Seth Swirsky : "Baseball Letters--A Fan's Correspondence With His Heroes"

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Killing time during the major league baseball strike of 1994-95 was a big problem for many, whether they were sports editors filling newspaper space with phony box scores from computerized games or rotisserie league managers forced into emergency detox.

Seth Swirsky, a Los Angeles songwriter and avid baseball fan, passed the days somewhat more constructively, writing letters to retired big league players, who, more often than not, responded expansively and enthusiastically to his questions about their careers.

Swirsky's book, "Baseball Letters--A Fan's Correspondence With His Heroes," (Kodansha International, $24) is a collection of those exchanges, most of them reproduced in the players' own handwriting. Because Swirsky's inquiries are unfailingly polite and deferential, and because the questions he asks are imaginative, the replies are honest and illuminating, so much so that Swirsky acknowledges his daily routine was held "hostage to the whim of my letter carrier's schedule."

Cal Ripken Jr. tells Swirsky that he grew interested in baseball as a small child by attending weekly clinics conducted by his father because "my sister and my brothers weren't interested in a boring baseball clinic [so] I could go with my dad and get some time alone with him."

Woody English, third baseman for the Chicago Cubs on the day Babe Ruth supposedly called his own shot in the 1932 World Series, debunks that myth, claiming Ruth merely "held two fingers up indicating two strikes."

Carl Erskine reveals that he had his most nervous moment on a baseball field in 1992, when he played the Canadian and American national anthems on harmonica before an Expo-Dodger game.

The best advice Ted Williams ever received was from Rogers Hornsby: "Get a good ball to hit."

Dolph Camilli was similarly succinct on what it was like playing baseball in the 1940s: "More fun and less money."

Of course, back then, there were always games, never a work stoppage. As another 1930s veteran, George Cisar, writes Swirsky in early 1995, "The flavor of the game has improved in my estimation, conditions and ballparks are better, but there could be some improvements on attitudes for all concerned."

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