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Twilight of the Long-ball Gods: Dispatches from the Disappearing Heart of Baseball
     

Twilight of the Long-ball Gods: Dispatches from the Disappearing Heart of Baseball

by John Schulian
 

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A report from the true heart of baseball, this anthology leaves behind the bad boys and big names of the major leagues to take readers to the places where the spirit of America’s game resides. These are a veteran sportswriter’s dispatches from the bush leagues and the sandlot, his tributes to the Negro leaguers, mining-town dreamers, and certifiable

Overview

A report from the true heart of baseball, this anthology leaves behind the bad boys and big names of the major leagues to take readers to the places where the spirit of America’s game resides. These are a veteran sportswriter’s dispatches from the bush leagues and the sandlot, his tributes to the Negro leaguers, mining-town dreamers, and certifiable eccentrics who give baseball its heart and soul, laughter and tears.
 
John Schulian, a long-time Sports Illustrated contributor and former Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist, puts together a portrait of a disappearing America—a place inhabited by star-crossed Negro Leagues slugger Josh Gibson; by a vagabond player still toiling for the Durham Bulls at thirty-six; by the coach who created the Eskimo Pie League for kids in a Utah copper-mining town. When he does venture into the big leagues, Schulian gives us the underdogs and the human touches, from Bill Veeck peg-legging toward retirement as the game’s last maverick team owner, to musings on Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe at Christmas, to Studs Terkel’s reflections on baseball. In the end, though, this collection belongs to the kid at a tryout camp, the washed-out semipro following the game on his car radio, the players who were the toasts of outposts from Roswell to Wisconsin Rapids—and to the readers who keep the spirit of the game alive.

Editorial Reviews

Chicago Tribune

“For baseball fans, John Schulian’s Twilight of the Long-Ball Gods is the perfect antidote to winter. Schulian does something remarkable in this book: He brings to life an all-but-lost world of semipro teams and American Legion ball, of old Negro leagues and the Class D minors. . . . Schulian can flat-out write. Boxing and baseball have, by far, produced our best sports prose, and Schulian crafts sentences with the best of American journalists. Quotidian struggles here become the stuff of literature because American mythology, as Alexis de Tocqueville observed more than a century and a half ago, places the quest for individual success at the center of our national epic.”—Elliott J. Gorn, Chicago Tribune

— Elliot J. Gorn

Chicago Sun-Times

“[The stories] focus on the lesser-known corners of the game, such as semipro ball, sandlot leagues and the old Negro Leagues, and they are all gems.”—Henry Kisor, Chicago Sun-Times

— Henry Kisor

Booklist
"In this sparkling collection of essays, Schulian . . . offers a reminder that baseball hasn't always been about endorsements, million-dollar deals, and agents. . . . Schulian is one of the very best sportswriters of the latter part of the twentieth century. His work resonates with time and place, compassion, and humanity. This is a wonderful collection that deserves a huge audience."—Booklist
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"'Long-ball' a hit even for non-fan. . . . Chapter after chapter of enticing sketches, stories spun of people’s dreams, of their hopes, their failures, their ordinariness, their endurance, achievements."—Geeta Sharma-Jensen, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

— Geeta Sharma-Jensen

Madison.com and Capital Times

“Some of the best baseball writing you will ever read.”—Doug Moe, Madison.com and Capital Times

— Doug Moe

Deseret Morning News

"Baseball has belonged to poets almost as long as star-crossed love, but who'd have thought Salt Lake City—not exactly the center of the baseball universe—would get its very own baseball poet laureate. . . . As another baseball season works its way into our consciousness . . . Schulian's book is a fresh breeze to combat not only the rainouts, but the wave of steroid scandal that has the game currently cornered. Like all baseball poets, he brings a depth to the subject that transcends its shortcomings."—Lee Benson, Deseret Morning News

— Lee Benson

Athomeplate.com
“TWILIGHT is a nostalgic and romantic look at the game of baseball during a time that very much needs. Give this one a solid 3 balls out of a possible four and make sure you crack it open to read when the modern game, and its crisis,’ begin to wear you down.”—Athomeplate.com
Daily News

“Schulian left sportswriting 20 years ago and came to Hollywood to write TV scripts. The time away from sports made him realize what really mattered about the game, and these columns definitely illustrate that.”—Tom Hoffarth, Daily News

— Tom Hoffarth

Mudville Magazine

“An absolute joy. . . . We might be witnessing the twilight of a few exponentially more famous long-ball gods at this very moment. Let me be the first to thank John Shulian for putting together a collection of 30-plus reasons why we shouldn’t notice.”—Justin Hamm, Mudville Magazine

— Justin Hamm

Chicago Tribune - Elliot J. Gorn
“For baseball fans, John Schulian’s Twilight of the Long-Ball Gods is the perfect antidote to winter. Schulian does something remarkable in this book: He brings to life an all-but-lost world of semipro teams and American Legion ball, of old Negro leagues and the Class D minors. . . . Schulian can flat-out write. Boxing and baseball have, by far, produced our best sports prose, and Schulian crafts sentences with the best of American journalists. Quotidian struggles here become the stuff of literature because American mythology, as Alexis de Tocqueville observed more than a century and a half ago, places the quest for individual success at the center of our national epic.”—Elliott J. Gorn, Chicago Tribune
Chicago Sun-Times - Ron Rapoport
"Schulian puts it all together in prose as sparkling as the view of the sun twinkling off the boats in the harbor from the upper deck in Wrigley Field."—Ron Rapoport,Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times - Henry Kisor
“[The stories] focus on the lesser-known corners of the game, such as semipro ball, sandlot leagues and the old Negro Leagues, and they are all gems.”—Henry Kisor, Chicago Sun-Times
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - Geeta Sharma-Jensen
"'Long-ball' a hit even for non-fan. . . . Chapter after chapter of enticing sketches, stories spun of people’s dreams, of their hopes, their failures, their ordinariness, their endurance, achievements."—Geeta Sharma-Jensen, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Madison.com and Capital Times - Doug Moe
“Some of the best baseball writing you will ever read.”—Doug Moe, Madison.com and Capital Times
Deseret Morning News - Lee Benson
"Baseball has belonged to poets almost as long as star-crossed love, but who'd have thought Salt Lake City—not exactly the center of the baseball universe—would get its very own baseball poet laureate. . . . As another baseball season works its way into our consciousness . . . Schulian's book is a fresh breeze to combat not only the rainouts, but the wave of steroid scandal that has the game currently cornered. Like all baseball poets, he brings a depth to the subject that transcends its shortcomings."—Lee Benson, Deseret Morning News
Daily News - Tom Hoffarth
“Schulian left sportswriting 20 years ago and came to Hollywood to write TV scripts. The time away from sports made him realize what really mattered about the game, and these columns definitely illustrate that.”—Tom Hoffarth, Daily News
Mudville Magazine - Justin Hamm
“An absolute joy. . . . We might be witnessing the twilight of a few exponentially more famous long-ball gods at this very moment. Let me be the first to thank John Shulian for putting together a collection of 30-plus reasons why we shouldn’t notice.”—Justin Hamm, Mudville Magazine
Library Journal
Schulian, a former Chicago Sun-Times columnist and Sports Illustrated contributor, specializes in profiling minor league, semi-professional baseball and the forgotten stars of yore. One key piece in this volume examines the life and legacy of Negro League great Josh Gibson, weaving together interviews with Josh's son and former teammates. Schulian's work has been widely anthologized, and aficionados of good baseball writing will appreciate this tome. For larger libraries. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780803293274
Publisher:
UNP - Bison Books
Publication date:
05/28/2005
Pages:
185
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.42(d)

Read an Excerpt

Twilight of the Long-ball Gods

Dispatches from the Disappearing Heart of Baseball
By John Schulian

University of Nebraska Press

Copyright © 2005 University of Nebraska Press
All right reserved.




Chapter One

Of Stars and Angels

These are the memories that make me a kid again, these memories of a Los Angeles that I can scarcely believe existed and of two Pacific Coast League teams not so much forgotten as overwhelmed by the city's ceaseless charge into the future.

So let me take you back to the early '50s and a Friday night at Gilmore Field, home of the Hollywood Stars. You could always see big names there - Spencer Tracy, Barbara Stanwyck and that crowd - and my parents may well have been looking for them. But I wasn't, because a Star pitcher named Red Munger had caught me staring at him and his enormous chaw of tobacco. Maybe we had box seats, although I can't ever recall our being in that economic bracket, or maybe my head of corn-silk hair stood out like a beacon in the twilight. Time turns so many things hazy, but I do know this: Red Munger grinned and said, "Hiya, Whitey." It was the first time a baseball player ever spoke to me.

Thirty years later, long past being thrilled by conversations with ballplayers, long past even expecting them, I was a Chicago sports columnist covering the dying quiver of a pennant race, but my mind was on old fascinations. I thought of Carlos Bernier, the Star left fielder who loved arguing with umpires as much as he did stealing bases, and of Johnny Lindell,the dead-armed ex-Yankee outfielder who became a knuckleball pitcher in Hollywood. Mostly I thought of Steve Bilko, who hit so many home runs for the PCL'S Los Angeles Angels that I almost gave up on the Stars.

The floodgates of memory had opened, and all because Gene Mauch was in town.

He had been the Angels' second baseman back then, and now, in 1982, he had come to old Comiskey Park as the manager of another band of Angels, the American Leaguers from California. They were in the process of wrapping up a division championship, yet Mauch still labored under the shadow of past failures and a sense that his future would be just as bleak. He never expected anyone to ask about the Coast League and the best days he ever had as a player. When I did, his match stopped short of his cigarette, and his steely gaze softened.

"Where the hell did you come from?" Mauch asked.

He was almost smiling.

§ I come from the same place Gene Mauch does, a Los Angeles still golden with promise and perfumed by eucalyptus and citrus trees. It is where I was born; it is where Mauch's father migrated when there were no more oil wells to drill in Kansas. As a kid, I lived in the same neighborhood as Mauch, and I remember the other ballplayers who called Inglewood home, too: George Metkovich, Peanuts Lowrey, and even the National League's 1952 Most Valuable Player, Hank Sauer. Like so many things viewed in retrospect, that seems a better time. At the very least, it was simpler.

You never traveled by freeway then unless you were going to Pasadena, birthplace of those concrete snakes. There were buses; there were the venerable Red Line streetcars; there were the old coupes that you always wished could fly when they were winding you over Laurel Canyon or Beverly Glen into the San Fernando Valley. And then there were the bikes that Irv Noren and his buddy Norm Hallajian rode to see the Angels play in Wrigley Field, the double-decked replica of its Chicago namesake. This is the same Irv Noren who grew up to give the Stars an MVP season in 1949 and then patrolled the outfield for the Washington Senators and the New York Yankees. But in the late '30s he was a transplant from upstate New York, a baker's son who prayed he was seeing his destiny every Saturday when he and Norm pedaled from their Pasadena homes down through Eagle Rock and Highland Park, past downtown Los Angeles, and on to Wrigley, at 42nd and Avalon, just southeast of the Coliseum.

"We'd park right in front of the stadium," Noren says, "just lean our bikes against the wall and go in with the Knothole Gang. Wouldn't even lock 'em."

And when the game was over, the bikes were always there.

By the '50s, when I came along, the innocence was beginning to fade. Friends who rode the bus to Wrigley said neighborhood kids roughed them up, but Los Angeles, even with its postwar population soaring past two million, was still a long way from having calluses on its soul. Though Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe mused that the city's streets were "lost and beaten and full of emptiness," I remember that they all seemed to lead to the pony ride at Beverly and La Cienega, where the Beverly Center now teems with upscale shoppers. What crime I recall - show-biz bloodlettings, pachuco gang fights in East L.A. - was splashed across the front page of William Randolph Hearst's afternoon Herald Express, 65 copies of which I faithfully delivered Monday through Saturday. The only gangster I was aware of was Mickey Cohen, who, as a favor to the Herald's headline-hungry city editor, stole Lana Turner's love letters to the hood her teenage daughter stabbed to death. Mickey Cohen rooted for the Stars.

George Raft rooted for them too, and both he and Cohen were tight with Bugsy Siegel, so I can only assume that Bugsy made it to Gilmore Field before his untimely demise. Lord knows every other celebrity did. If Gary Cooper, Rosemary Clooney, and Milton Berle weren't in the stands, Bing Crosby, Cecil B. DeMille, and Burns and Allen were. Some of the big names held stock in the Stars, a tribute to the sway of the team's dapper owner, Bob Cobb, president of the Brown Derby and inventor of the Cobb salad.

But the thespian who made the biggest impact was Jayne Mansfield. When sweet Jayne high-heeled out of the dugout as Miss Hollywood Stars, there was an awe-inspired silence at the way her chest defied gravity. As the males in the crowd began roaring lustily, skipper Clyde King, as courtly and God-fearing a southern gentleman as ever graced the game, whispered, "Goodness gracious."

Before Los Angeles had any Dodgers or big league Angels, any Lakers or Raiders or Clippers or Kings, you had to go a long way to beat La Mansfield's act. Only the Rams could do it, luring 100,000 paying customers into the Coliseum each Sunday, and yet, as late as 1949, the Stars remained the toughest ticket in town. But the town, if you judged by its tastes, was still shamelessly small-time. Forget all the hoorah about college football at Southern Cal and UCLA. Forget all the cigar smoke that got blown about the club fights at the Olympic Auditorium and Hollywood American Legion Stadium and the title fights at Wrigley and Gilmore Fields. The Los Angeles I choose to remember devoted far more passion to professional wrestling, both live and televised, from the Olympic, from Legion Stadium, from South Gate, from Ocean Park Arena (with none other than Steve Allen at the ringside mike). So great was L.A.'s hunger for these sweaty morality plays that Channel 11 had to pipe even more of them in from Las Vegas. How fitting for a city where a good Sunday afternoon of TV sports meant watching semipro football and the Jalopy Derby from Culver City Stadium.

When I think back to all that raw exuberance and unbridled tackiness, it seems the Coast League gave L.A. sports a rare touch of ... well, dignity isn't the word, not with the shorts the Stars insisted on wearing in the '50s and the call-the-cops brawls they had with the Angels. But normality, maybe, because no matter how outrageous the two teams got, they still played baseball; they still did something connected to the rest of the country and not confined to Planet California.

Consider Gus Zernial, the slugging outfielder revered as Ozark Ike by Hollywood fans in '47 and '48. He burst on the scene at the same time as wrestling's flamboyant Gorgeous George, but did he peroxide his hair and throw gold-plated bobby pins to his admirers? No, sir, Gus went out and hit 40 homers in his second season as a Star, the way any regular guy would if he had a quick bat and a ton of muscles. And believe me, these minor league heroes were regular guys. They lived among us, they worked among us. My dad bought a '56 Chevy from Lou Stringer, a nifty second baseman for both Los Angeles and Hollywood, and he could just as easily have made the deal with Eddie Malone, who toiled for each team as an iron-man catcher. If my parents had needed any upholstering done, they could have gone to Roger Bowman, the Star left-hander who had a shop in Santa Monica. And we could always roll a few lines at Irv Noren's bowling alley.

No one remembered the intimacy of the times and the town better than Chuck Connors,who didn't realize he was only pausing in the Angels' lineup on his way to a place in television history as The Rifleman. When the Chicago Cubs farmed him to L.A. in 1951, Connors bought a tract house in Reseda, never thinking how long a drive it was to that Valley outpost in those pre-101 freeway days. He found out the first time he had to make the 25-mile haul across the Cahuenga Pass after a Saturday night game, with a Sunday afternoon doubleheader just hours away. It looked like Connors had a lot of sleepless weekends ahead until a family that lived across the street from Wrigley Field approached him.

"I'd known them for a while," he told me shortly before his death last year. "I'd gotten them signed baseballs, some gloves, things like that." Now they were offering to return the favor by putting Connors up on Saturday nights. He accepted instantly. "I'd sleep in their extra bedroom," Connors said, "and Sunday morning I'd eat breakfast with them." He was a first baseman from Brooklyn who happened to be white, they were Angel fans who happened to be black, and this was a Los Angeles that we would never see again.

§ The big man was Bilko, and I'm talking about more than the excess poundage that inspired a Los Angeles Times headline saying "Not Even Mrs. Bilko Knows His Weight." I'm talking about the feats that enabled Stout Steve, the Slugging Seraph, to block out the big league sun for my generation of L.A. kids.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Twilight of the Long-ball Gods by John Schulian Copyright © 2005 by University of Nebraska Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

John Schulian is the author of Writers' Fighters and Other Sweet Scientists, the writing in which has been compared to that of Red Smith and A.J. Liebling. His widely anthologized work has been included in The Best American Sports Writing 1994, ten editions of Best Sports Stories, and Sports Illustrated's Fifty Years of Great Writing.

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