Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Soul Of Baseball

I'm really getting into sports in my thirties. It's odd; I'm not sure exactly where the impulse comes from, but it's happening and I'm going with it. (I'm referring, of course, to the two important sports: football and baseball. Soccer gets a pass for being Europe-y and fun to play, if impossible to watch sober. The others are not sports, and should be watched accordingly.)

I love baseball to a great extent. While I'll watch football and have fun (I'm watching the Colts and Patriots now. Great names. Indianapolis Colts. New England Patriots. Definitely in my top ten team names) baseball really means something to me. I'm moved by baseball. I'm hurt when people don't get it. I'm angered by fans and owners who don't treat the game with respect. I agree with one of my heroes, Buck O'Neil, who said that baseball and jazz are the two greatest American inventions. I learned a ton of amazing things about him and his amazing life, and read a ton of the cool sayings that got recorded in Joe Posnanski's book, The Soul of Baseball. It's about baseball, and America, and race and faith. It's mostly about Buck O'Neil. He also wrote a great book about the Cincinnati Reds, which is fun. (I've really gone to town on baseball books this month.)

Buck O'Neil, as any casual fan even knows, was a Negro League first baseman who later became the first black coach in the majors. He was a brilliant baseball man, and in a different time would have been a manager or a GM. He was smart, he charmed everyone who met him, and he said wonderful quotable things. (Another of my favorites: "There are angels everywhere.")

The book is on my list as one of the greatest I have ever read. I'm quite a reader, and I don't make that statement lightly. It is an amazing book. Joe basically follows Buck through his life for a year or so, chronicling his interactions, listening as he makes the effort to remember people who deserve to be remembered. When baseball fans like me go on about baseball, we often talk about the history of the game, and how that tradition makes it great. But that tradition isn't great because it's all good; on the contrary, it's great because it's enormous, flawed, and American. Baseball is intertwined with the country, and love it or hate it, every American is a product of that history as well. It's fascinating to me for that reason.

I highly recommend that book to everyone interested in baseball. Or race. Or faith. Or awesome people. Or anyone else. Look, just read the book.

Top Ten Team Names, in no particular order:
1. NY Giants (the baseball one was first)
2. NY Titans (better than Jets)
3. Cincinnati Reds
4. Chicago Cubs (so cute. "cubs." cuddly)
5. New England Patriots (the whole region. we're too big for one state!)
6. NY Yankees ( hate 'em, of course. but good name.)
7. Washington Nationals
8. Boston Red Sox/Chicago White Sox (tie)(or pair? hehe)
9. Philadelphia Athletics
10. Indianapolis Colts (as cute as cubs, but tougher!)

This list was restricted to Major League or NFL teams. I could have talked about minor leagues for days. Or Negro League teams. Atlanta Black Crackers? Genius!

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