National Pastime: Sports, Politics, and the Return of Baseball to Washington, D.C.

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A Bumper Crop of Baseball Books

Opening Day is almost upon us, and that means that this year's baseball books are already upon us. My friend Derek was once a Baltimore Orioles fan like myself, but then the Nationals swept into Washington, DC, and stole his heart away. I consider him a traitor, of course, but in his defense, I'm told that watching the Nats play at RFK has become one of the joys of summertime in the Nation's capitol. Being a big Nationals fan, Derek has been bugging me about one baseball book in particular. National Pastime is an account of the Nationals debut season by Washington Post baseball writer Bruce Svrluga (an excerpt is available). The season was exciting and worthy of a book not only because the Nationals were unexpectedly contenders last summer, but also because the team became a phenomenon in a city that had gone without baseball for decades. It's the sort of baseball story that baseball fans love (Even so, I'm still an O's fan.)Every once in a while, though, there's a baseball book that draws interest beyond diehard fans. A couple of years ago it was Michael Lewis' book Moneyball that turned baseball on its head. This year it's the book Game of Shadows by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, which presents, it seems to me, incontrovertible evidence that Barry Bonds' monster performance of the last few years was, in fact, steroid-fueled as so many had suspected. Ever since Sports Illustrated ran an excerpt of the book a few weeks back, this has been the number one story in baseball. It seems likely to stay the number one story for a while, too. ESPN The Magazine recently ran an excerpt of another Bonds book, Love Me, Hate Me by Jeff Pearlman. That book will be out in May.Perhaps as important as baseball (and Bonds' steroid troubles), though, is fantasy baseball. I'll be tearing it up this year in a league put together by fellow blogger, Jeff. My team is the Ravenswood Ravens, a reference to both my neighborhood and Edgar Allan Poe. The team's success will rely equally on my managerial prowess and on a breakout season by Wily Mo Pena. Fantasy baseball has clearly become a huge business in recent years and a summer long obsession for many sports fans. In Fantasyland, Wall Street Journal writer Sam Walker does what many of us fantasy baseball fans seem apt to do all summer, and that is chronicle the ups and downs of our fantasy team to anyone stuck listening to us. What sets Walker apart, though, is that he's a sportswriter, a job which affords him real life contact with the players on his fantasy team. I don't have access like that, so when I need fantasy tips I turn to the baseball geeks at Baseball Prospectus. Their annual Prospectus is indispensable, and this year also I managed to get my hands another new book of theirs, Baseball Between the Numbers, in which the BP folks use their formidable mastery of numbers to shatter more myths about the game.Update: Sam Walker is blogging this week at Powells.com.

A Year in Reading: Winning the War on Christmas

My old friend Derek and I used to trade books back and forth in high school, and we spent many hours lurking in used book stores looking for collections of Richard Brautigan poetry and other such things. Several years later, we were roommates in Los Angeles, and one day he showed me his "blog." I thought it was a silly hobby and resolved not to be interested, but the seed had been planted and soon The Millions was born. Derek's in law school now and his blog is mostly defunct and spammy comments litter the posts, but I've been urging him to free up his schedule for another blogging endeavor. In the mean time, he graciously offered up his books for the year.I haven't had time to actually finish a book this year, between school and work and baseball, but as my exams have approached, I've read about half of Spanking the Donkey, Matt Taibbi's book about the 2004 presidential campaign. My feelings about the book are mixed: on the one hand, Taibbi is ripping off a lot of Hunter S. Thompson's schtick, for example when he tried to interview a former ONDCP guy in a viking costume with a head full of acid; on the other hand, is that such a bad thing?, and this approach can bring out truths about the people and the process that more imbedded journalists will miss.A head nod, also, to Man in Black, Johnny Cash's first autobiography, on the occassion of the release of a romantic comedy about his life.The best book of next year will be the Washington Post's Nationals beat writer Barry Svrluga's take on the Nats' first season, National Pastime, due in March. Pre-Order today!!!Spend liberally, dear readers, and with your resolve maybe America can win the War on Christmas after all.Best, D. Howard Teslik
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