing to feel pennant heat in its maiden season.
A fascinating tidbit involves the scientific explanation of the oddities of playing baseball a mile above sea level: Fly balls that elsewhere travel 330 feet arc into 360-foot home runs; curve balls that dip 14 inches in thicker air break only 11 inches (and get hit more often). A new, spacious stadium scheduled to open next year may nullify some of these oxygen-starved special effects.
Rockies fans and insatiable baseball readers will find ``Mile High Madness'' a relentlessly upbeat high.
PURE BASEBALL: PITCH BY PITCH FOR THE ADVANCED FAN, by Keith Hernandez and Mike Bryan (HarperCollins, 259 pp., $21). If you've ever dreamed of watching a ballgame with an ex-major leaguer and hearing his insider comments, this is the book for you. It's a doubleheader, really: Hernandez - a six-time all star who played on championship teams with the Cardinals and Mets - describes just two games played in 1993, all in a mere 75,000 words. Now that's pitch-by-pitch commentary. In the process, he digresses into tales from his own 17-year career. And he grapples with, sometimes convincingly, some of the conventional wisdom about the game.
After reading this book, you'll never have to be bored at the ballpark again. Even if your team is losing 10 to 0, you'll be able to follow and analyze what's really going on - pitch by pitch.
STATS 1994 BASEBALL SCOREBOARD, by John Dewan, Don Zminda, and STATS Inc. (HarperPerennial, 341 pp., $15 paper). Can Roger Clemens recover from an off year and regain all-star form? There's good news here for Red Sox fans. Based on a statistical analysis of 13 other top pitchers who had poor seasons at a similar point in their careers, Rocket Roger stands a good chance of bouncing back.
Statistics are the bread-and-butter of baseball, the numbers that launch a thousand trades (at least in the minds of fans). But they're only fun when they answer fascinating questions. The authors do just that, using the detailed data they've collected from every major league game played in the last several years. Do teams win more games the first year after they move into a new stadium? (Usually.) Do pitchers' throws to first base really throw off hitters? (Nope.) How important is a great closer? The answer is in the book - along with the stats to back it up.
THE RULES OF BASEBALL: AN ANECDOTAL LOOK AT THE RULES OF BASEBALL AND HOW THEY CAME TO BE, by David Nemec (Lyons & Burford, 270 pp., $24.95 cloth, $16.95 paper). Bet you didn't know that bunts were once called ``baby hits.'' Or that baseball fields in the mid-19th century used to be laid out by stepping off 42 paces from home base to second base and 42 paces from first base to third base. Or that a team's turn at bat was originally called a ``hand,'' but that ``inning,'' meaning a period of good luck, gradually become the official term.
David Nemec takes the official modern rules of baseball and liberally annotates each section with stories on the origins of that rule. This volume can be dipped into at any point or read cover to cover. It's full of definitive information - but you'll read it for the anecdotes.