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The Head Game
Book Review 

by Harvey Frommer

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Harvey Frommer's Sports Book Review             

Title: "The Head Game" 
Author: Roger Kahn Publisher
Price: $25
Pages: 310
Publisher: Harcourt Brace

With October upon us, baseball takes center stage. The playoff battles leading up to the World Series, the tension of pitcher versus batter, the second-guessing of managerial moves -- all of these are part of the season.

A terrific part of the baseball reading season is a new book -- "The Head Game" by Roger Kahn. Subtitled "Baseball Seen From the Pitcher's Mound," it is filled with musings, trivia, insights, interviews and asides, making for an entertaining and illuminating read.

Roger Kahn, who wrote the classic "The Boys of Summer" about the old Brooklyn Dodgers, is in the classic mode again with this newest effort, a book that seemingly had its origins way back when.

"In the waning days of Harry Truman's presidency," Kahn writes, "I rode a noisy, bumpy, propeller-driven aircraft out of an uncertain New York March and into the torporous warmth of Miami, Florida. There the Brooklyn Dodgers of sainted memory were working their way through spring training ..."

It was back in that long ago year of 1952 that Kahn became friends with a right-handed pitcher on the Dodgers named Clem Labine. The title of this book and probably the idea for it were born then.

So this is a book that was a long time coming and took a great deal of planning. But there are rewards on virtually every page. There are insightful comments from Don Drysdale, Bob Feller, Johnny Sain, Tom Glavine, pitching coach Leo Mazzone and others. There are Kahn's on-target and often consciousness-raising commentary on the dirty baseball, the lively baseball, the only player ever killed by a pitcher's fastball.

"The Head Game" is a work, in Kahn's phrasing, that gives us "pitching as history, and pitching as combat, and indeed, pitching as life." The curveball first thrown by Candy Cummings; the windups of different pitchers through the decades; grips, speeds and tactics; baseballs of varied sizes and surfaces; the classic battle between the pitcher and the batter -- all these are part of the deftly covered menu.

A few pitching personalities get detailed treatment.

For example, there's Bruce Sutter, the former Cubs and Cardinals reliever who was famous in the late 1970s and early '80s for his devastating split-finger fastball, which sank dramatically just as it reached the batter. "If it wasn't for the splitter," Sutter said, "I'd still be a printer's assistant back in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania."

And then there was the great Christy Mathewson, "who was known to weep after losses."

One finds little to complain about this well researched and carefully composed book. But an index would have helped, and so would an annotated table of contents for foraging through the many details.

The scrupulously thorough Kahn does supply his own list of the greatest pitchers of all time. Christy Mathewson heads the list, followed by a three-way tie for second place among Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal. But the list will stir arguments. Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, Whitey Ford, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens are nowhere to be found.

Nevertheless, "The Head Game" is a classy book full of information and opinions. Roger Kahn has complete control of his stuff and little wasted effort. Put this fine baseball book on your shopping list.

BOOKENDS

Speaking of pitchers, from the University of Massachusetts Press comes "Cy Young" by Reed Browning ($26.95, 283 pages). This is an in-depth biography about the man who won 511 games, more than any other pitcher, and it makes for fascinating reading.

"Splendor on the Diamond" by Rich Westcott (University Press of Florida, $24.95, 317 pages) is a collection of profiles and interviews with 35 stars from the decades following World War II. Players include Ralph Branca, Al Kaline, Bobby Avila and Alvin Dark. This is a winning book, and Westcott has done a thorough job.

"Going, Going, Gone," with an intro by David Halberstam and a foreword by Bobby Thomson (HarperResource, $40,167 pages), is a celebration of the home run in words and pictures. This is a good book to give or receive.

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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in the millions and is housed on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.
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Dr. Frommer is the Official Book Reviewer of Travel-Watch. 
*Autographed copies of Frommer books are available .
 

Other Frommer sports related articles can be found at:   

Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

 

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