Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Twilight of the Long-ball Gods by John Schulian

John Schulian grew up in California before the Dodgers and Giants arrived and then in Utah, always far from major league baseball. This was not a problem for him. The Pacific Coast League had some great teams with big name players that some fans believed were "just as good" as the major league teams. The players' salaries were modest, but they were as beloved as major league players in the East. In Hollywood, they even played before the stars of film and television. Schulian studied the game, played American Legion ball, and eventually became a sports writer. He has also written for television.

Twilight of the Long-ball Gods is a collection of baseball essays that Schulian wrote over several decades for Sports Illustrated, the Chicago Daily News, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and even the short-lived National Sports Daily. The emphasis is the world apart and away from the major leagues. Some of the stories tell about life in the minor leagues, in the negro leagues, in semipro leagues, and in the homes of fans. The heroes include Josh Gibson, who was kept from the major leagues by the color line; Joe Bauman, who was paid $4000 for the year he hit 72 home runs for the Roswell Rockets; and Russ Morman, who lead a Crash Davis (a character in the movie Bull Durham) sort of life in the minor leagues.

Having spent years with newspapers in Chicago, Schulian met and wrote about Bill Veeck, the onetime owner of the Chicago White Sox. Several of these essays are included, as is a piece about the San Jose Bees team, which was loaded in 1986 with former major league misfits trying to resurrect their careers. Other essays tell about the birthplace of Babe Ruth, the short marriage of Joe DiMaggio to Marilyn Monroe, and the rock musician George Thorogood building his own baseball field.

You do not have to like baseball to enjoy these stories. They are about people more than sport.

Schulian, John. Twilight of the Long-ball Gods: Dispatches from the Disappearing Heart of Baseball. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005. ISBN 0803293275

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