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A year ago, the big villain in baseball was still Steve Bartman, the unfortunate Cubs fan whose interference with a foul ball supposedly tipped his team's fragile fortunes when it was five outs from the World Series. Now the ugly drug disclosures of this past winter have given us real villains--the BALCO executives who pushed easy steroid use through the major league ranks and the ballplayers who bulked up on the stuff. But the drug story was preceded by a baseball year of improbable and incredible achievements: Not only did elder statesmen Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds (the latter admittedly under drug suspicion himself) reach unprecedented levels by claiming their seventh Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards, respectively, but the Boston Red Sox, aided by the historic flop of the New York Yankees in the league championship, won their first World Series in 86 years. Whatever else happens, 2004 will always be the year the impossible finally came true for the Sox and endless talk of a "curse" was retired with a simple put-out at first base.
The Boston victory had immediate publishing consequences--first for the writing team of Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King, who had presciently signed on to do a fan's diary of the 2004 season (reviewed in LJ 12/15). But more broadly, the win endangered a whole superstitious class of sports writing: the cottage industry of "curse" books. Working quickly, high-profile cursemonger Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe delivered Reversing the Curse, his account of the jinx-demolishing events he had seen with his own jaded eyes, in time for a spring pub date. (It was too late, however, to stop Penguin's reissuing his original Curse of the Bambino, which initiated the field of curse studies in 1990.)
Outside of post-curse books, this spring we have Frank Deford's portrait of an influential duo, The Old Ball Game: How John McGraw, Christy Mathewson, and the New York Giants Created Modern Baseball, as well as Guys, Dolls, and Curveballs: Runyon on Baseball, which quotes Runyon as observing that the aging Mathewson "delayed that frequently rumored departure for Hasbeenville ... long enough to lather the Phillies with a goose-egg shampoo." There is also David Block's scholarly work about baseball's founding myths (Baseball Before We Knew It), a memoir of Jackie Robinson by Brooklyn teammate Carl Erskine (What I Learned from Jackie Robinson), and Buzz Bissinger's account of a three-day series between the rival Cubs and Tony LaRussa's Cardinals (Three Nights in August). And there are two very different Yankee books--Jonathan Eig's biography of Lou Gehrig (Luckiest Man) and Jonathan Mahler's darker social …