A 1963 Christmas gift I received still has a place of honor in my living room, tucked away in a little bookcase in the corner.
Whatever else I got on that Christmas 50 years ago is long gone. The shirts or the socks or the Hershey’s Kisses tucked into my Christmas stocking vanished decades ago without evidence remaining now that they ever existed.
One thing I found under the tree of our little house on 84th Avenue North in St. Petersburg remains – a book I received from my parents. A note written inside the cover is proof that an instructional book titled “Make The Team In Baseball” was a present on that day a little more than a month after John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
On Dec. 25, 1963, the 11-year-old version of me wrote the following in my less than elegant cursive: Christmas present from Mom and Dad 1963. Glenn Miller December 25, 1963.
I obviously didn’t know the first thing about AP newspaper style back then. Now, of course, I would abbreviate the month as part of a date.
The book was published in 1960 and written by Clary Anderson, who at the time was the baseball coach at Montclair (N.J.) High School. He later went on to coach football and baseball at Montclair State University.
The book is a slim hard cover of 128 pages with some evidence of wear. The spine of my copy is a bit frayed but as far as I can tell – and I’m not an expert – it’s in decent shape. If I tried to sell it I sure as heck wouldn’t make much money. As a collectible the prices start at $12.95 on amazon. That’s probably for copies in better condition than mine.
It’s not the money that matters. It’s the memories and significance that matter. The book is also a fine instructional manual, one I consulted many times in the years ahead. Clary Anderson emphasized basic techniques and also intangibles such as hustle, hard work and a positive attitude.
He interspersed the lessons with anecdotes about famous players, photos and illustrations.
The introduction was written by Yale baseball coach Ethan Allen. He noted the book is “a fine primer for any boy who is serious about making his school team.”
The caption of a player who has just let a groundball scoot between his legs reads, “Don’t worry when you miss one.”
That was good advice then and now.
Some of the captions are clichés such as the one under an illustration of a player running as fast as possible. That one reads, “Give it your best, always.”
Sure, it’s trite but shouldn’t one always give one’s best?
In the chapter on hitting I bracketed one paragraph in ink sometime in the 1960s. That paragraph emphasized basics of the stance.
Anderson had a chapter called Why They Are Stars, which explains why some of the best players of the era were the best.
On Mickey Mantle: “Mickey is moody, a fellow who takes certain fielding flaws and hitting slumps too seriously. He broods.”
On Hank Aaron: “He need not apologize to any in the game as a hitter or fielder. Hank’s most valuable asset is the consistency of his performance.”
On Willie Mays: “… how many can run faster on the bases, cover more ground in the outfield, throw with more power and accuracy?”
In those days long before ESPN, that book, one televised game a week on NBC and the daily newspapers and baseball cards were my connections to the game.
Now, there are so many ways to follow the game but 50 years ago those options didn’t exist.
I read “Make The Team In Baseball” with studious attention. I should have applied the same effort to my schoolwork.
By the way, author and coach Clary Anderson died on Aug. 16, 1988, the 40th anniversary of the death of Babe Ruth. It was also the 11th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. Anderson was 76.
My dad died in 1999, at the age of 72.
My mom is now 82. I plan to see her at Christmas. I’ll bring this last remaining Christmas gift from 1963 and thank her once again.