Your Turn: Fireside Book of Baseball
The Your Turn feature on the website gives fans a chance to weigh in on our favorite topic–baseball. This post comes from our friends at Neglected Books, a website devoted to re-discovering older, forgotten books. The post below talks about Fireside Book of Baseball, by Charles Einstein. This book is the first volume in an anthology of classic baseball writing . Enjoy!
I think it was in the long-gone Filippi’s Books in Seattle that I came across the The Fireside Book of Baseball, a collection edited by Charles Einstein first published in 1956. It’s a big magazine-sized volume with nearly 400 pages of prose, poetry, photos and illustrations from the first 100 years of American baseball, and it’s a goldmine for any fan of good writing on baseball.
Most of the good pieces of fiction and nonfiction writing on baseball published up to that time can be found between its covers–Ring Lardner, Red Smith, Branch Rickey, John Tunis, Heywood Broun, Zane Grey (yes, he wrote more than westerns), Bob Considine, Arnold Hano, and of course, Ernest Thayer. Some of the pieces were reprints; others were originals. In between the articles and stories are wonderful photos of plays and players, artifacts, mementos, and other hits of baseball lore. At the very least the pieces are all good, most of them vivid and lively, and some great. As Einstein later recalled,
It got enormous reviews. I mean, not just in terms of acclaim, but also in terms of where the reviews appeared: John Chamberlain with a full column in the Wall Street Journal; Charles Poore, the entire daily review of the New York Times; the Sunday book review section of the New York Times; so forth and so on.
Baseball even paid an unintended tribute to the book: its publication date, 8 October 1956, was also the day that Don Larsen pitched the one and only perfect game in a World Series (to date). The response from readers was also good, far exceeding Simon and Schuster’s expectations, and they hired Einstein to put together The Second Fireside Book of Baseball two years later. It included one of the best demonstrations of respect from the players themselves–an introduction by Ted Williams, still taking the field back then.
Ten years later, Einstein compiled The Third Fireside Book of Baseball. This might be the best of the three, since it had the advantage of pulling from both the classics and a new generation of sports writers, which included Roger Angell, Jimmy Breslin, William Price Fox, George Plimpton, and even John Updike.
Nearly twenty years after that, Simon and Schuster released the last of the series, confusingly titled The Fireside Book of Baseball, Fourth Edition. Whoever came up with that bright idea would probably have argued that Colonel Sanders should call his restaurants Hot Dead Chicken. Einstein himself considered it the best of the four in terms of content:
… I think the fourth Fireside Book of Baseball is the best of the four, I really do … certainly in terms of the fiction and poetry. Each book as a strength, and in the fourth I think the fiction is just stunning. Because there had been 19 years since the third book and there’d been an accumulation of great stuff: Chaim Potok’s chapter from The Chosen on that softball game; and that long section from Will Kennedy’s Inronweed on the guy who played third base for the Senators; and that ballgame in the insane asylum from Philip Roth’s The Great American Novel. You read this stuff and your mouth just drops open. And Robert Coover and Irwin Shaw and on and on, one great piece after another.
The packaging, on the other hand, Einstein compared to “a Crazy Eddie catalog.”
Taken together, the four books truly represent, as The Ultimate Baseball Book (itself a pretty fine anthology) called it, “baseball literature’s finest monument.” Einstein himself twice culled from the books to produce yet more anthologies–The Baseball reader: Favorites from the Fireside books of baseball–and The New Baseball Reader: More Favorites from The Fireside Books of Baseball. A prolific writer, Einstein also contributed one of baseball’s better novels–The Only Game in Town–and one of its better biographies, Willie’s Time, from 1979.
It is also interesting to note that Charles Einstein is also the older half-brother of comedian, actor, and director Albert Brooks (born Albert Einstein) and actor/comedian Bob Einstein (aka Super Dave Osborne). [Einstein bio]
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