Review: Out of My League by George Plimpton


Out of My League: The Classic Hilarious Account of an Amateur’s Ordeal in Professional Baseball

George Plimpton

Lyons Press, 1961

150 pages

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There is, surrounding George Plimpton, the same world-traveled air that surrounds the fictional beer-selling sliver of a character The Most Interesting Man in the World (TMIMITW). TMIMITW gains his fictional interesting-ness via the sheer imposing number of his travels, an original far-flung montage of adventure and sport to accompany each new commercial in an apparently eternal series. Plimpton’s interesting-ness is a bit more interesting because, well, he actually did all of the journeys that would be recounted with a laugh over a beer. The trade-off for adventuring fictitiously versus actually: while TMIMITW commands each day with magnetic suaveness, Plimpton’s most interesting moments were a carnival of mishaps, his own shoes endlessly tripped over. Which probably makes for more interesting reading anyway.

Plimpton’s personal journey into “participatory journalism” began with him sitting in Yankee Stadium, watching a ballgame and basically wondering what it would take to get on the field with real-live Major Leaguers. It feels like an impossible ask here in 2015: inevitably a small army P.R. staff would materialize from thin air to prevent today’s journalist from playing the game in front of actual paying spectators. In the late fifties, though, one could, as Plimpton did, talk to a man named Toots Shor in a New York City bar, and Toots would be able to convince a magazine editor that it would be a good idea to have Plimpton pitch before a November exhibition of All-Stars. Continue Reading

How to Read Derek Jeter: On The Devil’s Snake Curve by Josh Ostergaard

Can you find the symbols for American political power in this picture?

Can you find the symbols for American political power in this picture?

The Devil’s Snake Curve: A Fan’s Notes From Left Field
Josh Ostergaard
Coffee House Press, 2014
253 pages

Buy: book | ebook

Of course every history is subjective, but Josh Ostergaard starts his from an intriguing place by broadcasting his subjectivity. Devil’s Snake Curve is Ostergaard’s American history of the twentieth- and twenty-firstcenturies, as interpreted through baseball. The book is a collage of page-length anecdotes, equally likely to be culled from Ostergaard’s own underwhelming Little League youth or a century-old newspaper clipping, that cluster into themes like “Animals” or “Nationalism.” Continue Reading

Read Like a Baller

TimDuncanIt must have been April when I looked at my calendar and decided that my summer was going to be an absolute wash.  This month alone, there’s the NBA Finals, the Stanley Cup Finals, the French Open, and the World Cup happening almost simultaneously. And as avid sports fan, I knew June was going to be tough.  How should one decide between reading, writing, and, say, the four-hour mayhem and magic that is the Spurs-Heat series?

Needless to say, I’ve found a way to sit in the slouched position even longer with these great Latino sports reads that perfectly compliment the games of summer. Read, watch, write—you can have it all!  Just remember to stretch out every now and then and check out these great booksContinue Reading

The Self-Publisher Who Changed the World of Baseball: On Fool’s Gold by Bill James

A huge factor fueling Red Sox mania lives in Kansas.

A huge factor fueling Red Sox mania lives in Kansas.

Under review: Solid Fool’s Gold: Detours on the Way to Conventional Wisdom by Bill James (2011, ACTA Publications, 224 pages)

Whenever I think of Bill James I think of the following Margaret Mead quote, which probably appeared on the walls of half my high school classrooms, the words arranged on a poster in front of a picture of a rising sun or a person summiting a mountain or something like that: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

While Mead was probably talking about something quite noble, like civil rights or brokering peace amongst warring nations, this quote applies so well to Bill James too—because James has entirely transformed the world of professional baseball with his thoughtful, committed work from his home office in suburban Kansas. More or less the entire statistical (or “sabermetric”) revolution in baseball—encapsulated for popular consumption as well as one could hope in the 2011 movie Moneyball—can be traced back to the theories and work that James produced from his home without any official access or credentials. What’s more, James was arguably just as revolutionary as an early self-publisher and nonfiction stylist.

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Publication Starts the Story: On Jim Bouton’s Ball Four

Bouton, motivating corporate types.

Bouton, motivating corporate types.

Under review: Ball Four: Twentieth Anniversary Edition by Jim Bouton (465 pages, 1990, Wiley Publishing)

A memoir’s publication date usually serves as a finish line. The events within have already taken place well, well in the past; their cathartic release tends to act as a formal and organized end to the events’ influence on the author’s life.

The opposite is true of the life and memoirs of Jim Bouton, big-league pitcher throughout the sixties and into the seventies. The weeks and months that Bouton chronicled in his memoir, Ball Four, were hardly detectable compared to the Richter-scale impact that the release of Ball Four had on Bouton’s life. Decades later, Bouton in his seventies still earns speaking gigs at corporate functions not so much because he lived the life that Ball Four details, but because he wrote about it.

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Writing Is Like Baseball


Every March my eyes turn south toward spring training. The sunburned announcers report from director’s chairs on games that don’t count. The players work on their autographs and perfect their sunflower seed spits. Teenagers called up from the lowercase “a” team —hardly more than little leaguers—pitch, bat, and field, hanging crooked numbers or laying goose eggs. The crack of a bat, the thwack of ball and glove, the collective groan as a player on the other team sends a homer over the wall: hearing this soundtrack out of sequence reminds me that change is coming, despite the hard crust of snow lingering in my front yard.

In the same way, whatever story I’m working on is often playing in the back of my mind, even when I’m not writing. My fictional people are alive and going about their business in another dimension that might as well be Florida.  While I am preoccupied with daily life, they are working up stats, track records, and expectations. When I sit down to write, I don’t pick up where I left off so much as catch up with them, the same as my baseball team every spring.

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