Monday, May 25, 2015

I Wore Babe Ruth's Hat

David Zang’s I Wore Babe Ruth’s Hat is a bit hard to describe.  It is probably easier to describe what it is not rather than what it is.  Zang has not written one of the more common sports books exposing some kind of doping or recruiting scandal, or a coaching manual, or a motivational exercise, or even a memoir about a championship season from his youth (be it amateur or professional).  No, this is, instead, a book celebrating the role of sports in everyday life, a look at how amateur sports, by teaching us how to play and enjoy life, helps give meaning to ordinary lives all over the world.

David Zang tells us a bunch of stories here, stories in which he is sometimes the central character and sometimes only one of the minor ones that populate the tales.  One of my favorites is the book’s first, “Chip Hilton’s Sports Cult,” because it reminds me so much of my own early reading experiences.  Many boys, not long after they start reading independently, discover the world of sports fiction written especially for boys and girls their age.  Most often, I suspect, the books are about baseball teams and they come in long series that completely capture the imaginations of those lucky enough to discover them.  For the first time in their lives, young readers like Zang and countless others are exposed to the life lessons that sports can teach.  Very likely, kids who read these books are sports fans for the rest of their lives.  Zang, however, via his adult eyes, does point out that much of what the books have to say about sports building character, and losing and winning, is in fact more myth than reality. 

Zang shares his sports failures right along with his more successful efforts.  An early chapter, for instance, focuses on his experiences as part of his high school wrestling team, not a sport in which the author exactly covered himself in glory.  And his recall of those seasons is impressive.  Amusingly, however, while doing research for I Wore Babe Ruth’s Hat, Zang found out that a couple of his old opponents remembered the details of those old matches differently than he remembered them – if they remembered them at all.

David W. Zang
There are stories about the basketball teams Zang played on; about his decision, as a kid, to blow off the rare opportunity to shake Jackie Robinson’s hand when the man was standing all alone just a few feet from him; about the evolution of college football; about the time in the basement of a Baltimore museum he slipped the Babe’s hat (not his baseball cap) on his head when no one was looking; about cheating in sports; about marathon running; about dressing as the field mascot for the Baltimore Ravens; and about impossible dreams.  Each of the stories is filled with Zang’s astute observations and conclusions, some of which are bound to surprise most readers – and some that will directly contradict what they think they know about sports.

Part memoir, part sports book, I Wore Babe Ruth’s Hat, has a lot to offer.

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