Connors’s Lessons From the Way Down; DiMaggios, Gronks
It’s the cover that gets you: a portrait of three brothers, arms around each other, one in a New York Yankees uniform. They’re the sons of Sicilian immigrants and the picture screams “America.”
“The DiMaggios” (Ecco, $25.99) is a book about America, its dreams, its pastime -- and a family that played that pastime with surpassing skill, grace and romance.
Joe’s story is well-known and oft-told.
Dominic is the beloved (in Boston) player known as “The Little Professor” who is remembered, if at all beyond New England, for a career .298 batting average and for a refrain from a popular song that bellowed: “Who’s better than his brother Joe? Dominic DiMaggio.”
Vince (.289 in 1940, 21 homers the following season) was the eldest ballplayer brother and doesn’t deserve to be forgotten, as he mostly is.
Biographer Tom Clavin poses a question that books about Joe sometimes skip: “Would Joe DiMaggio have ever made it to the major leagues without the help of his brother Vince?” Maybe not, because before Joe broke into the majors it was Vince who broke their parents’ resistance to the sporting life.
Of Dom, it’s best to quote Ty Cobb: “Dom’s a throwback to the kind of ballplayers we used to have.” He became a superb center fielder, in some years the best in the American League, and was one of the few men on earth consistently to win praise from Ted Williams.
Dom emerges in these pages, and probably in life, as the most interesting member of the family. But of course, everyone knows that when the DiMaggio name is mentioned, it is Joe who comes to mind. Pity.
‘Growing Up Gronk’
The picture on the cover of “Growing Up Gronk” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25) is a family portrait altogether different from the DiMaggios’: five guys, three of them bare-chested and two in muscle shirts. Meet the Gronkowskis of Buffalo, New York. The entire family is listed collectively as author of this memoir, along with Jeff Schober.
They are, in truth, a remarkable family -- the first in almost two decades to place three brothers in the National Football League, and that’s not counting the one in major-league baseball and the other who’s still in college. The father is Gordy Gronkowski, a onetime Syracuse lineman now known, of course, as Papa Gronk. The one you know best is Rob, the tight end who has been such a presence on the New England Patriots.
The principal question posed by this volume -- What’s the key to the brothers’ success, besides size and athleticism? -- has a simple answer: “Their father trained his boys to follow the golden rule but to do so with a stubborn streak.” The reader is, however, left with another question: How big is the Gronkowskis’ fridge?
The picture on the cover of “The Outsider” (Harper, $28.99) is, simply, Jimmy Connors, dressed like Johnny Cash. It’s his memoir, and it’s the story of the education, on and off the court, of one of the premier tennis stars of all time.
That education went beyond how to take the ball on the rise, which he learned as a child, along with the knack of minimizing his physical motion and using his body to drive the ball. It was more than learning how to string together championships -- beginning with the NCAA singles as a college freshman -- the way club pros string racquets after hours.
There are many lessons: How to put a marriage back together after an affair. Why it isn’t smart to throw your racket after a bad call or grab your crotch after winning a point. How to handle life on what Connors calls the “down elevator.” And why becoming mellow -- a word Connors does not like -- might not be so bad, especially when you are what he describes as a “broken-down tennis player whose best days were so far in the distance you’d need high-powered binoculars to catch sight of them.”
In the final pages Connors acknowledges that some fans saw him as a “crude upstart” but he argues that the revolution he and his generation of players fomented was worth it. He may be right. Otherwise we’d never know the name Jimmy Connors or the ferocious game he played.
(David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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