Maury Allen Going by the Book
A close pal's new book
is catnip for baseball fans
By MAURY ALLEN
Lets start with the obvious.
Jerome Holtzman is my best friend in sportswriting. We go back together some 45 years when we traveled around the baseball circuit at big games, All Star events, World Series contests, winter meetings, Hall of Fame inductions at Cooperstown and union negotiations.
He taught me an awful lot about the business as a beat reporter and later columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune while I was working for the New York Post. He wrote the best sportswriting book ever called No Cheering in the Press Box and he was always supportive of my efforts.
He is a fascinating, no-nonsense guy with a dozen books to his credit, about 5000 columns, enough magazine articles to fill a factory and more opinions than Churchill.
Holtzman is retired now (arent we all at this age?) but may be busier than ever with his role as Baseballs Official Historian and prolific author.
He took the time to put together his best work in a new book simply called The Jerome Holtzman Baseball Reader (Triumph Books, $19.95). His back jacket photo is worth the price of admission. It shows Holtzman on a bench with former Chicago Cubs manager Don Zimmer, another face that cant be imitated, as he puffs his thick cigar, is squeezed into his open white shirt and tight suspenders and lets the sun shine on his white hair, thick eyebrows and paunchy middle.
What does a sportswriter do? a questioning young journalist might ask.
He can simply study this picture of Holtzman and Zimmer for any explanation needed.
This collection of Holtzman essays covers the game from back to forth, top to bottom, century to century.
There are fresh, new intimate tales about Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Ted Williams. There is a delightful story about baseballs only midget hero, Eddie Gaedel. There is a hurrah for a baseball grunt, scout Hugh Alexander. There is the resurrection of long lost Ron Necciai, a man who actually struck out 27 batters in a nine inning game.
Holtzman gives attention to Ron Santo, the former Cubs third baseman and current broadcaster, to fireballer Bob Feller, a Navy World War II hero, to legendary Stan Musial, to rambunctious Leo Durocher and scandalous Shoeless Joe Jackson.
He covers the joys and the tragedies in this game, the highlights and the lowlights, the truth and the gossip in one delightful episode after another.
It is impossible to select a favorite column from a favorite writer. Try picking your favorite kid, your favorite movie, your favorite frat party. They are all tied for first.
Lets just concentrate on one chapter for the sake of Holtzman flavor. This is the one about Moe Berg, the mysterious former catcher and pal of Holtzmans identified in his book as A Great Companion.
I knew Berg a little as a former ball player, a teammate of the young Ted Williams in Boston, a Brooklyn catcher labeled by my favorite baseball person, the iconoclast Casey Stengel, as a a guy who speaks 10 languages and cant hit in any of them.
Berg spent 15 years in the big leagues, hit .243 in 662 games and seemed to hang around mostly because he was good in the bullpen, protected the teams baseballs and was helpful to all his managers.
He was supposed to be an OSS man during World War II. When I began showing up at Yankee stadium in the late 1950s he was often around, dressed immaculately in his dark suit, white shirt, dark tie and shined shoes. Berg attached himself to Holtzman sometime around the early 1960s.
Moe, you old son of a gun, Holtzman told his friend, When you die Im going to write your story, what you are really like.
Wonderful; he would shout. marvelous. Then he would say, Do it, do it, tell everything.
So, Holtzman did it.
Holtzman enjoyed his company. Berg freeloaded in Jerrys room, went with him to the ball park, dined on press box delights and offered private opinions on current players. Berg was one of those guys who loved not being pinned down by anyone or anything.
The few times I sat with him in press boxes, when Holtzman was not around, I found him a little tiresome. Not quite a bore but not quite stimulating. He had a unique way of disappearing into the night air.
Maybe it was me. Maybe I simply didnt have time for a guy who offered expertise on everything in the most subtle of ways.
Holtzman bought his tales. He accepted his life style. He believed his fibs about all the women he romanced.
Moe did have a secret. He didnt have a regular job. He must have been rooming with me four or five years before this occurred to me. When I confronted him with my discovery he would offer faint denials, Holtzman wrote.
Holtzman tells of Berg strolling down the avenue with newspapers folded under his arm, observing the world as it passed before him in review and saying, Isnt that wonderful? or Marvelous, marvelous.
Jerry loved the guy. I didnt. I saw Berg pick up newspapers in a press box and walk off with them. Not so marvelous.
I dont know about Moe Berg. To me, he wasnt wonderful or marvelous.
To me, Holtzmans Baseball Reader, now thats wonderful, marvelous and about the best buy in sports journalism around today.
©2003 by Maury Allen. The Maury Allen caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. The book cover illustration is courtesy Triumph Books.
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