Among the books I am currently reading is The Head Game, by Roger Kahn, a man as pitcher-obsessed as I am--or, probably more, since he went and wrote a whole book about it.
It feels like this book was written for me. Each chapter centers on one great pitcher from the earliest days of baseball, and how they made the position what it is--how, from the days in which pitchers merely served to deliver an easy lob for the batter to put in play to the current incarnation of the "duel" between pitcher and batter, it has been the pitchers themselves mounting "an assault against passivity" in their position. Which is in itself a beautiful and fascinating concept.
It's also beautifully and delightfully written. There's wry humor of the chapter about the earliest dominating pitcher--the proto-pitcher, if you will, Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn, who, to quote one particularly memorable passage, was heard to huff indignantly, "'Tire out tossing a little five-ounce baseball for two hours?...Man, I used to be a butcher. From four in the morning until eight at night I knocked down steers with a twenty-five-pound sledge. Tired from playing two hours a day for ten times the money I used to get for sixteen hours a day?'"
Let me re-emphasize: the man's other job was killing steers with a sledgehammer. Damn.
There's also a delightful appearance of Nuf Ced McGreavy and the World Champion Boston Pilgrims of 1903 in the chapter about Cy Young (entitled "Cy Young, Ticket Salesman", a reference to the fact that Young was actually called upon to staff the box office before one of his own World Series starts).
But the chapter that so far has blown me away (and compelled me to write about this book today) is the chapter on Christy Mathewson, whom the author clearly idolizes. The title of this post is a quote from a New York Times article about Mathewson that appears in the chapter; but the real "nut graf" of the whole chapter--maybe of the whole book--is the following:
Starting a third World Series game in six days, Mathewson was not as fast as he had been. He would strike out four, no more. But his control, the Mathewson touchstone, remained, as the Times would put it, a ray of the midday sun. He would not walk a man. His confidence, this long-ago day, was that of a divinity. Oh, I may tease you with the luxury of hope, and let you dream a while of victory. But the outcome--and we understand this in our souls--is not in question.
Reading that passage, there was one face that jumped immediately into my mind: Pedro Martinez. This is absolutely the Pedro Martinez Attitude, isn't it? Even if it doesn't always work, that's what Pedro's whole person says whenever he takes the mound.
"His confidence was that of a divinity". One of my all-time favorite sentences, right there. And it goes a long way to striking at the root of my own pitcher-obsession--the drama and arrogance and charisma with which they carry themselves.
Needless to say, I recommend this book.