Batters up!

Baseball books take the field

It wouldn't be surprising to find stories by such literary luminaries as Thomas Wolfe, John Updike, Annie Dillard and Richard Ford in an anthology.

But you might not expect that anthology to be about baseball.

Such a book is "Baseball: A Literary Anthology" (Library of America, $35) edited by Nicholas Dawidoff. With 700 pages and 84 pieces � poetry, fiction, essays, memoir and news stories � the book is touted as the "largest collection of literary writing about baseball ever published."

Other contributors include sports writers (Roger Kahn, Roger Angell, Robert Creamer) and former baseball players (Jim Bouton, Keith Hernandez, Satchel Paige).

Plus, there are pieces by a historian and professor (Jacques Barzun), a disc jockey (Jonathan Schwartz), a player's sister (Molly O'Neill, whose brother is Paul) and even Tallulah Bankhead, the husky-voiced actress and rabid New York Giants baseball fan.

There are "Casey at the Bat" and a poem by Marianne Moore, song lyrics to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and "Van Lingle Mungo," and even a scene from the Broadway musical "Damn Yankees."

Stepping up the plate

The anthology is just one of several baseball books ready for the new season.

Keep "The Baseball Almanac" (Triumph, $14.95) handy during a TV game for a between-innings or pitching-change browse through this "Big Bodacious Book of Baseball."

Author Dan Schlossberg's hefty paperback contains 365 pages of baseball nuggets � history, trivia, anecdotes, quotes, statistics, lists, photos, drawings, trading cards and memorabilia.

Chapter subjects include umpires, spring training, baseball language, trades, superstitions, fans and memorable moments. Among its revelations: the first team to fly, the weird series of trades involving Orlando Cepeda, Ray Sadecki and Joe Torre, and the two teams that each made a record-high 12 errors in one game.

For the coffee table, there's the classy "Baseball as America" (National Geographic, $35), a glossy, lavishly illustrated album that explores baseball's place in American culture.

In its 320 pages and 200-plus illustrations, many in color, the book examines how baseball has reflected � or helped cause � changes in American society. Text includes 75 pieces by authors as diverse as FDR and Bob Newhart, Tom Brokaw and Dave Barry, Penny Marshall and Jackie Robinson.

The book is the companion volume to an exhibition organized by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The exhibition is currently at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and will travel to nine cities during the next three years.

During the Mets' first year, 1962, manager Casey Stengel called the team "amazin'" � and they were. That year, they lost an amazing 120 games. They had only losing seasons until 1969, when another amazing thing happened � the Mets became unlikely World Champions.

In their 40 years, the Mets have had a series of ups and downs � more last-place finishes, more World Series. They're chronicled in "Amazin': The Miraculous History of New York's Most Beloved Baseball Team" (St. Martin's, $27.95) by Peter Golenbock.

Among the many contributors to this oral history of the birth and growth of the Mets are sports writer and Mets historian Jack Lang; original Mets Don Zimmer and Rod Kanehl; and Mets World Series participants Ron Swoboda, Tom Seaver, Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry, Al Leiter and Willie Mays.

Rounding the bases

Was Mays better than Mickey Mantle? Find out � or add fuel to the 50-year-old question � in "Clearing the Bases: The Greatest Baseball Debates of the Last Century" (St. Martin's, $24.95, available in mid-April) by Allen Barra.

Barra, whose sports column "By the Numbers" appears in The Wall Street Journal, tackles other questions, including:

l How do Juan Marichal and Bob Gibson compare statistically?

l How good a player was Jackie Robinson?

l Does Roger Maris belong in the Hall of Fame?

l Who is the most overrated and who is the most underrated player of recent times?

l And what is the truth behind four myths about Babe Ruth?

One truth about Ruth is that in 1920, the Boston Red Sox sold him to the Yankees for the bargain price of $125,000. The Red Sox also haven't won a World Series since. But they play in a grand old stadium (Fenway Park), have developed some great players (Ted Williams, Roger Clemens, Carl Yastrzemski) and have enjoyed a rich and colorful history.

What's more, there's a book about them: "The Boston Red Sox Fan Book" (St. Martin's Griffin, $12.95 paperback) by David S. Neft et al. offers 100 years of Red Sox history in trivia, statistics, stories, quotes, all-time leaders, rosters and puzzles to help Fenway fanatics get through the season.

For diehard fans

There's a books doubleheader for Yankees fans: "Bombers" (Crown, $25, available April 9) by Richard Lally, an oral history of the franchise that has won 37 American League pennants and 26 World Series; and "A Legend in the Making" (Ivan R. Dee, $24.95) by Richard J. Tofel, a history of the Yankees in 1939 � Lou Gehrig's last season and perhaps Joe DiMaggio's greatest one.

"Bird" and Ernie tell their stories in "Birdie" (Triumph, $19.95), the "Confessions of a Baseball Nomad" by former player and manager Birdie Tebbetts; and in "Ernie Harwell" (Triumph, $24.95), the Detroit Tiger broadcaster's memoir of "My 60 Years in Baseball."

For Oakland fans, there's "Champions" (Triumph, $24.95), Glenn Dickey's A's-to-Z chronicle of the ups and downs of the franchise.

Real players and fictional ones meet in Frank O'Rourke's "The Heavenly World Series" (Carroll & Graf, $25), a collection of 17 short stories from the 1940s and 1950s.

And baseball's 16 perfect games � and a few of its near-perfectos � are chronicled by James Buckley Jr. in "Perfect" (Triumph, $24.95).

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