cover image Praying for Base Hits: An American Boyhood

Praying for Base Hits: An American Boyhood

Bruce Clayton. University of Missouri Press, $24.95 (280pp) ISBN 978-0-8262-1189-7

As one might guess from the title and subtitle, this is not one of those autobiographies that serves as a vehicle for withering social critique. Instead, this account by historian Clayton (Forgotten Prophet) of growing up in Kansas City during the 1950s is a nostalgic series of anecdotes that evoke Norman Rockwell and Opie. His experiences--centered primarily around baseball and girls--mirror those of multitudes of boys. The only real drama is the equally common realization that he will not play baseball for a living, but the psychological levels he probes here are not deep. Vivid hometown characters appear throughout the book, and the stories evoke a warmth that will appeal to those who shared the author's time and place in history. References to larger issues of the 1950s, such as racism and sexism, are largely ignored, and while this is probably an honest expression of a young boy's worldview, it prevents the narrative from expanding to a global level. Baseball is woven throughout, but it is that of the fan or high school player, with familiar big league names, well-known events, and often repeated yearnings. Informal and well written, many of Clayton's anecdotes are entertaining, but a book without a unifying center needs compelling material to hold a reader's interest, and Clayton's experiences are at once too familiar and too particular to be engaging. (Sept.)