PRINT September 1987


Diamonds Are Forever: Artists and Writers on Baseball.

THE FOLLOWING ARE PREPUBLICATION EXCERPTS from Diamonds Are Forever: Artists and Writers on Baseball, an anthology of artwork and writings on rent aspects of the sport. Edited by Peter H. Gordon with Sydney Waller and Paul Weinman, and with an introduction by Donald Hall, it will be published in October by Chronicle Books, San Francisco, at 160 pages, with 92 color and 23 black-and-white illustrations, in conjunction with a traveling exhibition of the same name organized by the New York State Museum in association with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.

I WAS FRESH OFF THE plane from Israel. It was only my second day in the United States, but my friends here had made the shocked discovery that I had never even seen a baseball diamond. So they took me out to the ball game. . . .

Three hot dogs, two bags of peanuts, three glasses of beer and nine innings later, I was amazed to find out how much I already knew about baseball. In fact I’d played a simpler form of it as a schoolgirl in England, where it was called roundersand was played exclusively by rather upper-class young ladies in the best public schools, which in England of course means the best private schools. Yet, though we played on asphalt and used hard cricket balls, and played with all the savagery that enforced good breeding can create, we never dreamed of such refinements as I saw that afternoon. The exhilaration of sliding into base! That giant paw of the glove! The whole principle of hustle! A world awaits the well-bred young Englishwoman in the ballpark. But for me the most splendid of these splendors was to watch the American language being acted out.

—Lesley Hazleton, “Hers” column,
the New York Times

IT WEIGHS JUST OVER five ounces and measures between 2.86 and 2.94 inches in diameter. It is made of a composition-cork nucleus encased in two thin layers of rubber, one black and one red, surrounded by 121 yards of tightly wrapped blue-gray wool yam, 45 yards of white wool yarn, 53 more yards of blue-gray wool yarn, 150 yards of fine cotton yarn, a coat of rubber cement, and a cowhide (formerly horsehide) exterior, which is held together with 216 slightly raised red cotton stitches. Printed certifications, endorsements, and outdoor advertising spherically attest to its authenticity. Like most institutions, it is considered inferior in its present form to its ancient archetypes, and in this case the complaint is probably justified; on occasion in recent years it has actually been known to come apart under the demands of its brief but rigorous active career. Baseballs are assembled and hand-stitched in Taiwan (before this year the work was done in Haiti, and before 1973, in Chicopee, Massachusetts), and contemporary pitchers claim that there is a tangible variation in the size and feel of the balls that now come into play in a single game; a true peewee is treasured by hurlers, and its departure from the premises, by fair means or foul, is secretly mourned. But never mind: any baseball is beautiful. No other small package comes as close to the ideal in design and utility. It is a perfect object for a man’s hand. Pick it up and it instantly suggests its purpose; it is meant to be thrown a considerable distance—thrown hard and with precision. Its feel and heft are the beginning of the sport’s critical dimensions; if it were a fraction of an inch larger or smaller, a few centigrams heavier or lighter, the game of baseball would be utterly different. Hold a baseball in your hand. As it happens, this one is not brand-new. Here, just to one side of the curved surgical welt of stitches, there is a pale-green grass smudge, darkening on one edge almost to black–the mark of an old infield play, a tough grounder now lost in memory. Feel the ball, turn it over in your hand; hold it across the seam or the other way, with the seam just to the side of your middle finger. Speculation stirs. You want to get outdoors and throw this spare and sensual object to somebody or, at the very least, watch somebody else throw it. The game has begun.

—Roger Angell, Five Seasons

SO I RAN ALL RIGHT, out of the hospital and up to the playground and right out to center field, the position I play for a softball team that wears silky blue-and-gold jackets with the name of the club scrawled in big white felt letters from one shoulder to another: S E A B E E S, A.C. Thank God for the Seabees A.C.! Thank God for center field! Doctor, you can’t imagine how truly glorious it is out there, so alone in all that space . . . Do you know baseball at all? Because center field is like some observation post, a kind of control tower, where you are able to see everything and everyone, to understand what’s happening the instant it happens, not only by the sound of the struck bat, but by the spark of movement that goes through the infielders in the first second that the ball comes flying at them; and once it gets beyond them, “It’s mine,” you call, “it’s mine,” and then after it you go. For in center field, if you can get to it, it is yours. Oh, how unlike my home it is to be in center field, where no one will appropriate unto himself anything that I say is mine.

—Philip Roth, Portnoy’s Complaint

I AM OFTEN TEASED by my women friends about my obsession, but just as often, in the most unexpected places—in academic conferences, in literary discussions, at the most elegant dinner parties—I find other women just as crazily committed to base ball as 1 am, and the discovery creates an instant bond between us. All at once, we are deep in conversation, mingling together the past and the present, as if the history of the Red Sox had been our history too.

There we stand, one moment recollect ing the unparalleled performance of Yaz in ’67, the next sharing ideas on how the present lineup should be changed; one moment recapturing the splendid career of “the Splendid Splinter,” the next complain ing about the manager’s decision to pull the pitcher the night before. And then, in variably, comes the most vivid memory of all, the frozen image of Carlton Fisk as he rounded first in the sixth game of the ’75 World Series, an image as intense in its evocation of triumph as the image of Ralph Branca weeping in the dugout is in its portrayal of heartache.

—Doris Kearns Goodwin,
“From Father, with Love”

The excerpt from Five Seasons © 1972–77 by Roger Angell is reprinted here by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc._

The exhibition “Diamonds Are Forever: Artists and Writers on Baseball” will open its tour at the New York State Museum, Albany, on September 16.