Book review: The Passion of Baseball

Author Wirz relays tales of a life spent following his dream

Bob Wirz is almost 80 years old. He has spent most of his adult life connected to baseball, including more than 10 years working in the Commissioner's Office. To paraphrase the insurance commercial, he knows a thing or two because he's seen a thing or two.

Which is not to suggest that "The Passion of Baseball" is some sort of tell-all. It is, instead, a relaxed contemplation of how a young boy from a map-speck town in Nebraska turned a deep love of the game into a long and successful career.

It's been quite a ride and this book strikes a balance between Wirz's personal and professional moments.

There is also a balance in the themes that are presented. On the one hand, Wirz clearly feels a certain sense of wonderment that a lad from tiny Halsey (population: 141) could have experienced what he has, including working as the spokesman for two Commissioners (Bowie Kuhn, Peter Ueberroth) and interacting with three U.S. presidents (Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush) as well as Vice President Gerald Ford.

"I understand only about six percent of the general population ends up working in the field we were originally attracted to as youngsters," Wirz wrote. "But there was no doubt whatsoever, or any wavering at any point along the way that I wanted to work in Major League Baseball. I can remember saying on many an occasion, 'I don't care if it is selling peanuts or cotton candy, I want to work in Major League Baseball.'"

Clearly, Wirz exceeded those modest, early goals. But another motif in "The Passion of Baseball" is the understandable pride that, through hard work and tenacity, he was able to ascend to a high position in Major League Baseball and then go out on his own to found the successful Wirz & Associates, while never losing touch with baseball.

As a kid, Wirz built his own scoreboard and kept notebooks with all the statistics he could gather. At the University of Nebraska and the early years of his career, he worked in print and broadcast journalism. He got his first big break when he was hired as publicity director for the expansion Royals, and six years later he moved to the Commissioner's Office in New York. Even after starting his own company, Wirz was deeply involved with Little League and the Rolaids Relief program. As if that wasn't enough, he's held front-office positions for a handful of Minor League and independent league teams.

In case you missed the point, Wirz and his bride even went to a baseball game in San Francisco during their honeymoon.

As in any good memoir, there are plenty of entertaining stories.

It was obviously an amazing experience to set up a Little League program on the South Lawn of the White House that President Bush and Barbara Bush took part in. A neat postscript, Wirz reports, is that Bush kept a "Baseball Encyclopedia" on the lectern so he could recite statistics about the Hall of Famers who were present. Wirz later found out that the 41st president kept the reference book in the Oval Office so it would be handy at all times.

Not every tale in "The Passion of Baseball" involves a big name. One anecdote from Wirz's days with the Royals involved a hard-throwing reliever named Ken Wright, who frustrated team officials with his inability to stick to his diet. So one offseason, Wright went to play winter ball, but only after promising to keep the team informed of his weight.

Sure enough, the missives started coming in, indicating that he was steadily dropping pounds. When Wright got to Spring Training, though, he wouldn't get on the scales.

"The mere sight of him proved the postcards had lied ... by quite a bit," Wirz noted dryly.

There's nothing unusual about a kid growing up and dreaming about a career in baseball. Wirz actually did it. And now he's batted out an entertaining recollection on just about every aspect of his inspiring journey.

Paul Hagen is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.