by Arnold Hano. Da Capo Press, 2004.
This is one of those things you always figure you’ll get to, like a New Yorker visiting the Empire State Building or The Statue of Liberty. It will always be there, so you figure you have time. Well, Hano will be receiving the the Hilda Chester Award, which “recognizes distinguished service to the game by a baseball fan,” from The Baseball Reliquary (the award was established in 2001 in memory of Hilda Chester, the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers fan).
One of those services undoubtedly was his classic A Day In The Bleachers, originally published in 1954, in which he offers his observations about the first game of that season’s Fall Classic between the New York Giants and the Cleveland Indians. So I figured now is the time.
While arranging for an interview with Hano — which will be posted prior to the Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals 2012 Induction Day on Sunday, July 15, at the Donald R. Wright Auditorium in the Pasadena Central Library, Pasadena, California — I read the book on the way to Friday’s Mets-Yankees game. Because of the long rush-hour bus ride into the city (coupled with a sudden deluge) and having to wait an extra hour for the ride back to NJ after the game, I was able to finish the book in a matter of hours.
I went to the Interleague contest alone and the seat next to me was empty, so I had time to “channel” Hano, wondering what his book would be like had it been written now, with all the distractions, blaring music, and other events that teams seem to build into “the ballpark experience” that have tickeholders — I hesitate to use the word “fans” — constantly moving around, rather than watching what’s transpiring on the field.
Hano went to that 1954 opener at the Polo Grounds on basically a whim and actually got in; can you imagine finding a walk-up ticket for a World Series game these days? He discusses the back and forth contest of the game which increased in tension as it dragged on (won by the Giants on a three-run pinch-hit homer by Dusty Rhodes in the tenth inning). But he also notes the people in his immediate area, particularly a female Dodgers fan (was she there to root for the National League entry or against the Bums’ hated rival?) as well as an Indians fans. Juxtapose with the the chuckleheads sitting behind me on Friday who were yelling at Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte (“Hey, old man, the syringe fell out of your back pocket!”) in between admiring their recent trip to Las Vegas, various golf outings, and numerous business ventures; they left after the sixth inning.
I bought a scorecard and in addition to keeping the tally (note to publishers: the way managers replace their starters, you need more lines to accommodate the extra players), I jotted down my own observations, a la Hano. One thing that’s definitely changed: in those days, you had to pay attention. A play is over amazingly quickly and if you missed something, you had only the guy next to you to ask. Just think of experiencing “The Catch” made by Willie Mays. How many times have you seen it since then? It’s a staple of any book or film/TV compilation of the game’s greatest plays. Back then, you only had one shot. I pity the fool who was in the bathroom or buying a hot dog while that bit of history was being made. Now, you have constant instant replay (unless it’s a controversial call; umps don’t like to see that on the jumbotron). That chapter alone makes reading Hano’s book worthwhile.
A Day in the Bleachers was the first of the genre of “deep inside” baseball books, which includes Daniel Okrent’s Nine Innings: The Anatomy of Baseball As Seen Through the Playing of a Single Game; Charles Euchner’s The Last Nine Innings: Inside the Real Game Fans Never See; Buzz Bissinger’s Three Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak, and Joy Inside the Mind of a Manager, which covered an entire three-game series between the Cardinals and Cubs; and Ron Darling’s The Complete Game: Reflections on Baseball and the Art of Pitching (Vintage), which pieces together individual innings from nine different games.
A Day. though, is not a behind-the-scenes deconstruction. It’s a gentle reminder of the fun and stress of being at the game. It is free from the extraneous gossip one would expect (demand?) to find these days and the glowing introduction by Roger (Boys of Summer) Kahn puts Hano’s contribution in even more perspective and is probably one of the best I’ve ever read.
So congratulations to Arnold Hano for this well-deserved recognition and to the reliquary for paying tribute to the distinguished gentleman.