Book Review: Sports Illustrated The Baseball Book

Sports Illustrated: The Baseball Book
(Edited by Rob Fleder; SI Books; $29.95)

Don’t let the looks of this book fool you: Do not leave it on your coffee table, for you won’t want to let your guests crease the pages of this gem of an illustrated history of America’s pastime.

As Sports Illustrated’s lead baseball writer Tom Verducci eloquently explains in the introduction, the faces of our baseball heroes are so crisp in the pages of this coffee-table volume that it reads like a family album.

Babe Ruth’s final appearance at Yankee Stadium. Jackie Robinson streaking down the third-base line. Willie Mays hauling in The Catch in 1954.

“In these family photos,” Verducci writes, “we almost always see the subject at eye level. He is one of us.”

This book is much more than a bound photography exhibit on the game we so love. The Baseball Book features brief synopsis of each era but is organized by themes that transcends time and is particular only to baseball. It is also interspersed with articles by some of Sports Illustrated’s finest writers, including Roger Kahn, George Plimpton, Leigh Montville, Rick Telander and Frank DeFord.

There is SI’s All-Time All-Star Team, as selected by a variety of scribes and historians. Included is a fold-out spread of the collection of players ranging from the modern–Mariano Rivera out of the bullpen, Roger Clemens on the mound and Alex Rodriguez at short–to the old-timers (including Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Williams, of course).

There is a photo set of the best of the basebrawls–who could forget Nolan Ryan vs. Robin Ventura, or Bud Harrelson and Pete Rose in the 1973 NLCS?

Each era comes with an all-decade team and 10 games you wish you’d seen–certainly October 4, 1955 ranks among a must-see for any anti-Yankee establishment member, as the Dodgers win their first World Series title over their long-time nemesis.

To say the least, there is a little something for every baseball fan in The Baseball Book. Old-timers will revel in the detailed images of their youth while today’s fans get a look at the game through the lens of some of the trade’s best photographers.

“Like the Mays catch, the classic baseball photographs stir our heart and our senses,” Verducci concludes. “You can practically smell that oddly sweet aroma of beer and popcorn from the catacombs of Tiger Stadium and the virtual mustard that emanates from the stylin’, corkscrew swingin’ Reggie Jackson. You feel the cold beer shower upon the head of crestfallen White Sox leftfielder Al Smith. You hear the clicks and pops of the old box cameras, manned by nattily dressed photographers perilously close to home plate, that capture the timeless beauty of DiMaggio’s silky batting stroke.”