April 20, 2019

Baseball biographies conjure up fond summer memories

I like to read.

Admittedly, that announcement is not going to generate uproarious applause. But every year at this time, I like to settle down with a good book — generally a baseball biography — and get the juices flowing for another season of hardball.

This year, I came across two books that have found a special place in my sports library. One is old. One is new. In reference to the possibilities of another disappointing season by the Red Sox, both books took me back to times when baseball was a game of teamwork — an era when agents didn’t infiltrate clubhouses or influence management’s decisions. It was a time when player contracts were signed in the privacy of an office, not in front of television cameras.

The sports pages’ news of the day involved such controversial items as how many home runs a player hit, or how close the pitcher came to a no-hitter. These tales of achievement are a far cry from the negative press today of lifelong suspension, drug abuse and free agency.

Let’s start with the old book first.

Ted Williams’ autobiography, “My Turn at Bat,” was published in 1969. Williams was the first professional baseball player I saw up close. I remember the experience like it was yesterday.

The year was 1960. The place was the old Sears and Roebuck basement in downtown Bangor. Williams had just signed a contract with the nationwide firm as a sporting goods representative. I remember him sitting behind a small, fenced-in area, surrounded by a throng of young autograph seekers. I was thrilled.

My cousin and I waited patiently for our own turn at bat with “the Kid,” and when it came, we nervously thrust our baseballs toward him. He signed them, smiled the smile of a man who was forced to perform this task too often, and we were on our way.

Williams’ book again conjured memories of watching Red Sox games with my father on Sunday afternoons, or listening to the broadcasts on the car radio as we made our way across the state on our weekend sojourns.

“My Turn at Bat” is more than a trip down memory lane. Most of Williams’ career was told to me as fond memories by a man who saw no better performer in Boston, and who would judge athletes there on the criteria of a career that remains unsurpassed in excellence even today.

Williams, according to my dad, was the greatest hitter of all time.

For my generation, the left-field wall in Fenway Park was guarded for 23 years by Carl Yastrzemski. His recent autobiography, “YAZ: Baseball, The Wall, and Me,” is a wonderful trip down memory lane with a man who dominated the American League for the better part of his long career.

Yaz’s book brings back the glory days of 1967 and 1975. It tells of a time before free-agency hit the big leagues in 1976, a time when players played the game because they loved it. Teams were close-knit then. Players longed to play for only one team. Loyalty was the watchword. Fourteen years of salary negotiations, haggling agents and big-spending owners have spoiled all of that.

Baseball remains a great game. Plunging headlong into these two wonderful books, any fan of the game will cherish the memories of sunny August days at Fenway Park, the crack of the bat, the thump off the wall before fiberglass replaced the tin and chipped paint out there.

Perhaps sentimentality rules. Will Wade Boggs’ autobiography cause my son to wipe away a tear at the completion of the last page?

I doubt it.

Ron Brown is a free-lance writer and high school basketball coach who lives in Bangor.

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