Baseball autobiography scores a home run

In 10 strong seasons the Hall of Famer blasted 369 home runs — the majority of them as the lone bright spot on merely average to downright awful Pittsburgh Pirates teams from 1946 to '53 — and set a record that still stands today by taking seven consecutive National League home run titles.

When an irreparable back injury forced his playing days to end early in 1955 at the age of 32, Kiner couldn't stay away from baseball. Instead of retirement, he found work as a general manager in the Pacific Coast League and later, in 1962, as the color television commentator for New York Mets' broadcasts — a job he's been at ever since.

With a lifetime in baseball on his resume, the New Mexico native has more than a few interesting stories and well-informed opinions to offer fans who love the game just as much as he does.

The former left fielder delivers what his record promises within the pages of "Baseball Forever," written by Kiner with Danny Peary, and provides an insightful look into the sport's vibrant world.

Though Kiner's "Baseball Forever" isn't a true autobiography, the best chapters of the book are those where he reminisces about his playing days.

He tells tales of his early years with the floundering Pirates and his not-so-serious teammates. ("There was a record player in our clubhouse, and I think it's indicative of who these guys were that their favorite 78 was about how cigarettes, whiskey and wild women will drive you crazy.") Kiner also discusses early efforts at unionizing baseball as the National League's player representative, and the death threats he faced as he approached Babe Ruth's then-single season record of 60 home runs in 1947 and '48 (Kiner's best was 54).

But Kiner's second career as a baseball broadcaster and de facto historian of the game adds a second dimension to "Baseball Forever" that enhances its appeal for the diehard baseball fan.

He knowledgably pleads for major leaguers to avoid steroids for the sake of the game's integrity and their own health — though recent allegations about Barry Bonds receiving steroids were not addressed — and outlines the reasons for the Yankees continued World Series domination ("… the Yankees always seem to get their man").

Covering such a wide variety of material, Kiner and Peary wisely chose to structure the book topically. In doing so, each chapter of "Baseball Forever" reads well as a stand-alone story. Information gleaned from earlier chapters written in Kiner's easy-to-read style make later chapters more enriching, but the layout makes the book very easy to pick up and read from virtually any starting point.

For all Kiner's insights into the game — other topics include the racial integration of the game, the current sparseness of American-born blacks playing today and the art of hitting — much of "Baseball Forever's" allure lies in the seldom-heard stories about baseball's early giants. Take this anecdote about former Detroit Tiger great and baseball's first prominent Jewish player, Hank Greenberg, as he and fellow World War II soldiers sat down for a drink:

"A loud patron who had one too many drinks stood up and shouted threateningly: 'Anybody here named Ginsberg, Rosenberg, or Goldberg?' … After a dramatic pause, Henry Louis Greenberg, all 6'4' and 220 pounds of him, arose from his chair. 'I'm Greenberg,' he said. 'Will I do?' The man's sneer disappeared when he looked at his prospective opponent, and … he said softly, 'No, I'm looking for a Ginsberg, Rosenberg or Goldberg."

Other personal stories, like Kiner's humorous run-in with actress Jamie Lee Curtis — whose mother, actress Janet Leigh, he briefly dated years ago — and interactions with peers like Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson should make "Baseball Forever" into a must read for all serious fans of the game.

Grade: A