We read Summer of '49 when we were thirteen. It's a baseball book, so there's the requisite amount of sappy mythologizing and pablum surrounding baseball as a sport. It happens. Any football fan knows it, too--just compare the end of a baseball book to a football book.
Baseball book ending: "As he tiptoed across home plate, he crossed the geometric boundaries of the field and entered a new realm: an apotheosis, a one-way ticket to a Valhalla of the memory, something blah blah about timeless America death memory blah blah."
Football book ending:"He went off right tackle. He scored. They won. They all got totally fucking drunk and banged some women. The end. Ooh-rah."
David Halberstam, though, made the guys in baseball seem real, tangible, and anything but walking angels serving as the hokey projected mythology of a naive nation. Read Summer of '49 and you will fall in love with Ted Williams because as Halberstam so deftly shows, he could not be anything but himself at all times. He curses non-stop, referring to Yankee pitcher Ed Lopat only as "that fucking Lopat." He critiques the driving of his teammates down to fine details ("Bobby, I'm a better driver than you because you use too much brake.") He's a scientist of a hitter who can't seem to understand why his teammates can't bat .350 and hit 30 home runs a year. He's annoying, gifted, pigheaded, cranky, iconoclastic, petty, and overwhelmingly likeable, something no other sportswriter bothered to notice in the twenty plus years he played in Boston.
Halberstam was the guy who brought us into the cult of Ted, one of the last vestiges of our youthful baseball fandom. The galling thing is that Halberstam wrote sports books for fun in between his work as a Vietnam war correspondent, winning the Pulitzer Prize at 30, and writing The Best and the Brightest. He wrote about everything and wrote it all well.
David Halberstam: 1934-2007.
Halberstam died in a car wreck today at 73. Rest in peace, wordfreak. We're off to get another cup of coffee and wonder why we haven't finished that 2,000 word freelance piece yet...because Halberstam would have killed it off in between dispatches from Saigon.