The title of this book is: “My Bat Boy Days: Lessons I Learned from The Boys of Summer”. The author is Steve Garvey, and the book was published in 2008.
Until I read this book, I thought of “The Boys of Summer” as referring to the song by Don Henley. That’s the song with the line:
“Out on the road today, I saw a deadhead sticker on a Cadillac…”
But, in the context of this book, “The Boys of Summer” refers to baseball players in general, and to the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s in particular. The same ones that Tom Waits referred to in “Jitterbug Boy” (on the “Small Change” project) with the line: “I seen the Brooklyn Dodgers, playin at Ebbets Field…”
“The Boys of Summer” was the title of a 1972 book by Roger Kahn, written about how the lives of the former 1952 Brooklyn Dodgers had changed between the time he covered the team, as a reporter, and the time he tracked each of them down 20 years later.
The Garvey family was living around Tampa, Florida back then, and young Steve Garvey became a bat boy for the Dodgers (and for other teams on the Grapefruit League circuit) during Spring Training. This book is a “Back To The Future-esque” journey to the 1950’s, when Steve Garvey’s dad drove the Greyhound bus and Steve mixed with the royalty which Major League Baseball players were back then.
As the inside front jacket cover tells us:
“’My Bat Boy Days’ is his moving collection of indelible memories, fascinating profiles, and lessons learned – about the game and about life – from heroes such as Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, and Mickey Mantle.”
It was a very different time, and his stories are of that era.
I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of the people profiled in this book: “served in the Navy in World War II”.
In describing this long ago world, Steve says: “Dad emphasized the need to be respectful, to not get in the way, and most important, to say ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir’.”
Mr. Garvey quotes Roy Campanella, the MVP catcher, who said to him: “If you practice hard and listen to your coaches, maybe someday you’ll be a Dodger.” Then Mr. Campanella brought the discussion around to schoolwork. He advised Steve’s dad: “Joe, if Steve studies hard and practices, maybe someday he’ll be a Dodger!”
The author discusses Pee Wee Reese and his role as “Captain” of the team, saying: “They made him the ‘Captain’ because of his ability to lead the Boys of Summer like no other ever had and no one ever would again.”
It was Pee Wee Reese who told Steve Garvey: “… the key to baseball, whether you’re batting or fielding, is to never, ever take your eye off the ball from the moment it leaves the pitcher’s mitt. Sounds simple, but it’s sage advice for a kid learning the game.”
Mr. Garvey discusses the dignity of Gil Hodges, who never wound up in the Hall of Fame: “… in Brooklyn, none of the others was as popular as Hodges…. when the flight to the suburbs began to affect Brooklyn, Hodges stayed at home…. He circulated in the community, dining and shopping and running errands. He was visible. He was accessible.”
The author quotes Carl Erskine, reminiscing about one great Brooklyn Dodgers fan, Captain Joe Dowd, who had taken the Dodgers and their families around the harbors in tugboats: “Captain Dowd was nearly ready to retire and he geared his whole life around the retirement years when he could go to Ebbets Field every day, not just on his off day. The year he retired was the year we moved to Los Angeles, and it sort of typified the heartbreak of the Dodger fan for me to talk to Captain Dowd. He was broken-hearted and he never forgave the team for causing him to devote his life interest to them, and then without even asking him, they just left.”
Speaking about the passion which Jackie Robinson brought to the game, Garvey describes how Robinson: “… would analyze every aspect of the pitcher’s stance, his windup, and his delivery. He was a great student of the game. I would sit next to him and he would predict every single pitch…. by the time I was twelve he had taught me to predict pitches. It was truly one of the greatest mental baseball skills I ever learned. To this day I do it as a parlor trick while watching a game, to the amazement of those around me.”
It was Jackie Robinson who advised young Steve Garvey that baseball was “a pretty miserable way to make a buck”.
Mr. Garvey explains how he feels, rubbing elbows with his idols: “These days, when I am in Yogi Berra’s presence, like all the other greats, I pretend I belong, like I’m one of them, but to tell the truth I still feel like that bat boy honored and humbled to be in the presence of such greatness.”
The author mentions that: “…when asked what he’d want on his tombstone, (Mickey Mantle) said, ‘A great teammate’, which is what was engraved there.”
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
- “I have written this book to honor my heroes. They taught me about the game and how it should be played and lived. Those lessons were learned years ago, but they are timeless.”
- “I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.”
- “’Our roots there weren’t as deep as they were in California,’ Snider wrote, ‘but they were just as strong’.”
- “…the Dodgers lost but Koufax won.”
- “’It took a Hall of Famer to keep me out of the major leagues,’ Tom Lasorda likes to say when explaining why he was sent back to Triple-A Montreal when Koufax was activated.”
- “If I have a weakness in my elbow, it is only reasonable to conclude that it is part of the same overall construction that gives me the ability to throw a ball hard…”
- “‘A big-league ballplayer, who knows he can hit and has hit well before, must never let himself lose faith in his ability to hit well again – regardless of how long any slump may last. For me and every other major leaguer who takes his baseball life and work seriously, confidence is a secret strength’.”
I enjoyed reading “My Bat Boy Days”, even though it was written by Steve Garvey, and I recommend it very highly.