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Why I Love Baseball by Larry King



Rating: (Read only if your interest is strong)


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Unless your love of baseball or Larry King is enormous, take a pass on his new book, Why I Love Baseball. In a rambling, repetitive narrative, King patches together pages of song lyrics, quotes from players and managers, and his own inane memories and name dropping to produce a (happily) short and (unfortunately) annoying book. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of Chapter 2, pp. 21-27:


At this point, readers, it should be emphasized that I am no longer a Dodgers’ fan. They left Brooklyn in 1957 to move west, and when they moved, they moved out of my heart. The Dodgers belonged in Brooklyn. They still do in my opinion. I could never develop the same feeling for the Los Angeles Dodgers, even though Sandy Koufax went to the same high school as I did, and Tommy Lasorda is a friend, and I know and like many of the players. I just can’t root for the team that deserted the borough that loved them so much.

That same year, I went down to Miami to break into broadcasting. Miami was where the Orioles trained in the spring, so I became a Baltimore fan, and sort of watched them grow and rooted for them throughout the season. There was no major league baseball then in Miami. They had a Triple-A team, then a Single-A team. I never thought major league baseball would come to south Florida. When I moved to Washington in 1978, the Orioles were also the closest team to where I lived. So I remain a supporter to this day. I sat next to the late Edward Bennett Williams and the columnist George Will when the Orioles won the 1983 World Series, defeating the Phillies in five games. When the final out was made, the joy that went through me is indescribable. I watched Mr. Williams, probably America’s most famous and best criminal attorney, and owner of the team, go out of his mind with joy over winning a baseball game.

I also have a strong interest in the doings of the New York Mets. Freddie Wilpon, their owner, and I went to school together in Brooklyn. And the Mets feel to me the most like the old-time Dodgers in the way they play, the spirit of the team, and the feelings they evoke in the fans. My ultimate wish would be a Mets/Orioles World Series that never ends. The seventh game would be called by snow with the teams tied in the ninth inning, and the snowstorm would last till December, and base­ball would declare both teams champions.




Come to think of it, baseball is a game that’s full of idio­syncracies. Why, for instance, four balls and three strikes? Why not four and four, or three and three? You can’t really succeed as a hitter. No one has ever hit .500, meaning, as Ted Williams once said, “I failed to do what I was paid to do, six and a half out of every ten times I came to bat.” How do you take a round bat and hit a round ball straight ahead? How do you hit at all with a man sitting behind you signaling what to throw to a man sixty feet, six inches away, who will fire it at you at ninety plus miles an hour while seven other people are trolling the field, ready to catch whatever you hit? How in the world do they do it? How do they hit it over the outfielders, or between them?

And you’re on your own when you step to the plate. But if you’re a good hitter, you will make it, no matter where you are, what your living condition is, where you grew up—because you are not dependent on others. You could be a good quarterback in high school and have lousy wide receivers. A good basketball player is not noticed until someone throws him the ball. You could be a good hockey player with no one to get you the puck. Ah, but if you can hit a baseball. . . that will get you a try­out with a major league team, and you can be on that team. It does not require politics. If you can do it, you will do it. There is no great player living on a farm in Montana.

Another thing I love about baseball is that it has no clock. When I say I’m going to the game, I cannot tell you when I’ll be back. Every other game has a definitive end time. Baseball does not. Lovers don’t like end times. I’m getting a bit wistful here. I remember when the Boston Red Sox defeated the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the first game of a doubleheader 22—4. In the second game the Red Sox led the hapless Devil Rays 4—0 in the ninth inning at Boston, and lost 5—4. If it were a football game with the score 28—0, and, say, eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, you could just go home. But in base­ball, as long as you have an at-bat, you have a chance. As Yogi said, it ain’t over till it’s over.

As any baseball fan knows, the slowness of the game is part of its great charm. In fact, it’s only non-fans who complain that baseball is a slow game in the first place. I wouldn’t want to speed it up at all. I love its pace and its rhythm. Who wants to spend an hour and a half at a ball game? That’s crazy. Two hours forty-five minutes is fine by me. Extra innings are fine by me. Dou­ble headers are swell. I can’t get enough.

Beyond the game itself, it’s the little things about baseball that resonate with me. I like the dugouts, where they talk about the game all throughout the game. I like the bullpen, where the relief pitchers con­gregate and observe, and wonder when and if they will get in. I like to watch the way outfielders move, depend­ing on who’s coming up to bat. I like the way infielders talk to each other while holding their gloves in front of their mouths. I like conferences at the mound. I love arguments, when managers come storming out, throw some dirt.

I have some great manager stories. The aforemen­tioned Leo Durocher was one of my favorites as a kid when he managed the Dodgers. He wore number 2, so I wore number 2. I wasn’t a good athlete, but I thought I could have been a manager. I still think I could be a manager. Anyway, I loved Leo, before he went over to the Giants. He was one of my heroes. Now, I’m at my first job in Miami, my first job as a broadcaster. I’ve been on the job about a year, it’s the spring of 1958, and the Dodgers are going to come down to Miami to play the Orioles. They were now the Los Angeles Dodgers, of course, and Leo Durocher was their third-base coach.

The sports director at my radio station said, “Do you want to go and interview someone today before the game?” I said, “Oh, boy, would I love to talk to Leo Durocher, my hero.” So I knew the Dodgers were still up in Vero Beach in the morning—they would fly down later that afternoon. So I placed a call to Leo; he doesn’t know me, I don’t know him. He was out at the moment, I leave a message to call Larry King. I go on the air, get off the air and there’s a message waiting for me. Leo Durocher returned my call. What a thrill—I saved that message slip for twenty years, just to look at it. I then call him back and miss him, he calls me back and misses me—we do this five times, I have five messages from Durocher. Finally, they get on the plane and fly to Miami.

Though I’d never made contact with him, I took my tape recorder and went out to the stadium. Leo was standing at home plate hitting ground balls. There were about three thousand people in the stands. It was about an hour before the game.

I trudged toward home plate and there he stood, my hero, Leo Durocher. The man I’d called five times and missed every time, who’d returned all my calls and missed me. My hero. I approached him and said, “Mr. Durocher?” And he said, “What do you want, kid?” And I said, “I’m Larry King.” And he said, screaming, “What the FUCK do you want?” Everyone in the ballpark heard it. I must have jumped back ten feet. Then he really started screaming. “Who the hell are you? Why am I calling you back? Why are you calling me?” Oh, my gosh. I was never so embarrassed and chagrined, but that was Leo. He said, “Your name sounds like someone I should know. But I don’t know you.” Finally I calmed him down, and he proceeded to come to the dugout and sit for an interview.

In later years, just before he died, I interviewed him on my national radio show in Washington. I had a great couple of hours with a legend, who definitely belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Casey Stengel, before he became famous as the Yan­kee manager, was laughed at when he managed the then Boston Braves and Dodgers in New York. The teams were never good and Casey was always kind of a clown. He came up to home plate one day to bring the lineups to the umpires, lifted his cap, and a bird flew out. When he went on to manage the Mets, his first pick in the draft choice was Hobie Landrith, a nondescript catcher. When asked why he picked a catcher as his number-one draft pick, he said, “If you don’t have a catcher, you have a lot of dropped balls. There’s nobody behind the plate there.”

Casey once testified when Congress held antitrust hearings on the sport of baseball. He followed the Com­missioner, who gave long, eloquent answers to deeply philosophical questions. When it was his turn, Casey sat down and said, “Whatever he said, goes for me double.”

As anyone who knows baseball knows, Casey could talk forever. I was working in Miami, but went up to New York for the opening of the New York World’s Fair in 1964. Casey was managing the New York Mets at the time, and my engineer and I went to Shea Stadium to do an inter­view for my nightly radio show, that we would tape in the afternoon. I sat down with Stengel, looked at my engineer and asked him how much time we had for this interview. The engineer said, “Thirty-five minutes.” Casey heard that. When I asked him the first question, which was to analyze his team for that season, he proceeded to speak for thirty-five minutes straight. He’d heard the time, and helpfully gave me what he thought I needed.

One of Casey’s many great quotes concerned the inept Mets of the early sixties, when he said, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

If that excerpt captivates you, be sure to read Why I Love Baseball. If it makes you balk, take a pass.

Steve Hopkins, July 26, 2004


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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the August 2004 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: I Love Baseball.htm


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