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“The 34-Ton Bat”

The Story of Baseball as Told Through Bobble Heads, Cracker Jacks, Jock Straps, Eye Black and 375 Other Strange and Unforgettable Objects

Terri Schlichenmeyer | 10/18/2013, midnight
No matter where you are, you can remember that sound. You can just about hear it now: that “thwock” that ...

No matter where you are, you can remember that sound. You can just about hear it now: that “thwock” that comes when baseball meets bat. That hollow noise, that breathless second before the knowledge that you’ve hit it square; it’s exquisite.

Is there anything sweeter than a perfect hit on a summer afternoon? Steve Rushin thinks there might be—and in his new book “The 34-Ton Bat,” he offers up nearly 400 other options. (“The 34-Ton Bat: The Story of Baseball as Told Through Bobble Heads, Cracker Jacks, Jock Straps, Eye Black and 375 Other Strange and Unforgettable Objects” c.2013, Little Brown $25/$28, Canada 352 pages.)

Take, for instance, the game’s namesake: the baseball. Consider its shape. Consider that, through the generations, countless boys learned to throw it hard and with accuracy. Now consider that many of those boys grew up to be soldiers, and you see what a World War I soldier noticed.

Still, it took a few more wars before anybody came up with a baseball-size grenade, an object which eventually made a pitch explosive, in the literal sense.

The bat, though, wasn’t meant as a weapon (despite the fact that Al Capone famously used it as such). Originally, the wood was intended for furniture and stair rails, until the son of a Louisville woodworker offered to make a bat for a local ball player, much to the chagrin of his father, who considered baseball the very birthplace of debauchery.

It’s hard to believe that was true, considering that baseball was initially a sport for gentlemen only. Manly gentlemen, to be exact, including macho catchers who caught fastballs barehanded for many seasons. Baseball mitts, you see, were for “sissies,” and it took several years and a lot of busted fingers for that to change.

In this book, you’ll find out how bugs changed bats. You’ll see how one Orioles player utilized his mitt for unique relief. You’ll see why no one wanted to ride the train with traveling baseball teams. You’ll find out why uniforms include stirrup pants, caps, and numbers on the backs. You’ll learn about one important piece of equipment invented by a man who begged to be kicked. You’ll see why beer and baseball go together and why Milwaukee banned a bring-your-own policy. You’ll read about the man who wrote baseball’s theme song without having ever seen a game, and you’ll see how an NYPD valor medal and the New York Yankees are forever tied.

Still longing for that little bit of leftover summer? Do you find romance in the words “play ball?” Then “The 34-Ton Bat” is the book you need.

In an unhurried manner not unlike a leisurely afternoon game, the author wanders through the fields of baseball, passing through locker rooms and outfields, touching upon every object in between. In doing that, Rushin delights trivia buffs with little-known knowledge and a wicked sense of humor. Such uncommon tidbits will also appeal to baseball fans who are already nuts for stats, history, and the minutiae of America’s pastime.

And if that’s you, then this unique and fun book is one you’ll want to catch soon. The season may be almost over, but “The 34-Ton Bat” is a perfect hit for fall.