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They Haven´t Stopped Playing Baseball, or Writing Books about It

June 10, 2010 by Reader's Connection

Last year around this time, I put together a post of baseball books. So was it difficult, now, to find new (2009-2010) titles  on the subject? Don´t be ridiculous.

This list doesn’t have last year’s New York slant. There are, though, two books involving the same World Series, and we might as well begin with those.

Game Six : Cincinnati, Boston, and the 1975 World Series : The Triumph of America’s Pastime by Mark Frost

Game SixMany a diehard baseball fan could tell you how Game 6 of the 1975 World Series ended–with Boston catcher Carlton Fisk dramatically waving his extra-inning home run toward fair territory, and the pandemonium that soon followed. As for the other details, Frost mentions them all in a wonderful tale about one of the sport’s seminal events. Describing pitch by pitch and inning by inning, Frost breaks down the excitement on the field, but also how each participant came to play in the October thriller. Each player has a story–from Boston’s star pitcher Luis Tiant and his humble beginnings, to Cincinnati’s rugged, trash-talking third baseman, Pete Rose. From Yastrzemski to Bench, Evans to Morgan, Frost covers them all, along with the managers, owners and even broadcasters, expertly weaving from the past to that famous fall night . . . With each passing baseball season, “the number of people who would later claim to have been at Game Six would increase twenty-fold,” and thanks to Frost, the reader will likewise feel like he was in attendance at Fenway Park for that World Series classic. — Publishers Weekly


The Machine : A Hot Team, a Legendary Season, and a Heart-stopping World Series : The Story of the 1975
Cincinnati Reds
by Joe Posnanski

The Machine : A Hot Team, a Legendary Season, and a Heart-stopping World Series : The Story of the 1975 Cincinnati RedsCasey award winner and Kansas City Star columnist Posnanski writes of the Cincinnati Reds when they were the “Big Red Machine” during the 1970s. The 1975 Reds team has been called one of the greatest ever, with stars like Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, and Tony Perez. They absolutely dominated the season and then won a cliff-hanger World Series against the Red Sox. But what makes this book work is Posnanski’s storytelling power; he centers many of his tales around legendary manager Sparky Anderson, wise and wily despite being a high school dropout, who used every trick to motivate and keep a team of disparate personalities working in harness. Chock-full of hilarious tales and insightful stories, this book works so much better than the many “as told to” baseball books we get. It will be enjoyed by all baseball fans, whatever their opinion of the Reds. — Library Journal


As They See ’em : A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires by Bruce Weber

As They See 'em : A Fan's Travels in the Land of UmpiresIt’s a wonder that, given their central role in the game of baseball, from Little Leagues to major leagues, umpires have remained a mystery to fans for so long. New York Times reporter Weber corrects that in this sympathetic, thoughtful, highly engaging account. Weber spent months, including a five-week course at one of two major league-approved umpire schools, talking with dozens of umps as well as the players, managers, owners, and league officials who live with their calls. Out of this exhaustive research, and after strapping
on the gear himself, Weber reveals how exceedingly demanding the profession can be. At the same time, he shows how disrespected, if not reviled, umps are by nearly everyone in baseball, though they serve as the last–some might argue, the only–line of defense for the integrity of the game. Weber shares the particulars of umping a game, the torturous path to becoming a major league ump, and some hot-button issues such as the umps 1999 strike, instant replay, and the pace of games. And for the starstruck baseball fans among us, there are lots of stories about umps, players, and managers we know. — Booklist


The Last Hero : A Life of Henry Aaron by Howard Bryant

The Last Hero : A Life of Henry AaronA definitive biography of Hall-of-Famer Henry Aaron, whose reputation only grows as those of such modern-day sluggers as Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez become tainted. Bryant’s research here is exhaustive, but it only serves to add texture and context to Aaron’s compelling story, which starts with an impoverished but proud Mobile, Alabama, boyhood, then follows Aaron’s long and steady trajectory as the greatest home-run hitter (if not player) of his generation, ending with Aaron’s public and private responses to the breaking of his home-run record by Bonds in 2007. There’s thorough, concise play-by-play of Aaron’s benchmark games; good background on such seminal events as the Milwaukee Braves’ move to Atlanta in 1966; and a solid account of Aaron’s agonizing though successful conquest of Babe Ruth’s homer mark, in 1974. And Bryant addresses the long-standing rivalry between Aaron and Willie Mays, giving justice to both careers–James S. Hirsch’s Willie Mays (2010) helps do that, too–while showing that Aaron’s stats more than hold their own. Must reading for baseball fans of every generation. — Booklist


The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-clearing Brawls: The Unwritten rules of America’s Pastime by Jason Turbow with Michael Duca

The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-clearing Brawls: The Unwritten rules of America's PastimeTurbow and Duca have filled a void with this entertaining, revealing survey of the varied, sometimes inscrutable unwritten rules that govern the way baseball is played by the pros. The authors add a lot of flavoring here by naming names and instances, both long past and more recent. Great stuff on how and when to retaliate, how to slide, how to give way to a relief pitcher, talking (or not) during a no-hitter, whether to join an on-field brawl (no question, you join in), and the ethics of cheating (former Orioles manager Earl Weaver once told struggling pitcher Ross Grimsley during a game: “If you know how to cheat, this would be a good time to start”). The authors–both write on baseball for various publications, and Duca is an official scorekeeper for major league baseball–lament a certain unraveling of baseball’s codes, due to changes in the game itself, while insisting that they’re still essentially intact. — Booklist


The Game from Where I Stand: A Ballplayer’s Inside View by Doug Glanville

The Game from Where I Stand: A Ballplayer's Inside ViewFormer big leaguer dishes dirt on clubhouse etiquette, romantic relationships and on- and off-the-field challenges faced by professional athletes.Many former baseball players have penned post-career tell-alls offering an “insider” perspective on controversial aspects of the game, but few are former high-school electronics-club members who can claim an engineering degree from Penn and openly cite Hall and Oates as their favorite band. Despite Glanville’s unique profile, however, his career typifies the Major League experience of most non-superstar players–an arduous stint in the minor leagues, marked by long bus rides and shabby accommodations, followed by an up-and-down experience playing for Philadelphia, Texas, and the Chicago Cubs in the Majors. With no World Series championships, statistical records or personal steroid use to discuss, Glanville’s hook is the perspective of an articulate, highly educated African-American in a sport increasingly devoid of black players and lacking in college graduates. Unlike accounts from notorious cheats like Jose Canseco, Glanville’s narrative supplies no stunning revelations, focusing instead on in-depth coverage of the life of average ballplayers and the challenges they face, from trying to compete with more famous teammates’ extravagant expenditures on cars and houses to the difficulties of maintaining a relationship to the mixing of race and culture in the clubhouse. — Kirkus Reviews


High Heat : The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time by Tim Wendel

High Heat : The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All TimeThe fastball is to baseball what high cheekbones are to fashion modeling: you’ve either got ’em or you don’t. Pitchers can refine a fastball, learn to control it or supplement it with a curve or changeup, but they either have the ability to throw it 95 miles an hour or they don’t. Wendel, the author of six books and a founding editor of Baseball Weekly, sets out on a quest to understand the history and mystery of the fastball, beginning with long-forgotten names from baseball history and quickly moving to recognizable
greats such as Walter “Big Train” Johnson and Bob Feller. Feller, the first of the modern-era legends and a notorious curmudgeon, sits down with Wendel and recounts the elaborate experiment (before radar guns) in which a speeding motorcycle was used to help calculate the speed of Feller’s heater. Wendel interviewed dozens of players, coaches, and team officials–past and present–including Jeff Torborg, who had the unique experience of catching both Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan in their primes. This is a really engrossing volume for baseball fans, filled with anecdotes, behind-the-scenes tales, and subjective thoughts on the mysterious activity of throwing a ball more than 90 miles per hour. — Booklist


Fifty-Nine in ’84 : Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball, and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had by Edward Achorn

Fifty-Nine in '84 : Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball, and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever HadAchorn . . . takes an in-depth look into the game of baseball when it was still in its infancy, especially the hard-nosed players rarely seen in today’s incarnation of the national pastime, including one of the greatest pitchers that most of today’s fans know nothing about. In the 1884 season, pitching for Providence, R.I., Radbourn–the son of English immigrants–endured one of the most grueling summers imaginable in willing his team to the pennant. The stress on his right arm, which caused such deterioration that he couldn’t comb his own hair, also gave him a baseball record of 59 wins that will never be broken, in a year of “unparalleled brilliance.” Achorn wonderfully captures this era of the sport–when pitchers threw balls at batters’ heads, and catchers, playing barehanded, endured such abuse that some would need fingers amputated. It’s no wonder that, in some circles, as Achorn writes, baseball was thought to be “one degree above grand larceny, arson, and mayhem, and those who engaged in it were beneath the notice of decent society.” From the early stars of the game to archaic rules that seem silly by today’s standards, there’s plenty to devour (and learn) for even the biggest of baseball savants.– Publishers Weekly


Willie Mays : The Life, The Legend by James S. Hirsch

Willie Mays : The Life, The LegendAn admiring–at times even worshipful–portrait of one of baseball’s greatest players, whose on-field exploits were astonishing but whose inner life remains largely hidden . . . Mays’s Hall of Fame career was indeed marvelous. Born in Birmingham, Ala., in 1931, he endured the Jim Crow South, thrived on the baseball field and then left for greener outfields. Hirsch discusses how he learned baseball’s fundamentals from his father, mastered his unique “basket catch” (in the Army), got the nickname “Say Hey Kid,” rocketed through the minors, debuted with the New York Giants in 1951 and quickly became baseball’s dominant star and its most exciting player–for decades (he played into his 40s, ending his career with the Mets). The author attends well to those most celebrated Willie moments: “The Throw,” “The Catch,” the four-homer day, the bare-handed catches, the daring base running, the dramatic hits, the peacemaking during base-brawls. But he also portrays a man who had difficulty with personal relationships and with intimacy–a failed first marriage, a need for pampering managers.– Kirkus Reviews


Baseball Americana : Treasures from the Library of Congress

Baseball Americana : Treasures from the Library of CongressThe Library of Congress has the largest collection of baseball memorabilia in the world, and this lavishly illustrated coffee-table book presents an intelligent, tasteful selection. With more than 350 illustrations, the volume provides a wonderful panorama of the national pastime’s evolution from its English roots to the times of Hank Greenberg, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Bob Feller, and Sandy Koufax. Katz et al. include vintage photos, lithographs, cartoons, illustrations, and every kind of artifact to show how baseball got into the American bloodstream. The warts are visible as well. The text describes, and photos reveal, white America’s racial problems with red, black, and yellow athletes. Jackie Robinson gets a chapter of his own, and the book gives due recognition not only to women but also to amateurs, convicts, and players from town and country. From an enormous storehouse of material, Katz and his fellow editors culled material that demonstrates how this children’s game represents so much of the American psyche. George Will wrote the foreword — Choice



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