For Part One of this Interview, click here:
Bronx Banter: A Day in the Bleachers. I just read this book for the first time, I want to say about six months ago. I think one of my favorite things about it – obviously I knew about the game, and I knew about The Catch and the other things that come to mind – but I think one of my favorite things was your description of the atmosphere of the game. Looking back fifty years ago, what was it like seeing a game in the Polo Grounds in the ’40s or ’50s?
Arnold Hano: Well, what it was like seeing a game in the bleachers was the camaraderie. [Showing the covers of three different editions of the book.] When the book first came out, it was a book for fans, about fans. And then the next edition, it’s Willie Mays and fans. And then the next edition it’s just The Catch. But the cover of the first one is truer. This is truly what the book is about.
BB: Right, right, definitely. It almost seemed like the book was about the fans, and, by the way, Willie Mays made a nice catch.
AH: That catch, which I spent a lot of time on, took up nine pages in a hundred and sixty page book. And I don’t know if you know about the $700 edition of the book…
BB: Yes, I read something about that. There was a limited print, and you had signed them all.
AH: Four hundred copies.
BB: The other thing, too, about this book is that now, that device that you used, using the game kind of as a prism through which to illuminate either a season or an era or a career, that’s a fairly common device now. But then, I don’t think so, is that right?
AH: You’re telling me about devices. I wrote a book. I wrote a book about a day, and this is the day.
BB: What I love about this book is that you’re writing the book and you’re telling what’s happening on the field, and Vic Wertz comes up to bat, and then suddenly you have a two-page segue on Vic Wertz.
AH: Or on home runs hit by other people for long distances.
BB: Exactly, exactly.
AH: Well, I had to fill some space!
BB: I think that now that’s pretty common. A lot of people use that.
AH: Part of what E.L. Doctorow said yesterday on television is that writers don’t really realize what it is they’ve written. Critics tell them what they’ve written, but he said, “The result is I never read critics. They tell me things about the book…”
BB: That perhaps aren’t there, or aren’t intended to be there.
AH: So when you ask me about a device, I don’t know from the device in this case. I wrote a book about a day, and I filled it in with background stuff. I had to establish myself as writing a book with some reason, so I established myself as somebody who’d seen all these other things. And to that degree, I was an historian of this… thing. But that’s getting beyond where I wanted to go with it. I think of this as a nice little book. Other people think it was something else, but I think it was a nice little book.
BB: Well, like I said, I don’t know if this was your intention as you wrote it – and it doesn’t sound like you had big intentions – but what I got from it is, I know about that catch, and I knew about that before I picked up the book. But your description of the fans in the bleachers, of what it was like on the field, in the stadium, that’s what I got out of it.
AH: When I used to go to ballgames, of course, you don’t do this anymore, I used to go very early so I could watch fielding practice. And until a few years ago, I did not know they had suspended fielding practice. I bet the players’ union has done that because they don’t want somebody to break a finger.
BB: Sometimes you hear people complain about that. You’ll be watching a game and someone will throw to the wrong base and someone will say, “Oh, well, they don’t have fielding practice anymore, and the only time they do that is in spring training…”
AH: Although when you see a guy like Omar Vizquel pull a backdoor double play. Do you know about that at all? Kenny Lofton was at bat when he was with the Dodgers. Men on first and second and I think there was nobody out. They sent the runners and Lofton hit a one-bouncer to second base. Well, Lofton is about as fast going down from the plate to first base as almost anybody. So when Ray Durham fed Vizquel for the force play, Vizquel had Lofton in his sights, and he knew that he was not gonna throw out Lofton. So he whirled and he threw to third. The guy who had been on second base was playing his first game in the major leagues. He rounded third and goes two or three steps and there’s Pedro Felíz with the ball. The most embarrassed baserunner in the history of baseball – who was sent back to the minors that night! A backdoor double play! It was a 4-6-5 double play. I had never seen it before, and apparently he’s done it more than once. And apparently before that play, a few days before, he had reminded Felíz that this was something he might do. Television followed Vizquel off the field at the end of the half inning, and as he reached the first baseline he broke into laughter. He was so pleased and charmed with what he had just done. It was just a great moment. Now there’s somebody who didn’t need fielding practice.