As we assess how much we care that Albert Pujols is now an Angel and José Reyes is a Marlin managed by Ozzie Guillen, as we remind ourselves that we love baseball for the game itself, maybe a new glance backward is in order! This year’s roster of spring books on our national pastime is tilted more than usually toward the academic and the deeply historical, but there are also testaments to the game’s notable personalities and the predictable stories of fathers and sons bonding over baseball. Some things never change, no matter what uniform a player is wearing.
Gomez, Vernona & Lawrence Goldstone. Lefty: An American Odyssey. Ballantine. May 2012. c.432p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780345526489. $28. SPORTS
The quirky and upbeat Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez was a fan favorite on the 1930‚ 42 Yankees that also featured Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth. His daughter, with Goldstone (Inherently Unequal: The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court, 1865‚ 1903 ), offers a well-written and comprehensive though oddly impersonal story of Gomez’s life from his challenging upbringing through his long baseball career, his close friendship with the Bambino, his time as a manager in South America, and his volatile marriage to a headstrong Broadway actress, the author’s mother. Gomez was famous for his quips and his ease with his public life, handling celebrity and a tabloid presence with grace. VERDICT Although his daughter keeps her distance in this biography (e.g., no family lore or mention of him as Dad), it is recommended to all golden age baseball fans and anyone seeking insight into life as a Depression-era baseball celebrity. ‚ D.K.
Gullo, Jim. Trading Manny: A Story of Fathers, Sons, and Reclaiming the Game. Da Capo. Apr. 2012. c.272p. ISBN 9780306820175. $23. SPORTS
This book is about more than baseball. Gullo, who has written for Sports Illustrated and other publications, gives us a funny, heartbreaking, and thought-provoking story about baseball, the steroid scandal, and his son Joe, who grows here from age seven to 11. Joe had worshipped the baseball players who became involved in the steroid scandal brought to light by the Mitchell Report of 2007. He had considered them heroes capable of superhuman feats. Gullo writes of striving to be a good father while explaining hard truths to Joe and maintaining his own love for the game. He explores allegations against specific players (including Manny Ramirez, Joe’s favorite before the scandal named him a juicer), but this is primarily the story of Gullo and his son as they travelled around the majors over a few summers, redefining their relationship and rediscovering their love of baseball in the post‚ Mitchell Report era. VERDICT A book that will be enjoyed and appreciated by even the most jaded of baseball fans. ‚ M.M.
Harrelson, Bud with Phil Pepe. Turning Two: My Journey to the Top of the World and Back with the New York Mets. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Apr. 2012. c.288p. illus. ISBN 9780312662400. $25.99. SPORTS
Harrelson, a popular Mets player, recalls the highlights of his long career. He’s refreshingly humble, so he has nothing negative to say about anybody and very little to say about himself. He spends much of the book recounting the improbable 1969 World Series victory; the 1973 near-championship, when he was an undersized, overachieving infielder; and the unforgettable 1986 World Series victory, when he was the third-base coach waving home the game six winning run. This feel-good, underdog story features detailed, pitch-by-pitch game descriptions that dramatically depict pivotal matchups. VERDICT Nostalgic Mets fans will enjoy this, but general baseball fans looking for real insight into the team’s most successful seasons are likely to be disappointed by Harrelson’s light touch. ‚ D.K.
Kerr, Roy. Buck Ewing: A Baseball Biography. McFarland. May 2012. c.272p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780786469482. pap. $29.95. SPORTS
Buck Ewing, who played in the big leagues from 1880 to 1897, is rarely in the mix in debates about baseball’s greatest catchers, but Kerr, a retired professor of Spanish‚ turned‚ baseball historian, presents a firm case that Ewing should be included. One of the first to popularize the catcher’s snap throw and to wear a fully padded mitt, Ewing posted a lifetime batting average of .303, once led his deadball era league in home runs, played every position at one time or another, managed, and is a Hall of Famer. Because of the span of Ewing’s major-league playing career, his biography also offers a valuable picture of the evolution of our national pastime. VERDICT This may be passed over by casual fans, but baseball scholars will find it valuable. For all large baseball collections.‚ J.B.
Neary, Kevin & Leigh Tobin. Major League Dads: Baseball’s Best Players Reflect on the Fathers Who Inspired Them To Love the Game. Running Pr. May 2012. c.272p. photogs. ISBN 9780762444526. $20. SPORTS
Here’s a sentimental book for readers who like the old-fashioned appeal of the father-son baseball connection. The entries are short, around one page per player, based on interviews by Neary. Readers will enjoy the simple reminiscences of players such as Moises Alou or Aaron Boone who had MLB fathers and who grew up around the stadium. Other sons, e.g., pitcher Greg Maddux, had dads who coached them in the early years and who were wise enough to realize the limits of their baseball knowledge. Some players had no fatherly attention (e.g., Alex Rodriguez), so were not interviewed. Most of the fathers provided crucial everyday advice that was more important than rule book specifics. VERDICT Best to dip into for snippets, this is a good option for public libraries or as a Father’s Day gift. ‚ P.K.
Fitts, Robert K. Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, & Assassination During the 1934 Tour of Japan. Univ. of Nebraska. Mar. 2012. c.368p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780803229846. $34.95. SPORTS
Baseball historian Fitts shares the story of a team of American all-star baseball players’ 1934 goodwill tour of Japan, intended to improve trans-Pacific relations and promote cultural understanding. Yet at the same time, a group of Japanese military officers attempted to assassinate government officials and abolish Japanese democracy. Still, the American ballplayers entertained throngs of Japanese fans even as the country was in a state of social and military unrest. Ruth’s booming home runs and beaming smile could not solve the nation’s social and political troubles. This phase of goodwill ultimately came to an end with Pearl Harbor. Fitts’s research adds new insight into the argument about whether catcher and future spy Moe Berg began his espionage career on this tour. VERDICT This dramatic story, equal parts baseball and history, should appeal to anyone interested in Japanese cultural and political history and the sports-politics nexus. ‚ D.K.
Guthrie-Shimizu, Sayuri. Transpacific Field of Dreams: How Baseball Linked the United States and Japan in Peace and War. Univ. of North Carolina. May 2012. c.336p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780807835623. $39.95. SPORTS
Guthrie-Shimizu (history, Michigan State Univ.) draws extensively on both English-language and Japanese sources to explore the U.S.-Japanese baseball connections developed beginning around 1870, even given geographical and cultural differences, racial antipathies, and the enmity of World War II. The sport became a transoceanic pastime, influenced by Japanese students returning from study abroad, A.G. Spalding’s entrepreneurial bent, baseball’s tie to traditional Japanese virtues, world tours by U.S. major leaguers‚ including Babe Ruth’s 1934 tour (addressed in Robert K. Fitts’s Banzai Babe Ruth , reviewed above)‚ Japanese professionalism, and collegiate baseball exchanges. The author shows that World War II and U.S. internment of Japanese Americans and Japanese aliens failed to stifle Japanese enthusiasm for baseball. VERDICT While an impressively researched contribution to the study of baseball’s globalization, this will have limited appeal to general readers. ‚ R.C.
Khan, Abraham Iqbal. Curt Flood in the Media: Baseball, Race, and the Demise of the Activist-Athlete. Univ. Pr. of Mississippi. (Race, Rhetoric, & Media). Feb. 2012. c.224p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781617031380. $55. SPORTS
After noting the dearth of activist athletes today, Khan (communication & Africana studies, Univ. of South Florida) homes in on Curt Flood, the St. Louis Cardinal center fielder who challenged baseball’s reserve clause at the height of his career, refusing to be traded to the Phillies. Refuting commonly held assumptions, Khan emphasizes that Flood was hardly the recipient of altogether negative press reports, receiving instead a good deal of support that overlooked his often prickly and troubled personality. Khan also points out how labor concerns submerged racial ones as the case of Flood against MLB proceeded, notwithstanding Flood’s use of provocative references to bondage. Khan includes criticism of black sports figures such as Michael Jordan for not taking a stand on controversial topics. His ultimate take on Flood remains ambiguous. VERDICT This involved treatment shines new light on Flood’s complicated role in attacking the reserve clause and should be of interest to students of baseball and those exploring 20th-century African American, media, or labor studies, as well as Cardinal fans.‚ R.C.
Nathanson, Mitchell. A People’s History of Baseball. Univ. of Illinois. Apr. 2012. c.272p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780252036804. $29.95. SPORTS
Nathanson (legal writing, Villanova Univ. Sch. of Law; The Fall of the 1977 Phillies ) chronicles the historic power struggles among those seeking to define and regulate pro baseball‚ and they weren’t the people; they were team executives, the commissioner, and the fraternity of the mainstream press. This is the author’s very point: that those in power hew to plots that are not in fact in support of the game’s essence at all and are not in the best interests of ordinary players or of idealism. This is a thematic rather than chronological study and may be disorienting to readers with only a general enthusiasm for baseball history. It’s really a study of the American cultural world (Theodore Dreiser, Horatio Alger Jr., the great man approach to history) and the aims of the status quo to make baseball central to that culture. VERDICT A fine book for those who explore American studies or the relationships between print/media culture and America’s pastime.‚ M.H.
Rosen, Charley. The Emerald Diamond: How the Irish Transformed America’s Greatest Pastime. Harper: HarperCollins. Mar. 2012. c.320p. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9780062089885. $25.99. SPORTS
Rosen ( Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees ) creates a narrative time line of baseball as it was shaped by Irish American players, coaches, and team owners. Readers will learn of Lizzie Murphy, the first female to participate in a major league game; Nixey Callahan, who threw the first American League no-hitter; Mike O’Neill, responsible for the first pinch hit grand slam; and many others. Much information is presented in bulleted format, making for quick, easy reading. Rosen highlights many substantial contributions of Irish Americans, such as the introduction of shin protectors for catchers and batting helmets for all players. Some of the most entertaining bits are less momentous but equally fascinating: the use of pocket-size brooms for umpires or a player being struck by lightning during a game. VERDICT Filled with fun snippets of baseball lore, this will appeal to avid baseball fans. ‚ M.M.
Wendel, Tim. Summer of ‚Äò68: The Season That Changed Baseball‚ and America‚ Forever. Da Capo. Apr. 2012. c.304p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780306820182. $25. SPORTS
Wendel (fiction & nonfiction writing, Johns Hopkins Univ.; High Heat: The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time ) follows the tradition of homing in on a key year in both baseball and U.S. history. America was being torn apart in 1968, and baseball was under stress, too. The pennant-winning St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers had players at loggerheads with one another. Star players like Cardinal ace Bob Gibson were not immune to racial tension and prejudice. And yet, the ultimate story is one of triumph as these teams provided some respite and hope to a beleaguered country suffering from the effects of the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Wendel has interviewed many of the key participants to bring this crucial year to life. VERDICT Transcending baseball history alone, this is recommended for baseball fans and students of the era.‚ P.K.
Araton, Harvey. Driving Mr. Yogi: Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry, and Baseball’s Greatest Gift. Houghton Harcourt. Apr. 2012. c.256p. index. ISBN 9780547746722. $26. SPORTS
Veteran sportswriter Araton (columnist, New York Times ; When the Garden Was Eden: Clyde, the Captain, Dollar Bill, and the Glory Days of the New York Knicks ) provides a well-rounded portrait of the lovable and legendary Yogi Berra by using Berra’s return to Yankee spring training in Tampa, ever since 1999, as his framing device. Many revealing and often humorous anecdotes feature Ron Guidry, fellow Yankee Hall of Famer, assigned to chaperone Berra around Tampa every year. There are also numerous anecdotes about Berra with his wife, Carmen. Araton recounts Berra’s long baseball career, his 14-year self-exile from the Yankees, and his complex relationship with late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. A few new Yogi-isms are a nice bonus in this entertaining and informative volume. VERDICT Recommended to all baseball fans, especially those interested in the traditions, conflicts, and multigenerational bonds within the Yankee family and Berra’s patriarchal franchise role. ‚ D.K.
Morrissey, Rick. Ozzie’s School of Management: Lessons from the Dugout, the Clubhouse, and the Doghouse. Times Bks: Holt. May 2012. c.288p. index. ISBN 9780805095005. $26. SPORTS
Ozzie Guillen did not win as much notice as a Chicago White Sox player as he did once he was the team’s manager, leading the Sox to a 2005 World Series championship and gaining notice for his loud mouth, aimed at his own team as well as the usual suspects (and rife with f-words, quoted here on almost every page). Now he’s headed to the National League as manager of the Miami Marlins. There’s method in his management madness, here parsed into Ten Commandments (chapters) by Morrissey (columnist, Chicago Sun-Times ). It’s a fine matching. Morrissey writes with verve and much humor. The Ten Commandments leitmotif is lightly applied. Through observing Guillen on and off the field and interviewing him, Morrissey presents a rewarding explication of how this individual operates. VERDICT Fans who are turned off by Guillen may still be, but they’ll also enjoy this expert, fast-paced study.‚ M.H.
Base Ball Pioneers, 1850‚ 1870: The Clubs and Players Who Spread the Sport Nationwide. McFarland. Apr. 2012. NAp. ed. by Peter Morris & others. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780786468430. pap. $49.95. SPORTS
Morris ( A Game of Inches ) and his colleague editors want the 1850 to 1870 decades of baseball to receive coverage similar to that of baseball’s subsequent years. Contributors here present narrative club histories, including available biographical information, organized regionally from Connecticut and Maine to the San Francisco Bay Area. Thus we learn that it wasn’t until the waning of the Civil War that New York‚ style baseball (rather than barnball or roundball) can be documented in Maine and that Rochester, NY, had four significant pre‚ Civil War ball clubs. All pieces are carefully sourced, largely to contemporary newspapers. VERDICT Although some libraries may not define the chapter-by-chapter narrative approach as reference, this is a scrupulous work that will enchant avid historians of early baseball. Rightly, there’s no mention of Abner Doubleday. With all royalties to support SABR Negro League and deadball era projects documenting forgotten stars. ‚ M.H.
Kiser, Brett. Baseball’s War Roster: A Biographical Dictionary of Major and Negro League Players Who Served, 1861 to the Present. McFarland. Feb. 2012. NAp. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780786466795. pap. $55. SPORTS
Freelance writer Kiser delivers a painstakingly drawn compendium of all Major League and Negro League baseball players who served in U.S. wars, arranged chronologically by war and alphabetically therein by player. Although the subtitle reads 1861 to the Present, coverage ends with the Vietnam War. While thousands of players receive cursory treatment here, along with available statistics, Kiser’s accounts of noteworthy players clearly stand out. Grover Cleveland Alexander’s frontline engagement during World War I and subsequent battle with alcoholism is well-known but riveting, as is Henry Gowdy’s service in the Argonne Forest and return to accolades at home. Saddest are the battlefield deaths. VERDICT This volume is likely to be of interest to die-hard baseball researchers, who will appreciate the material on the lesser-known players. For comprehensive baseball reference collections. ‚ R.C.
Nemec, David. The Rank and File of 19th Century Major League Baseball: Biographies of 1,081 Players, Owners, Managers and Umpires. McFarland. May 2012. NAp. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780786468904. pap. $55. SPORTS
Having covered the careers of the 19th century’s most distinguished major leaguers in Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871‚ 1900 , Nemec now turns to baseball figures of that time‚ players, managers, umpires, and owners‚ whose marks weren’t quite as indelible, including those who have been inaccurately referenced or barely even documented elsewhere. The 1871 to 1900 dates frame the first appearance of a major league and the last year before a second major league emerged. This voluminous book (lacking source citations) is arranged alphabetically by name within position categories, either on or off the field. Each biographical sketch also includes career statistics, debut and finale summaries, etc. VERDICT Impressively comprehensive, this reference work will be a boon to serious baseball historians looking to fill gaps or correct errors in previous research.‚ D.K.
Roberts, Randy & Carson Cunningham. Before the Curse: The Chicago Cubs’ Glory Years, 1870‚ 1945. Univ. of Illinois. Feb. 2012. c.296p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780252078163. pap. $21.95. SPORTS
Before they became the lovable losers the Cubs were seen as a perennial powerhouse hosting a slew of players destined for the Hall of Fame, from Grover Cleveland Alexander to Gabby Hartnett. As one of the oldest baseball franchises, the Cubs also provide a real baseball history lesson. Roberts (history, Purdue Univ.; Joe Louis: Hard Times Man ) and Cunningham (history, DePaul Univ.) select popular newspaper and magazine accounts from the post‚ Civil War through the World War II years that bring the different eras to life. Each selection is insightfully introduced and put in historical context. Readers will enjoy the apt illustrations, such as one from 1931 showing Cub great Gabby Hartnett chatting it up with Al Capone at a charity game! VERDICT This book delights because it brings a collection of primary journalism to the baseball history buff and Cubs fans in easy bite sizes. ‚ P.K.
Damn Yankees: Twenty-Four Major League Writers on the World’s Most Loved (and Hated) Team. Harper: HarperCollins. Apr. 2012. c.320p. ed. by Rob Fleder. ISBN 9780062059628. $27.99. SPORTS
Fleder (former executive editor, Sports Illustrated ) introduces this collection of new pieces with one of baseball’s great truths, Everyone has an opinion about the Yankees, a statement borne out by these essays by writers who love or hate (or love-hate!) the Yankees. The writing is alternately hilarious, nostalgic, heartbreaking, and touching. Novelist Pete Dexter writes about Yankees golden boy‚ turned‚ goat Chuck Knoblauch with side-splitting wit. Columnist Leigh Montville envisions Babe Ruth captured in all his drinking, womanizing glory by modern-day gossip magazines and paparazzi. Bill James, Red Sox statistics guru, breaks down the top 100 seasons by Yankees catchers. Sportswriter Frank Deford lists, in no particular order, the things he hates about the Yankees. VERDICT A welcome and engaging addition to the tradition of marrying baseball and literature. For all baseball fans, regardless of team allegiance. ‚ M.M.
Powers, John & Ron Driscoll. Fenway Park: A Salute to the Coolest, Cruelest, Longest-Running Major League Baseball Stadium in America. Running Pr. Mar. 2012. c.272p. illus. photogs. index. ISBN . $30. SPORTS
Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox since 1912, may be small, cramped, and uncomfortable, but it is arguably the most beloved ballpark in the country. This coffee-table book, commemorating the park’s 100th anniversary, painstakingly re-creates its history, from planning and construction to its role in the surrounding neighborhood and its designation as a symbol of a bygone era. Powers (sports reporter, Boston Globe ) and Driscoll (formerly, Boston Globe ) explore the unique character of the field and the legendary Green Monster, nemesis of many would-be home-run hitters. With large-format, archival color and black-and-white photos, stories of memorable games, and interviews with past players, this is more than a book about a stadium; it’s a testament to a city, a team, its fans, and the game itself. VERDICT A treasure for all fans of baseball history, a must-have for Red Sox faithful. ‚ M.M.
Silverman, Matthew. Best Mets: Fifty Years of Highs and Lows from New York’s Most Agonizingly Amazin’ Team. Taylor. 2012. c.240p. photogs. index. ISBN 9781589796706. pap. $16.95. SPORTS
The New York Mets, who went from lovable losers in 1962 to destiny’s darlings in 1969, turn the big five-oh in 2012, and prolific Mets author Silverman ( New York Mets: The Complete Illustrated History ) offers die-hard fans a cornucopia of Mets-related information. After a concise history of the team, Silverman settles into what is largely a book-of-lists format, presenting his take on the 50 best Mets players, best teams, and best games, while adding dashes of worsts as well. Going beyond these obvious categories, he also features coaches and management, broadcasters, memorable fans (the cowbell man and the sign man), and such esoterica as best Mets sports bars. VERDICT This might not play in St. Louis or Los Angeles, but for Mets followers it will be a little bit of heaven. ‚ J.B.
The Team That Forever Changed Baseball and America: The 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers. Univ. of Nebraska. (Memorable Teams in Baseball History). Apr. 2012. c.400p. ed. by Lyle Spatz. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9780803239920. pap. $26.95. SPORTS
The 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers are famed as the first MLB team to include a black player, Jackie Robinson. They went on to win the National League pennant that year, taking the Yankees to seven games before losing the World Series. Though there have been numerous books on the Dodgers of that era and on the notable personalities, this is the first to present biographies of every member of the organization in that famous baseball year. Signed biographies (each four to eight, oversize, double-columned pages) by members of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) don’t just cover the 1947 season; additional essays cover topics such as the suspending of manager Leo Durocher and Robinson’s first game. A detailed time line is dispersed throughout. VERDICT An essential circulating or reference addition for all baseball history/biography collections and for all Brooklyn Dodger fans.‚ M.H.
Zolecki, Todd & James Salisbury. The Rotation: A Season with the Phillies and One of the Greatest Pitching Staffs Ever Assembled. Running Pr. Mar. 2012. c.256p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780762444007. pap. $15. SPORTS
For the 2011 season, the Philadelphia Phillies put together one of the most formidable staffs of starting pitchers baseball has seen in years. As a result, the team won 102 games and topped the major leagues in ERA, shutouts, and complete games‚ yet exited from the playoffs in the first round. Salisbury (CSNPhilly.com) and Zolecki (MLB.com) offer readers a chronicle of what seemed destined to be a glorious year, with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt sharing the mound. Their book is a throwback, giving us a personal look at the players and their game, but not dishing sordid bits of information or laying blame for the team’s ultimate failure. VERDICT It’s a breath of fresh air for Philadelphia fans and beyond. ‚ J.B.