Play Ball!

A classic lineup of Atlantic essays on our national pastime.

As the 2007 baseball season opens, here's a look back at some memorable baseball moments from the past five decades—a classic lineup of Atlantic Monthly essays on the national pastime.

At bat Birdie Tebbetts leads off with "I'd Rather Catch" (September 1949). Tebbetts—who at the time he wrote the piece was a catcher for the Boston Red Sox—provides a look at the mechanics of catching, along with hints on the strategy of the pick-off, the pitchout, and more. Among the anecdotes included in the essay is a description of the rowdy fans who booed out-of-practice ball players returning from service in the Second World War.

Jim Brosnan backs up Tebbetts with "The Fantasy World of Baseball" (April 1964), an essay in which he made the spectators the spectacle and detailed the antics of several notorious ballpark patrons. He wrote:

The professional baseball fan is an American phenomenon. His fund of quotable statistics, his trove of memorable traditions, his collections of valueless mementos comprise a mine of guilt-edged insecurity. Although he can neither do nor teach, he regards himself as a player-coach.
Also see:

"The Oval Office and the Diamond" (May 2001)
A selective survey of America's First Fans. By Carl M. Cannon

Next up is Donald Honig, with "Out of Reach of All the Glory" (May 1975), an excerpt from his book Baseball When the Grass Was Green, published later that same year. Honig interviewed the legendary hurler Wes Ferrell, who pitched for the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, among other teams. The result of that interview, written in monologue form, is peppered with Ferrell's accounts of his encounters with some of the most prominent figures in baseball's pantheon, including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Lefty Grove.

Honig is followed by Michael Lenehan, whose tribute to Minnesota Twins president Calvin Griffith, titled "The Last of the Pure Baseball Men" (August 1981), recounts the history of the Griffith-family baseball dynasty, which began in 1920, and describes Griffith's "Mom-and-Pop, cash on the barrelhead style of operation" and his struggle to keep the Minnesota Twins competitive in the era of deep-pocketed, often corporate-owned baseball empires.

Batting cleanup is Roy Blount Jr. With his trademark deadpan, Blount conjures up a compilation of "Diamond Nuggets" (August 1997), or "all the weekly baseball notes you'll ever really need." What else is there to say?