There’s an adage about sports books: The smaller the ball, the greater the appeal. While that doesn’t quite take into account stone cold classics about boxing (A.J. Leibling’s The Sweet Science), horseracing (Laura Hillebrand’s Seabiscuit), or marathon running (Christopher McDougal’s Born to Run), nowhere does that seem to be more true than in the world of baseball books. This year alone has seen phenomenal baseball books like Bill Madden’s 1954, Ben Blatt’s I Don’t Care If We Never Get Back, and Ed Achorn’s The Summer of Beer and Whiskey. But none of these books quite capture the sheer joy and manic weirdness of baseball quite like Dan Epstein’s Stars and Strikes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ’76.
To be clear, Stars and Strikes is not a stat geeks paradise like Moneyball or Baseball Between The Numbers, nor does it select a narrative focal point from which to wrap the narrative around like Roger Kahn’s The Head Game, which uses the dark arts of pitching to tell its stories. Instead, Stars and Strikes takes a comprehensive look at the year 1976 in America—at the music, the fashion, the politics, the movies, television and everything else in between—and how baseball, particularly in that year, was a prism through which you could see the changes that America was experiencing.
As much a book about baseball as it is about the year of our bicentennial, Stars and Strikes revels in letting its freak flag fly. Facial hair, new-fangled stadiums, eye-popping uniforms, nicknames (The Mad Hungarian! The Dominican Dracula!), insane ballpark promotions (Headlock & Wedlock night?), and epic base brawls, it’s all here in all its resplendent polyester glory.... continue reading