Each of us occasionally has experiences that are so vivid that they make immediate and permanent imprints upon the memory. For example, I can still remember my excited first day of kindergarten, as well as my first glimpse of Three Rivers stadium, as our family car approached it along the jumbled, congested streets of the North Side.
Believe it or not, I can similarly remember my first experiences reading this book, as though they were yesterday. I was in grad school in California, and a friend was visiting me with this book in tow. As he spread out a sleeping bag and nodded off to sleep, I curled up with his magnificent book. I can still picture that entire scene, my old apartment as it was then, and even one particular page on which I lingered in fascination (the Joe Fornieles profile.) The feeling of reading it was that electric, that hyper-engaging.
A book has got to be good if reading it is remembered as a formative experience.
Let me try another way to explain how much I loved this book. When I couldn't find this book anywhere (it being out of print), I directed a nationwide book search to try to find it for me. They did, a flawless hardback edition that I still treasure, and still maintain in carefully guarded, pristine condition. Mind you, I was a starving grad student when I did this, and could hardly afford such luxuries.
As you can see from the other reviews below, this book takes that type of hold on those who love it.
There are three major sections in this book; one covering the sensory atmosphere of a 1950s suburban childhood, one on the baseball card industry as it existed in 1973, and one a series of profiles of players as depicted on samples from the authors' baseball card collection. The first and third of these are the great ones.
I adore the opening chapter, which brought childhood back to me even though I didn't grow up in the same era as the authors. But some things are universal I guess, including the way that childhood memories exist as scraps and floating debris of the odd popular cultures through which we guide our children.
Boyd and Harris's childhood world will be recognizable to anyone who grew up in America -- a world of advertising jingles, cap guns, yo-yos, Pez, and of course, baseball cards. A time cycle in which the kids learn to break down the interminable flow of their school year according to the changing weather, the holidays and favorite activities of each mini-season. And even those of us whose childhoods weren't so innocent nevertheless cling to those small fragments of memory of a time when we had no responsibilities and the world was a fascinating and wondrous place. I once wrote a newspaper review of this book in which I referred to this opening chapter as Marcel Proust in Levittown, and I think it still fits.
But the real core of the book is the "Profiles" section. This is a procession of baseball cards, one after another, two per page, each of which triggers a particular set of memories from the authors. Many of these, if not most, are really funny. But others are poignant.
Not all of the little capsule profiles are about the players themselves. Sometimes the authors take the opportunity to laugh over the baseball card itself -- a goofy pose, a bad airbrushing job, an inexplicable caption, an ill-considered description on the back.
It's an exquisite feeling, thumbing through their card collection with them. You feel the pang of reverence for the Ted Williams card. You snicker over Choo-Choo Coleman and the lousy catchers collected by the New York Mets. You ponder how it could be that Charlie Smith was traded straight up for Roger Maris. You nod knowingly over the author's continual confusion of Mike de la Hoz and Bob del Greco.
The visual design of the book is central to its power, which is why I particularly treasure my hardback edition. One page of umpire cards has a colored backround on which is stamped,simply, "Boo, Boo, Boo, Boo. . ." A page with the cards of Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente contains no commentary, just a respectful black background (each had recently passed at the time of the book's original publication.)
Somehow it all seems to mean something, even without seeming to try to mean anything. And therein lies the book's genius.
I know of no other baseball book like this one. It defies categorization, and despite my poor effort above, it really defies description. Buy it, hide it, shut the door and turn out the world, savor it, ponder it, laugh at it, love it.
Have a good time. It's meant to be fun, you know. Let's play two.