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Summer Reading Extravaganza : Have a Ball
By David Pitt

Summer without sports? It's too painful to contemplate. And, even if the weather doesn't want to cooperate, you can always read a book. Here's a handful of 'em about golf and baseball, two of your standard summer sports.

Hit & Hope: How the Rest of Us Play Golf (Simon & Schuster, hardcover), by David Owen, is a collection of essays about the ordinary pleasures of golf. This isn't one of those books about superstars, about winning the big championship; it's about everyday people playing everyday golf, and the simple joys of the game. The book is lightly humorous -- the dustjacket compares Owen to P.G. Wodehouse, but that's a bit of a stretch -- and it reminds us we don't have to be Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus to experience the thrill of the game.

Speaking of Woods and Nicklaus, here's The Making of the Masters (Simon & Schuster, paperback), also by David Owen. It's the history of the Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters, where Woods and Nicklaus and a host of others have competed for the coveted green blazer. The story of the Masters is the story of Clifford Roberts, Augusta National's chairman from 1931 (the year the club was founded) to 1977. It's the story of a man with a dream, and a single-minded determination to make his club, and his tournament, the best in the world.

Bud, Sweat, and Tees (Simon & Schuster, paperback), by Alan Shipnuck, introduces us to Rich Beem, the golfer nobody heard of until he won the 2002 PGA Championship. Shipnuck, who's been following Beems since his 1999 rookie year, takes us inside the PGA tour, where even the most unlikely competitor can triumph over the world's most famous names. The world of professional golf has its own culture, its own laws, even its own language, and Shipnuck makes us feel as though we've been welcomed into it all with open arms.

If you're in the mood for something a little more instructional, check out Cindy Reid's Ultimate Guide to Golf for Women (Atria Books, hardcover), by Reid with Steve Eubanks. This copiously-illustrated book is like an education stuck between two covers. Reid, a golf instructor who played on the pro tour for seven years, starts with the basics -- gripping the putter, lining up a shot, posture, stuff like that -- and, by the end of the book, she's gotten into the nitty-gritty, talking about handling tricky lies, what to do if the ball is above your feet, and resolving scoring disputes. I know the book is written for women, but I don't see why men can't benefit from it, too.

Moving from greens to diamonds, here's The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (The Free Press, paperback), the latest edition of James's absolutely indispensable guide to the game. I mean, this book has everything: a history of baseball going back to the 1870s, with information about some of the game's star players, its changing rules, even its uniforms and equipment; ratings of players, past and present, broken down by the position they played; and just a huge amount of statistics. For a baseball fan, it s a wondrous gift, something to sit back with and just plunge right in.

Similarly, there's Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups (Fireside, paperback), written by ESPN analyst Rob Neyer. The subtitle pretty much says it all: 'A Complete Guide to the Best, Worst, and Most Memorable Players to Ever Grace the Major Leagues.' Arranged alphabetically by team, the book looks at some of the players and their performance, with interesting little personal notes about them. Minnesota Twins designated hitter Chili Davis, for example: 'After three so-so years in Anaheim, joined Twins, became everyday DH, and revived his career with 29 homers and 93 RBI in Twins' championship season.' Like James's book, this is for hardcore fans, people who need to know every name, every statistic, every bit of information, no matter how seemingly inconsequential.

Autumn Glory: Baseball's First World Series (Hill and Wang, hardcover), by Louis P. Masur, chronicles the first series between a team from each of the leagues, the National and the American. The series pitted the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Boston Americans, and it was, apparently, a riotous affair, with star players embarrassing themselves and unknowns leaping into the spotlight. Played out over two weeks in 1903, the first World Series pretty much turned baseball from a sport into a national pastime, and Masur's exciting, you-are-there book is an important contribution to the literature of the game.

Finally, we have Why is the Foul Pole Fair? Or, Answers to the Baseball Questions Your Dad Hoped You Wouldn't Ask (Simon & Schuster, hardcover), by Vince Staten. The book is chock full of educational and entertaining titbits. Did you know, for example, that the average lifespan of a major league baseball is seven pitches? Did you know the baseball glove got its nickname, 'mitt,' because many of them were once made out of winter mittens? The book is broken down into several chapters, each one dealing with an aspect of the game - bats, balls, pitching, and suchlike -- and there's just so much information crammed into this small book (it's not much bigger than a paperback) that you'll be reading, and re-reading, it for years.
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