Have you ever started reading a book or watching a movie and been convinced after ten pages or ten minutes that you are going to absolutely love the book or movie in question for a long time? I remember when I first watched “The Long Goodbye” on video, I literally stopped the tape after about ten minutes and rewound it to the begining. I had to pinch myself. Is this really as good as it seems to be? I got that feeling again the other night as I finally got down to reading Arnold Hano’s classic “A Day in the Bleachers.” After six or seven pages, I just knew this was a book that I was going to adore. Hano was thirty-two years old when he attended Game One of the 1954 World Serious. He went to the Polo Grounds and sat in the bleachers. He didn’t intend to write a book about it–oh, perhaps a magazine piece-but not a book. For the most part, baseball books weren’t written for adults back in 1954, they were almost exclusively written for kids. But several weeks after the Serious, Hano had a brisk, tidy account of the game made famous by a catch (and throw) by Willie Mays.
The book is a stunt but Hano manages to pull it off with a simple, unpretenteous writing style. He is clever and funny too, but what I most respond to is the directness of his language and the sharpness of his reporting. Anyhow, I’m not nearly done with it–who knows, maybe it doesn’t hold up the whole time—but so far I’m enjoying it thoroughly. (I just love it when you’ve heard good things about a book for years and when you finally get down to reading it, it does not disappoint.)
Here is an excerpt I thought you guys might enjoy:
…A Yankee fan is a complacent ignorant fat cat. He knows nothing about baseball except that the Yankees will win the pennant and the World Series more often than they won’t and that a home run is the only gesture of any worth in the entire game. They have been fed on victory and on great dull stars such as Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, and even these men they do not appreciate. They know that DiMaggio could hit the ball often and for great distances and that he could make marvelous plays in the outfield, but they never knew that he was one of the very best baserunners in the American League.
I remember seeing DiMaggio hit a ground ball past the shortstop in an unimportant game on afternoon several years back. As the ball rolled into left-centerfield, the two outfielders converged on it. DiMaggio rounded first and as I glanced at him, something caught in my throat. He looked more like a great deer than a human, running lightly on his toes, head and neck stretched out, nostrils seemingly quivering, eyes searching for whatever it was he had to know. And then when the center fielder decided it was to be his play rather than the left fielder’s, a routine play of gathering up the ball and returning it to the infield, DiMaggio made his move. He dashed–no, strode is the better word–he strode for second, long-legged and sure, and the centerfielder, in a sudden flurry of activity, a man upset because the unconventional was being done, threw in a hurry to second base, but a scant fraction of a second too late.
It was not a game-winning effort in itself–the Yankees won, 0-1–but it was symbolic of the skill of Yankee players of that time. DiMaggio had hit an ordinary single. But because it was so ordinary, the left fielder–the man moving in on the ball and toward second base at the same time–did not make the play that he should have made, and the center fielder had to cut in front of him, moving away from second base as he picked up the ball. It was just this very thing DiMaggio sensed might happen, and he was prepared to act if it did.
But the remarkable thing is that nobody cheered. Nobody. Not a single soul in the entire ball park. Oh, yes, they cheered the blow. As soon as the ball was hit they yelled, and when it rolled past the shortstop they increased the yell for now it was surely a hit. But by the time the outfielder picked up the ball, they were silent, absolutely dead silent. It was a display of mass ignorance that I have never seen equaled in a ball park. I have never gone back to the Yankee Stadium since that day.
I think some of what Hano says still holds true today, though I’m pretty sure if Jeter–or anyone else, for that matter–pulled off a move like that in the Bronx, Yankee fans would pour on the applause. Regardless, this is the kind of observation you can find all over Hano’s small book, a perfect gift for the holidays.