A baseball memoir that speaks both to young fans and those old enough to miss the days when players smoked Camels in the dugout
Perfect, Once Removed: When Baseball Was All the World to Me. By Phillip Hoose. Walker, 176 pp., $19.95.
By Janice Harayda
Baseball books tend to preach to the bleachers. If you don’t understand the infield fly-rule or the job of a short-reliever, you can’t necessarily expect any help from their authors, who typically take a certain amount of knowledge – if not fanaticism – for granted.
Perfect, Once Removed is the rare baseball book that has something for fans at all levels. In this lively memoir Phillip Hoose tells how his cousin once removed, Don Larsen, pitched a perfect game for the Yankees against the Dodgers in the 1956 World Series and, in doing so, helped him adjust to being a fourth-grader in Speedway, Indiana. The book could have become an exercise in special pleading for a famous relative. But Perfect, Once Removed gives such balanced view of Hoose’s and Larsen’s entwined stories that it may appeal to many people besides baby boomers who love to recall the great Yankee-Dodger games of yore, including a baseball-loving adolescents.
Part of the charm of Perfect, Once Removed is that Hoose respects his fourth-grade views and resists the impulse to correct them in hindsight, though he ends with a catch-up visit with then 76-year-old Larsen. He recalls that in the 1950s, ballplayers endorsed cigarettes so often that he created a scrapbook of the ads:
“To a man, these ballplayers reported that smoking helped them relax. They all enjoyed the mildness of a Camel. A cigarette before a game helped them perform better, and a butt in the locker room afterward helped them unwind. As Mickey Mantle put it, ‘For mildness and flavor, you can’t beat Camels!’ It all made sense to me.”
Hoose isn’t endorsing smoking, just recalling how he reacted to all that puffing by his heroes. And that kind of frankness help to give his book a relevance that extends beyond the personal. Perfect, Once Removed isn’t just family story. It’s a book about the way baseball used to be and a useful antidote to the tendency to idealize the past. If you think steroids are ruining the game, consider this: Would you prefer that ballplayers were still in endorsing Camels in major magazines?
Best line: One of many colorful details in this book involves how the catcher for Larsen’s perfect game celebrated the event: “Yogi Berra promptly went out and had his catcher’s mitt bronzed.”
Worst line: Hoose says that he has re-created some dialogue but that his book is “entirely accurate as to what was said and how it was said.” This claim is generally credible. It is much less so when he says that the Dodger fans on the school playground told him: “Your cousin sucks.” In 1956 they would have said, “Your cousin stinks.”
Editor: George Gibson
Published: October 2006 www.philliphoose.com
Recommendation? An excellent gift for a reader who loves to recall the days of demigods like Mantle, Berra and their teammates. School Library Journal also recommends Perfect, Once Removed for high school students (and it may appeal to some baseball fans as young as 10 or 11). This is a good book to read aloud to sports-loving children too old for picture books, especially moment-by-moment account of Larsen’s perfect game in Chapter 8.
Caveat lector: This review was based on the advance reading edition. Some material in the finished book may differ.
Furthermore: Hoose also wrote the award-winning The Race to Save the Lord God Bird (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $20), a nonfiction book about the ivory-billed woodpecker that appeared on many “Best Books of 2004” lists.
© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.