An avid reader and aspiring ballplayer as a kid, I had one book in my hands more than any other: “How to Star in Baseball” by Herman L. Masin. That book was the Bible of Baseball to me. I studied its pages for hours and hours, reading up and memorizing the fine points of how to scoop up a grounder or turn the double play.
I still have my copy, and it’s one of the few things that I’d try to grab before running out of the house should it catch fire. The book is in a box in the attic, so I can’t verify the publication date at the moment. But it’s the late-1960s version with the cover showing Mickey Mantle finishing off what appears to be a home run swing. I bought the book through Scholastic Book Clubs, a mail-order service that sold and delivered books through my school.
Over and over I checked out Masin’s copious notes on hitting, fielding and throwing, poring over the pictures and studying the diagrams to get the mechanics down. Masin espoused the full windup for pitchers: step onto the rubber, rock back with both arms and bring them overhead, leading to a powerful turn and thrust toward the plate. And don’t forget the follow-through into fielding position, undoubtedly the best from-a-book advice I received in my brief stint as a schoolboy hurler. I even taught myself the hook slide from Masin’s book.
I never learned who the players depicted on the inside pages were, but from the few clues in the photos, I’m guessing they were of the St. John’s University team.
I knew nothing of Masin (in fact, I’d forgotten his name) until today, when a Google search quickly turned up his obituary. Surprisingly, he died recently, in 2010 at age 96. I had known Scholastic had also produced “How to Star in Basketball” and “How to Star in Football,” but I didn’t realize Masin was the man behind those and so many other publications.
“How to Star in Baseball” can be found on eBay and other websites, and you can probably come across a battered copy of the paperback in a flea market or used book store. It won’t be mine. It’s not for sale.
When I see a major-league player cavalierly catch the ball with one hand or half-ass it down the first base line while running out a grounder, I know that goes against the fundamentals Masin drilled into me. Next to my father, no one gave me as much valuable advice on how to play the game.