The late Stephen Jay Gould was a man of strong opinions--and not just about evolutionary theory and paleontology, the subjects of fine books of his such as Ever Since Darwin and Wonderful Life. Just get him going on baseball, as readers of his long-running monthly column in Natural History magazine will remember, and sparks would fly.
Baseball, Gould writes in this collection of diverse essays and reviews, is an intellectuals game, but only accidentally so; plenty of smart folks like other sports. In his case, though, baseball was the game to follow, for he grew up in the New York of the 1950s, when the city had "the three greatest teams in major league baseball." Two of those teams later moved far away, but Gould nursed his passion into adulthood, all the while acquiring plenty of ammunition for sophisticated arguments about every facet of the game. In these pages, for instance, he weighs in on such eminently arguable matters as the greatest player the sport has known (Ty Cobb, maybe), the greatest single game ever played (game six of the 1975 World Series), why it is that no one hits .400 these days (its a matter of statistics, but so much more too), and whether the current system of postseason playoffs is a good thing (no).
The sport has had few more learned and literate fans than Gould, who brings his best to these pieces. Celebrating triumphs and mourning tragedies on and off the diamond, this book makes just the right companion for the new season, and for the seasons to come. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
This collection by the famed paleontologist and evolutionary biologist (who died in 2002) of what he modestly called his "baseball scribblings" displays the skill that made Gould a renowned explicator and a beloved popularizer of science. Gould's central claim, "although I may be an academic by trade, I write primarily as a fan," is given biographical background in a wonderful introductory essay on the set of "accidents" in his personal life that led to his lifelong affection for baseball, as well as how "a dedication to a distinctively American sport" provided "the major tactic for assimilation" in the 1940s and 1950s for young Jewish men like Gould. The other essays are grouped into four areas. "Reflections and Experience" includes another great new essay on the glory of New York stickball, and a few looks at the ignominious inability of the Boston Red Sox to win the World Series. "Heroes Large, Small, and Fallen" features long profiles of Mickey Mantle and the obscure but legendary William "Dummy" Hoy, a skillful and savvy early ball player who was also deaf. "Nature, History, and Statistic as Meaning" showcases Gould's amazing and detailed proof that New York Yankees slugger Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak in 1941 "was, statistically, the most unusual and unexpected great event in the history of baseball." His chapter "Criticism" focuses on books that reveal to Gould the sport's "joys and lamentations." Overall, this is a glorious testament to Gould's remarkable insights and passionate writing.
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