An ongoing conversation about reading better books began with a movie.
More than a year ago, in the Cardinals clubhouse during spring training, several of us batted around a classic deserted-island question about the three or four movies we would take as company. Comedies and action movies were the most common selection for players and reporters alike, but some classics, too. For my final choice, I picked “The Right Stuff,” the 1983 movie about the Mercury Seven.
Paul Goldschmidt asked me why.
“I’m going to rent it and get back to you,” the club’s new first baseman said.
It seemed only fair if Goldschmidt was going to give time to one of my favorite movies that I do the same. So I asked the six-time All-Star for a suggestion. He explained his fondness for reading whenever possible and recommended a book, “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day” by Mark Batterson. We agreed to discuss our selections later, but that exchange launched others about books. Impromptu book club chats are not rare for Goldschmidt.
This spring he offered up suggestions to young players, like “Ego is the Enemy”, a book Dylan Carlson read during camp. Last year, Goldschmidt and hitting coach Jeff Albert read several of the same books, and Matt Carpenter joined for at least one. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak, who is reading mostly biographies this year, suggested a few for Goldschmidt, including one on Abraham Lincoln. A favorite read of Goldschmidt’s last year was “The Boys in the Boat” — given to him by manager Mike Shildt. As I left the clubhouse once this spring, Goldschmidt stopped me and asked if I knew of any good books about World War I.
“Coming over, being the new guy on the team, it was kind of like — I don’t know if ‘icebreaker’ is the right word, but it was a good way to connect with guys,” Goldschmidt explained this past week. “Especially lately, it’s been a great way to connect with people. It’s like, ‘Hey, have you read this book?’ or ‘Do you want to read this book?’ I’ll say yes, and now we have this common interest.”
Goldschmidt’s goal is to collect a great library for his home. He’s made progress by relocating some favorites from boxes to shelves after the family moved to the Jupiter, Fla., area this winter. For The Post-Dispatch, Goldschmidt provided a list of his favorite books — four from his first season with the Cardinals and seven that fueled a fondness for reading. That latter group includes books that have nourished his faith, challenged his perceptions, and the one that he credits for jump-starting him as a reader.
Several years ago, Arizona’s athletics trainer, Ken Crenshaw, recommended “Freedom Flight” by Lanny Bassham to his first baseman. Goldschmidt admitted he rarely read while studying finance and playing baseball in college. Once in the majors, he took online courses and completed his bachelor’s degree in 2013 — the same year he finished second in MVP voting — and that required reading. Crenshaw’s suggestion inspired reading as a pursuit. Goldschmidt was taken by the book’s tale of a prisoner of war who visualized golf shots while incarcerated — and then, once free, made those shots as an improved player. That book gave Goldschmidt an appetite for others, and a “mini-book club” developed with the training staff, a few coaches, and some players who passed around books.
Each book he read was a recommendation from a friend, a teammate, or — in the case of the classic “How to Win Friends & Influence People” — his father. Some put words and examples to beliefs he already had. A few challenged his thinking and forced a change, like a chapter in James W. Kerr’s “Legacy” about New Zealand’s All Blacks, one of the world’s more successful and tradition-rich sports clubs.
“When you’re on top of your game, you’ve got to change your game,” Goldschmidt said. “Basically, that chapter was about once you have success, you’ve always got to still be looking for that edge or else your opponents are going to catch up. When I read that I was more stuck in my ways. This is how I’m going to do things. This is what made me successful. I read that and it was like, ‘Oh, man, I better never stop.’ I always wanted to learn — but this was more. I better be more open to other people’s ideas, to changing something, to finding a new edge. Nobody likes change, but I had to be more open to it.
“This book is right. I need to do that.”
With a few exceptions that he’s listened to as audiobooks, Goldschmidt prefers to hold the hard copy of a book. He reads with a pen and will underline passages, or jot notes in the margins — a practice called marginalia.
At the front of his favorite books he creates his own table of contents with phrases or words and then a page number so that he can quickly return to it.
In many books I’ve read, I’ll underline interesting passages, enviable writing, or dog-ear instructive pages, as I did in the book Goldschmidt suggested, “In a Pit with a Lion … ” The book hinges on a short adventurous passage in the Old Testament of a man who would become King David’s bodyguard, and how he chased a lion into a snow-slicked pit. The premise is about being bold, about seizing opportunities, about facing the fear of failure and, well, chasing lions. The page I have dog-eared discusses something different — “neoteny.” In science, it means an adult that has maintained juvenile features. Used elastically, the word describes maintaining youthful traits, such as playfulness, fearlessness, and unchecked curiosity. I marked the page because it’s a good reminder when covering baseball daily not to misplace that youthful enthusiasm for being around a game many of us learned to adore as kids.
There are moments that deserve to be written with wonder, I mentioned to Goldschmidt when we did discuss the book.
“His books have challenged me because I could do the same thing over and over,” said Goldschmidt of Batterson, a pastor in Washington D.C, who Goldschmidt has met. “If I wasn’t doing baseball, I would be an accountant. I would just follow the numbers and do that. But he’s an artist. That’s how I feel. He’s so imaginative and thoughtful. So it’s pushed me to not just be what I’m comfortable with, whether it’s in baseball or any other part of my everyday life — to have that more imaginative, big-picture thinking.”
During the first week of this past spring, Goldschmidt had a book recommendation for me: “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World” by David Epstein. As a father, he was intrigued by the argument that children shouldn’t specialize in sports or music too early and the studies Epstein illuminates. I’ll finish it this week, and so far it reminds of a college recruiter long ago who told several of us the school didn’t want well-rounded students or hyper-specialized talents — “lopsided,” he called them. It wanted “well-lopsided” applicants. Goldschmidt also asked me what I was reading at the time.
Rereading “Lord of the Flies,” I said. Along with my teenage son.
He has often said how he looks forward to reading classics along with his two children. That’s ahead. He gets most of his reading done on the road, before and after games. So, in his office, he has a stack of books poised for travel if this season resumes. It includes his on-deck read, “They Call Me Coach” by John Wooden, and at least one of the World War I books I recommended. Oh, yes, he did watch “The Right Stuff.”
“It was great,” Goldschmidt confirmed.
It’s based on the book by one of my favorite writers, I explained. Won the National Book Award for non-fiction by new journalism’s dapper master with his kaleidoscopic pen, the late Tom Wolfe.