Just when you thought the basketball would never stop bouncing and the puck skidding, two books arrive to remind you that the Big Chill is always followed by the Big Thrill -- baseball.
Unfortunately, "Pine-Tarred and Feathered" is not a welcome harbinger of spring, but a daily diary that tells more than you want to know about the activities of Sports Illustrated baseball writer Jim Kaplan. We do meet Pete Rose, Nolan Ryan, Jim Kaat and Doug DeCinces, among others, but the ballplayers appear infrequently and seldom have anything interesting to say. Even girlfriend Audrey is made of cardboard; she merely passes through as one of Kaplan's many dining companions.
There are endless lunches, like the one on July 8. "DeCinces had trout, I had swordfish and Dad had an omelette -- all uniformly excellent." Elsewhere, at other meals, Kaplan name-drops no-names all over the place. At a dinner of Chinese food in Toronto June 29 he lists friends Fran Greenbaum and Peter Harper and their son Matthew. Who are these people? Kaplan gives us names, but little else, except chicken and steak.
His fascination with menus is happily interrupted Dec. 1. "I was supposed to have dinner with Audrey but I canceled," he writes. Was the romance cooling? More likely, they had run out of restaurants, not easy to do in New York City.
The trivial pursuit reaches the ridiculous when Kaplan lists his-and-hers Christmas presents. Audrey surprised him with "a traveling alarm clock, a Brooklyn Bridge monogramed money clip, a terrycloth robe, a fingernail brush and face cloth, and a multitude of socks." For Audrey there were "Persian plates, a robe, room freshener, a wallet and eight tall glasses." The room freshener would have been useful Feb. 15 when a friend made roquefort omelettes. (He also served rolls, a salad and borscht.)
My favorite day in Kaplan's year was Nov. 13, apparently a fast day, for no meals are mentioned. The entry reads: "The days are growing shorter. And so are these entries." His brevity may have saved the day but not the year or the book.
Piersall's "The Truth Hurts" is the sequel to his earlier "Fear Strikes Out," which told how as a young and gifted Boston Red Sox outfielder he overcame a career-threatening mental illness. In part two of what he promises will become a trilogy, Piersall says he still suffers from emotional problems but is now helped by lithium and psychiatry. Proving he's a survivor, Piersall during his 17-year career played for the two worst teams of the early '60s, worked as a flunky for Oakland A's owner Charles O. Finley ("an awful person"), and made a living in the crazed world of radio and TV broadcasting.
The book is entertaining when Piersall recounts anecdotes about his playing years, which were notable for spectacular fielding and equally spectacular temper tantrums. Ted Williams fans, in particular, will relish stories about baseball's greatest hitter. "If we were all excited about something and talking about it, Williams would say through his teeth, 'Big deal, Bush. What a thrill, Bush.' He did it all the time," writes Piersall.
"One day, however, we were in New York . . . and before the game he was talking to this pretty girl in the box seats next to our dugout. He was telling her about being on Ed Sullivan's show, and I heard him, so I hollered out to him from the dugout. 'Big deal, Bush. What a thrill, Bush.'
"Boy, he got furious with me, really furious. He stormed down into the dugout and grabbed me and lifted me up. He was going to hang me on one of those hooks in the dugout. 'Hey, you better put me down,' I said.
"He said, 'Well, don't you talk to me anymore. No more at all.' . . . The rest of the year he didn't talk to me."
Unpredictable as ever, Williams came to Piersall at the start of the next spring training and "slapped me on the back and said, 'Everything's gonna be all right, kid,' and that was it. All forgotten."
It is fun when Piersall runs around the bases backward in celebration of his 100th career home run. Unfortunately, manager Casey Stengel thinks there is room for only one clown on his New York Mets -- himself -- and Piersall is fired.
Piersall as player is fiery and funny, a combative overachiever. You can sympathize with Washington Senator Piersall when he goes into the stands in Baltimore to silence a heckler, who has taunted: "You're a nut, so is your mother!"
But in the broadcasting game he too often comes across as rude, tactless and sexist. On a TV show he calls the wife of his boss, "a colossal bore. She ought to stay in the kitchen." And on another program he calls baseball players' wives "horny broads." For that he was suspended as the Chicago White Sox color man.
But Piersall is a tough guy to completely stifle. As the book ends he's relegated to a nightly radio talk and call-in show in Chicago -- and is planning another book.