Hobbs veterans bound by love for books
Harvey Austin, Joel Weinstein are avid readers
BY GLENN MILLER
Roy Hobbs Baseball
Veteran Roy Hobbs players Harvey Austin and Joel Weinstein are bookish outliers. That word outliers should never be confused with outfielders and definitely not outlaws.
Both men are avid readers, positively voracious consumers of books. They devour books the way some people devour potato chips or Oreos. They are avid readers in a culture where such reading is not common.
When a Roy Hobbs Baseball representative stopped by Austin’s North Fort Myers home in the middle of July he had already read 81 books this year and was on his way, he predicted, to 150-to-160 books for the year.
“If it wasn’t for the public library I’d be broke,” Austin said.
Both men document their book reading. Austin, 79, who plays for the South Dakota Rushmores, keeps a reading journal in a notebook in his den, which is filled with books and baseball memorabilia such as bats and balls and photos of Harmon Killebrew and Dick Raddatz, among others.
Weinstein of the New England Red Sox, blogs about his books with capsule summaries of the histories, biographies and novels he’s read. He breaks his lists into fiction and non-fiction. In 2020, for example, his non-fiction list included 17 titles. It was an eclectic mix of memoirs, science, biographies and one baseball book, Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four, The Final Chapter.”
Many Roy Hobbs players likely read “Ball Four” in the years after its 1970 publication. Not Weinstein.
“I can’t believe it took me 50 years to get around to reading this,” Weinstein, 83, noted in his summary of 2020 books.
But he and Austin have been busy reading many other books.
Reading in context
Such monumental reading habits as those of Austin and Weinstein are rare in modern America, at least according to studies by the Pew Research Center. A 2021 Pew report noted that 23 percent of Americans do not read one book a year. The percentage is even higher for men – 26 percent.
On average, Americans read 12 books a year and the median is four books a year. A Gallup survey published earlier this year noted 27 percent of Americans read more than 10 books a year.
The vast reading of Weinstein and Austin are likely off the charts and might leave Pew and Gallup statisticians gasping for breath and grasping for their calculators.
“I didn’t realize it was such a big deal,” Austin said of his reading habit.
These ballplayers do most of their reading separated by a continent.
Weinstein and his wife, Bonni, resides in Carmel, Calif. Austin and his wife, Ruth, reside in a North Fort Myers gated community a short drive from the Roy Hobbs World Series diamonds.
Weinstein likes books on tapes. He loads audio books into his iPod.
Most of Austin’s books are checked out of the Lee County Library System. He does much of his reading on his lanai, which overlooks a lake. He even reads on the lanai in the summer, reveling in Florida’s heat and humidity.
He likes the heat, said Austin, who grew up in Minnesota and spent much of his adult life in Indiana working as a financial consultant. The lanai is reading home.
“I get to watch what is going on in the neighborhood,” Austin said. “There is a little activity. … A mockingbird with her young ones is walking around. She’ll pick up something and eat it.”
The summer is peak reading season for Austin.
“I probably read one book every two days,” Austin said. “Some days one a day.”
Harvey and Ruth will celebrate their 60th anniversary on Oct. 20. They met at Good Thunder High School in Minnesota and graduated in 1961.
Ruth is astonished that, as she put it, her husband “reads a book a day.”
She knows where most of the reading is done.
“I don’t have to wonder where he is,” Ruth said. “He’s out there, reading on the lanai.”
Married to books and wives
Both men are devoted to baseball and books and their wives.
Austin and his wife, Ruth, have been married 59 years. They got engaged at a Minnesota Twins’ game in Metropolitan Stadium when they were in their late teens.
Weinstein has been married to Bonni for 57 years, On the summer day he spoke to Roy Hobbs Baseball about books he and Bonni, who was an English literature major, were celebrating their anniversary.
Although audio books are Weinstein’s preferred form of engaging in books, Roy Hobbs players he encounters on his way to Fort Myers or back home to Carmel may notice something else in his hands.
“I’ll read a physical book when I’m traveling,” said Weinstein, a 2014 Roy Hobbs Hall of Fame inductee.
Intellectual pursuits is nothing new for Weinstein, who earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from MIT, a masters in electrical engineering from Northeastern and an MBA from Stanford.
One of his early jobs was working on a joint Harvard-MIT project on the Cambridge Electron Accelerator. That sounds more complicated than remembering the indicator for your team’s bunt sign or the nuances of the infield fly rule.
Like Austin, Weinstein sprinkles baseball in his reading in addition to Bouton’s classic “Ball Four.” His reading has included “Almost Perfect: The Heartbreaking Pursuit of Pitching’s Holy Grail,” about pitchers who nearly hurled perfect games, and John Grisham’s baseball novel, “Calico Joe.”
He admitted his baseball reading “skews towards the Red Sox.” That makes sense. He plays for the New England Red Sox and grew up in Boston.
His wide-ranging reading interests also include the war novels of Jeff Shaara.
“He gets you right into the trenches,” Weinstein said.
Weinstein’s on-line comments about the books he’s read offers a window into his eclectic interests.
About David McCullough’s “The Wright Brothers:” “The picture we have all learned of how they developed a primitive machine and managed to fly a couple of hundred yards is a gross over-simplification.”
His 2020 reading included the best-selling novel “Where the Crawdads Sing,” by Delia Owens. It has been made into movie that was released this summer.
Weinstein’s begins his capsule description this way: “A young girl living in a shack in the swamp is abandoned by her family. She learned to survive. But remains elusive and largely isolated.”
Weinstein’s 2020 reading included magisterial biographies of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. That Hamilton biography was the inspiration for the blockbuster Broadway musical “Hamilton.”
“Before I read this book, I always held (Thomas) Jefferson in high regard,” Weinstein wrote of the Hamilton biography. “This book knocks him off that pedestal.”
While Weinstein’s reading toggles back and forth between fiction and non-fiction, the bulk of Austin’s reading focuses on novels.
Authors he likes included C.J. Box, David Baldacci, Alex Berenson, Michael Connelly, Brad Thor, John Grisham, Vince Flynn, Dan Silva, Lee Child, Stieg Larsson, and many others.
When both men are in Fort Myers for the World Series the reading declines.
“During Hobbs I don’t get much of a chance to read,” Austin said.
But the rest of the year, you will often find Harvey Austin on his lanai with a novel in his hands.
And across the continent Joel Weinstein will be listening to books on his iPod.