Dan Epstein and I have a few things in common, a friendship with the Dictators singer Handsome Dick Manitoba and a dual love of rock ‘n’ roll and baseball. There was a time when these things were considered polar opposites – I recall going to an early Motorhead concert at Axis on Lansdowne St. in Boston across the street from Fenway Park, as baseball fans were filing in for the, casting worrisome looks at the punks and leather-clad, tat-covered gang going to drink whiskey with Lemmy and company. Me, I coulda been going either place – and probably was at Fenway the next night. Anyway, Epstein, again like yours truly, grew up in the ‘70s, and he first wrote about that mad ride in “Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ‘70s.” (Remember Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson and their wife-swap? Look it up in Epstein’s first book.)
Epstein is back with a new one, “Stars and Stripes: Baseball and America in the Bicentennial Summer of ’76,” and he wraps up a book reading/signing tour Tuesday at 7 pm at Harvard Bookstore. Epstein is good at not just focusing on the sport but how the sport fit into what else was going on in the country at the time. Sometimes, we isolate our interests, but in reality, doesn’t everything overlap? I mean America is celebrating the Bicentennial, just coming off the Richard Nixon disgrace and the Vietnam debacle and into the (brief) Jimmy Carter era. And it was a year, Esptein writes, that was colorful, complex and combustible. Not to sound like Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (please, never) we had Olympics, busing riots, “killer bees” hysteria and Pong fever. Red Sox scourge Thurman Munson led the New York Yankees to their first World Series in a dozen years – the pinstriped bastards – but it was Joe Morgan and Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” who cemented a dynasty with their second consecutive World Championship. Sluggers Mike Schmidt and Dave Kingman dominated the headlines, while rookie sensation Mark “The Bird” Fidrych started the All-Star Game opposite Randy “Junkman” Jones. The season was defined by the outrageous antics of team owners Bill Veeck (is in wreck), Ted Turner, the loathsome George Steinbrenner, and Charlie Finley, as well as by several memorable bench-clearing brawls, and a batting title race that became just as contentious as the presidential race. Back outside the diamond, Epstein writes about American pop culture CB radios, AMC Pacers, The Bad News Bears, Rocky, Taxi Driver, the Ramones, KISS, Happy Days,and “Frampton Comes Alive!” –
On Monday, June 30, at 4 pm EDT, Epstein will pop up on the MLB Network’s MLB Now Live with Brian Kenny… and then he’s bound for Boston Tuesday for what he calls his “Stars and Strikes road show with a reading, signing and slideshow.” Starts at 7 and is free.
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