EDITOR’S NOTE: Sorry, celebrators of Hanukkah. We missed you this year… but fear not! We talked to some rabbis and they said they’d float you a ninth night to make good on any of the gifts included herein.
Every holiday season, magazines and newspapers throw together gift guides that are truly nothing more than advertising. Made up of brand-new items that they no doubt culled from their vast piles of promotional garbage, these lists strike me as wastelands of imagination. A great gift in my mind takes some thought, and some effort. Sometimes a lot of effort.
Honestly, have you ever really read one of those things and discovered something new and exciting? No, and you never will, except for now, because the grouches here at ChicagoSide take great pains to hunt down the bizarre and noteworthy so that you can give them to your complaining uncle. Unfortunately for those of you who follow winter sports, this one’s focus is purely baseball. Some are new, some aren’t. Well, most aren’t, but they’ll be new to you and to the lucky soul who receives one wrapped in the funny pages.
Clothes and Other Miscellany
Fielder’s Choice Goods is a California based outfit that creates amazing wallets out of old baseball gloves. There are not a lot of Chicago-based players there—there’s a wallet from a Dick Nen glove, which strikes me as an amazing find because that means that Rawlings actually made a glove with this mediocre journeyman’s name on it. “Hey guys, check out my Dick Nen glove!” was something I guarantee you no human child ever shouted on a sandlot in the turbulent ‘60s. But the wallets are gorgeous and come in a variety of styles and players (and even some that don’t have a player, so maybe you can pretend it’s a Ron Santo version.)
If you’re into the weird, Left Field Cards is just the place to find, you know, a baseball card celebrating Glenallen Hill’s spider nightmare and subsequent crash through a plate glass table. Wait, what? Yes, that beauty is just one of Brooklyn-based artist Amelie Mancini’s beautiful letterpress cards celebrating, among other things, “Bizarre Injuries,” “Curious Second Careers,” “Marvelous Moustaches,”—Ten baseball players with fantastic lady-ticklers. Pick your style!—and more. The Left Field website includes a cool T-shirt of pitching grips, and a knuckleball T-shirt for that Wilbur Wood fan in your life.
I’m old school, and love to score games. You know, one of those crazy dudes who seems preoccupied between pitches, scribbling away when we should be doing the wave? That’s me. Well, if there’s someone in your life similarly afflicted, my guess is that they’re probably still scratching away on official team programs, which are worthless and flimsy. But never fear, for the Eephus League’s scorebooks are fun, convenient, and beautiful. Plus, for the kids in your life, they’re easy to handle and have stickers! Bethany Heck, an Alabama baseball scorekeeping aficionado, has thrown together a lovely package, which includes all the instruction you need if you’re starting out in this maddening habit. Their T-shirts and other swag are also damned cool.
If you’re looking for a great stocking stuffer for that baseball fan in your life, well, for crying out loud there’s nothing better than baseball cards. Wait—don’t modern baseball cards suck? Yes, dear reader, they suck, and suck hard. But head on down to AU Sports or Dollar Tree and you’ll find a variety of inexpensive older baseball cards celebrating the finest (and not so finest) players ever to wear a Sox or Cubs uniform. Older cards are wonderful—softened by years of trading, that lingering odor of sweet bubble gum… they’re perfect. According to local baseball card maven and Friend of ChicagoSide Rob Harris, AU Sports has a huge selection of cheap cards in bins, and at the Dollar Tree you can buy ‘em by the bag for a buck—perfect for stuffing that White Sock that hangs on the mantle. Yes, you can drop a bundle and get a hermetically sealed Ernie Banks or Dick Allen card for top dollar, but for my money I’ll take the cheap cards that are fun to handle.
If you’re a Chicago baseball fan—White Sox or Cubs—then you have to read the stories of Bill Veeck, the patron saint of baseball, and especially Windy City baseball. The man who brought the midget to bat. Who planted ivy in the Wrigley Field grass. Who assembled the South Side Hitmen of 1977. Well, the man was a generous storyteller, and the three autobiographies he wrote are some of the best tales you’ll ever read about your favorite sport. “Veeck, As in Wreck” (2001, University of Chicago Press), “The Hustler’s Handbook” (2009, Ivan R. Dee), and “Thirty Tons a Day” (2009, Ivan R. Dee)— the last about his trials and tribulations owning a racetrack in Massachusetts, but filled with baseball stories—are all still in print. Grab them, along with Paul Dickson’s lovely 2012 biography “Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick” (2012, Walker & Co.) Get yours locally, wouldya? The Book Cellar is a favorite haunt, as is 57th Street Books, and if they don’t have these titles, they get them to you in plenty of time for the holidays.
White Sox fans, I’m going to school you right now, and maybe ruin your holidays. Perhaps the finest book about your beloved Sox—and the summer of 1977—is an elusive treasure, though totally worth the hunt. This is Peter Elliott’s “Park Life: The Summer of 1977 at Comiskey Park” (2001, Paper Mirror Press.) Beautifully rendered images of the grumpy, the elated, the drunk, defiled, deranged, and damned happy fans who sweated out that riotous summer at Comiskey. This is perhaps my favorite book of stadium photos (and there are dozens, if not hundreds of coffee table baseball books.) You can see some of the photos at the wonderfully loony (and totally biased) White Sox Interactive site, and once you see it, you will want to own it or give it to that White Sox fan in your life who thinks they have every piece of memorabilia left on the planet. You’ll have to order this one from Amazon, though, as it’s long out of print, but available used online, or grab the one copy in stock at used bookseller N. Fagin.
Let’s say for a moment that you’re independently wealthy and want to favor that baseball fan in your life with the ultimate gift. No, it’s not a season sharing an apartment with Theo Epstein or a guys’ night out with Kenny Williams. How about a painting by Graig Kreindler, the finest painter of the noble sport working today (and perhaps for all time—do you know anyone better? I don’t.) Kreindler takes the iconic black and white photos of baseball players or incredible games and moments, and renders them in oil, making them come alive. Lines of people outside Wrigley during the ’45 World Series, Ernie Banks signing autographs, and this one, of Johnny Evers (that’s still available to buy)—Kreindler’s work evokes the smell of hot dogs and the snap of the flag from the wind coming off the lake over centerfield. Working with the artist, you choose a photograph, which he will meticulously turn into an oil painting—the possibilities are endless. If only he had a book! These are pricey, and certainly won’t be available in time for the holidays, and buying one would thoroughly destroy your ability to ever get another gift of finer quality (unless it’s something like a baby or a bride.)
Finally, if you want to give that Cubs fan in your life something to remember, may I suggest shelling out good money to buy Joe Pepitone’s insane autobiography “Joe, You Coulda Made Us Proud” (1975, Playboy Press.) Joe was a Yankee, but also found time in his busy schedule to play for the Cubs, even opening a tavern on Division Street called (gulp) “Joe Pepitone’s Thing.” The book—long out of print and available online for $40 and up—is easily one of the most entertaining—and disturbing—books I’ve ever read in any genre. Do not, under any circumstances, give this book to a child, unless you also want to shell out money to a psychiatrist and answer questions about whether or not a person can really fuck someone into having a stroke. Seriously, there is no baseball book on earth quite like this one, and it’s supposedly true.