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Oil Can Boyd And Shoeless Joe: Legends Of Baseball


Squeaky, salty - it's time for sports. (Laughter).


SIMON: Baseball season begins next weekend when the St. Louis Cardinals come to Wrigley Field to defeat the Chicago Cubs. We can fill in that score later. Howard Bryant of and ESPN the magazine has written a book about baseball that's aimed where the sport could use the most understanding right now - young readers. It's called "Legends: The Best Players, Games And Teams In Baseball." Howard joins us from the studios of New England Public Radio in Amherst.

Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Thank you, Scott. Hope springs eternal for Chicago, huh?

SIMON: Oh, always.

BRYANT: You've got a loss pegged-in already for that opening day.

SIMON: I - comic purposes.

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: Did you decide to finally write a book your son might want to read?

BRYANT: I think it was, absolutely, it was for him and it was for boys his age. We know that for some reason when kids start to get a little older, reading becomes un-cool for boys, learning becomes un-cool for boys, being smart becomes un-cool. And what we wanted to do was to really try to merge reading and the passion for sports together, just like we did when I was a kid. And I really hope people like it. It's a fun, fun book - for me, at least.

SIMON: Great opening chapter on Babe Ruth. And in the public mind these days, he's often kind of seen as a, you know, some sort of lovable slob who ate a lot of hot dogs and hit home runs like King Kong, you know, swatting down the airplanes. But he was really a versatile and even transcendent athlete in his time, wasn't he?

BRYANT: Absolutely and I think what I love about the Babe Ruth story is that Babe Ruth died in 1948, and today people still talk about him. He was absolutely the architect for the modern superstar, for the LeBron James's and Aaron Rodgers's and Tom Bradys of the world, and all the great baseball players today - the Reggie Jacksons and such. Babe Ruth started what American superstardom is for sports and he was also really good. How many people can you think of who were as - maybe even a better pitcher than he was a hitter? And I think that's one of the fun things about the book too, is to be able to try to revive some of these names that you've heard of and then to kind of bring them to life as people.

SIMON: How do you explain the significance of Jackie Robinson to youngsters today?

BRYANT: Well, I think that's a great question. I think you and I've spoken about this as well, in terms of, Jackie Robinson was so many things to so many people. He was a great activist. He was a great baseball player. He was a great basketball player, and a great football player and a great track star. He was so many things. What I wanted to talk about with Jackie Robinson really was when it came time for him to be a great player, all the different things that he had to deal with in terms of being the first African-American player, but also learning how to live in a time of stardom where it was - his baseball playing was really what he was known for first and then all the activism came later. And I think one thing too that really hit me - I think about this all the time, especially with the Dodgers - is that when you talk to kids, when you get kids playing - when my son was playing baseball, and now he plays tennis and other sports - is that we keep telling them to do their best. And yet, all of these books for kids only focus on the winners. And what I really wanted to do in this book was to focus on teams and players that had a great impact that maybe didn't win the last game. The Dodgers only won one championship, but they are so significant. It's so much fun to talk about teams that maybe didn't always win championships, but boy, their cities and their fans remember them.

SIMON: Lovely chapter on the '72 to '74 Oakland A's, who only won two championships. I loved your phrase, dressed like a softball team and looked like a motorcycle gang.

BRYANT: See that Scott, you can short the Cubs, but you can't short A's. They won three in a row, '72 to '74.

SIMON: Oh, I beg your pardon. I'm sorry.

BRYANT: (Laughter). I don't want those Oakland guys calling you. They take their championships seriously.

SIMON: Yeah. I'd love to get a call from Rollie Fingers. Best baseball nickname?

BRYANT: Oh, Oil Can Boyd.

SIMON: I'm going to go with Shoeless Joe Jackson.

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: Howard Bryant, his new book, "Legends: The Best Players, Games And Teams In Baseball."

Thanks so much for being with us, Howard. Good luck.

BRYANT: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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