Diamond Legacies: Legendary Moments in Baseball, Past and Present

Ankiel, Rick & Tim Brown. The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch That Changed My Life. PublicAffairs. Apr. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781610396868. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781610396875. SPORTS

Local legend, high school superstar, big league talent—there, in a nutshell, is Ankiel (b. 1979). After being drafted to the minor leagues straight out of high school in 1997, Ankiel was promoted to the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1999. In his first full season with the Cardinals, he started 30 games with a 11–7 record. But in the third inning of the 2000 National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves he developed the yips, or focal dystonia, which prevented him from throwing strikes. Lifted for a reliever in the third inning, Ankiel pitched again in games two and five of the championship series against the New York Yankees, again walking batters and throwing wild pitches. He was never again successful as a pitcher but reinvented his game as an outfielder and hitter, spending seven seasons with six different teams. His story, told here with sportswriter Brown, is beyond compelling, mixing tragedy with humor. Ankiel beat the odds as a rookie pitcher and, again, as a position player. VERDICT For Ankiel, baseball became more than a game to be played on the field, and his journey is reading well spent.—Boyd Childress, ­formerly with Auburn Univ. Libs., AL

Borders, Ila Jane & Jean Hastings Ardell. Making My Pitch: A Woman’s Baseball Odyssey. Univ. of Nebraska. Apr. 2017. 264p. ISBN 9780803285309. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781496200204. SPORTS

makingmypitch.jpg32817The story of Ila Jane Borders (b. 1975), the first woman to win a men’s college baseball game and a pioneer for women in professional baseball, has faded into history. Twenty years ago, she signed a minor league contract with an independent men’s baseball team, proving herself in the clubhouse as well as on the pitcher’s mound. While we are still waiting for the first woman to appear on a major league roster, Borders made meaningful progress, maintaining her poise and sense of humor, despite teammates and fans who wanted to test her resolve, even enduring stalkers and death threats. A difficult childhood and struggles with her sexual orientation gave her the inner fortitude to endure the isolation of being far from home in an often hostile environment, and her personal history, as chronicled here with the help of Ardell (Breaking into Baseball), is related with painful honesty. Borders’s conversational style and intriguing life story make this title a winner for both public and academic libraries. VERDICT An inspiring and important account, told with grace and self-awareness that will appeal to baseball and sports fans along with readers interested in LGBTQ memoirs.—Janet Davis, Darien P.L., CT

Eisenberg, John. The Streak: Lou Gehrig, Cal Ripken, and Baseball’s Most Historic Record. Houghton Harcourt. Jul. 2017. 320p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780544107670. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780544103979. SPORTS

On May 2, 1939, Yankees manager Joe McCarthy agreed to leave a slumping and (though it wasn’t known at the time, mortally ill) Lou Gehrig on the bench for a day. This ended his streak of 2,130 consecutive games played and was thought to be a record for the ages. Until it wasn’t, as over a half century later Cal Ripken Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles put the Iron Horse in his rearview mirror and didn’t stop until he had appeared in 2,632 straight games. Here, veteran sportswriter Eisenberg depicts both men’s streaks as well as lesser ones, and in the process addresses several questions: How and why does a player accomplish such a feat? Can a player actually hurt his team by never taking a rest? Is Ripken’s record truly one for the ages? The answer to the latter is “likely,” as Ripken’s record doubles that of the third longest (and the longest of our era): Miguel Tejada’s 1,152, ending in 2007, followed by Prince Fielder’s 547, ending in 2014. VERDICT A readable and comprehensive look at one of baseball’s most arcane but incredible accomplishments.—Jim Burns, formerly with Jacksonville P.L., FL

Jones, Chipper with Carroll Rogers Walton. Ballplayer. Dutton. Apr. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9781101984406. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781101984413. SPORTS

Any baseball fan of the 1990s and early 2000s knows about the dominance of the Atlanta Braves, including 14 consecutive division titles, five World Series appearances, and a sole championship in 1995. Larry Wayne “Chipper” Jones, a switch-hitting third basemen, was the best player on the Braves for most of their great run. With this book, Jones and sports journalist Walton take readers on a chronological journey: enrollment in prep school, first overall pick in the draft, riding the bus through the minors, and, finally, spending his 19-year career with the Braves. A self-proclaimed Southern boy, Jones found a home in Atlanta and took less money to stay and play there. He admits, however, he was never one to keep an opinion to himself. He calls out teammates who disrespect him (including a few fistfights), gives heartfelt reasons for not taking steroids, and sets the record straight about his extramarital affairs. Throughout, Jones vividly describes many ballgames, putting readers in the moment as only a player can. VERDICT Fans of teams other than the Braves might open this book reluctantly—but they should for its lively, frank account of baseball at the turn of the 21st century. Recommended for all public library sports collections.—Keith Klang, Port Washington P.L., NY

Law, Keith. Smart Baseball: The Story Behind the Old Stats That Are Ruining the Game, the New Ones That Are Running It, and the Right Way To Think About Baseball. Harper. Apr. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9780062490223. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062490254. SPORTS

This book by ESPN sportswriter and analyst Law is both a primer on how sabermetrics are changing the way fans and professionals view baseball, as well as a thorough explanation of why traditional statistics are misleading or obsolete. Many fans consider sabermetrics and the rejection of traditional statistics to be blasphemous, but it cannot be denied that these new ways of measuring player performance have transformed the way the game is played. Defensive shifts and batting mechanics are just a few of the revolutionary effects. At the same time, traditional statistics such as the pitcher win and batting average ignore large aspects of the game and can misrepresent a player’s impact. Law’s background as an analyst gives him the knowledge and experience to put these different statistics in perspective and explain why they are more or less valuable. VERDICT If you’re unsure of the way the new statistics operate, or wonder why the old approaches are being disparaged, this book is for you. Savvy baseball fans may want to look for more advanced texts.—Matt Schirano, Univ. of Bridgeport Lib., CT

McDermott, Terry. Off Speed: Baseball, Pitching, & the Art of Deception. Pantheon. May 2017. 224p. illus. notes. ISBN 9780307379429. $23.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307908896. SPORTS

Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn famously said that hitting is timing and pitching is upsetting timing. How players are able to achieve that is mystifying to even the most astute baseball fans. Pitching has evolved far more rapidly than any other position, especially the variety of pitches thrown. McDermott (Perfect Soldiers) explores this evolution in his latest work, which is structured around the names of well-known pitches, such as the fastball, the curve, and the knuckleball. However, there are two other recurring narratives: memories from the author’s childhood and personal life, and an inning-by-inning recount of Félix Hernández’s perfect game thrown on August 15, 2012. While the book is ostensibly about pitching, McDermott’s intimate asides can be lengthy. Fortunately, his stories are engaging and add warmth and personality, making this work more accessible then Robert Adair’s The Physics of Baseball. VERDICT Providing both insight into the art of pitching and a memoir on the role of the game in the life of a baseball fan, this work will be enjoyed by all lovers of the sport.—Brett Rohlwing, Milwaukee P.L.

redstarPositano, Rock. Dinner with DiMaggio: Memories of an American Hero. S. & S. May 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781501156847. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501156861. SPORTS

dinnerwithdimaggio.jpg32817Positano, (director, Non-Surgical Foot & Ankle Svc., Hosp. for Special Surgery, NY) treated Joe DiMaggio (1914–99) for the heel injury that prematurely ended his career with the New York Yankees in 1951. Despite their more than 40-year age difference, the two became best friends. Here, the author shares funny and poignant stories about their lives, including DiMaggio’s personal codes of la bella figura (cutting a beautiful figure) and being a stand-up guy. However, this is no hagiography, as DiMaggio’s moodiness, temper, and judgmental arrogance are displayed. Yet, those qualities are balanced by a softer side, which shows his loyalty and devotion to family. Memorable tales include DiMaggio lamenting his loss of sexual prowess, awing a crowd, in his 80s slashing line drives to the outfield, and the bittersweet final dinner the men shared a few months before ­DiMaggio died from lung cancer. ­VERDICT Readers do not have to be baseball fans to be captivated by this memoir, which explores such universal themes as friendship, celebrity, aging, and mortality, and will appeal to admirers of Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with ­Morrie. [See Prepub Alert, 12/5/16.]—Karl Helicher, formerly with Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA

Simon, Scott. My Cubs: A Love Story. Blue Rider. Apr. 2017. 160p. ISBN 9780735218031. $23; ebk. ISBN 9780735218048. SPORTS

The Chicago Cubs are notorious for being known as the “lovable losers”—a team that continued to lose for so many years that some believed they would never win another championship. Having last won a World Series in 1908, the Cubs were the only Major League Baseball team that had not won a championship in over a century; the 2016 Cubs changed all that. Journalist Simon (NPR’s Weekend Edition), a lifelong, die-hard Cubs fan, has written a personal reflection of his beloved Cubs and the journey to the championship season. As a passionate fan, Simon takes readers through a sometimes emotional trip down Cubs history, exploring the roller-coaster ride fans have been experiencing for several years. Considering the “Billy Goat” curse, black cats, and the incident with fan Steve Bartman, along with hope-filled teams that included players Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, Lou Brock, Billy Williams, and Ron Santo, Simon paints the picture of what it was like to take the good with the bad. VERDICT Longtime Cubs fans will relate to Simon’s story, which makes for a quick and illuminating read.—Gus Palas, Ela Area P.L., Lake Zurich, IL

redstarVerducci, Tom. The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse. Crown. Mar. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780804190015. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780804190022. SPORTS

cubsway.jpg32817In what is destined to become a classic of the genre, Sports Illustrated senior baseball writer Verducci (The Yankee Years) chronicles the epic story of the 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs. He covers the five-year rebuilding project started in 2011 by newly hired team president Theo Epstein, which resulted in breaking the longest championship drought in North American professional sports history (108 years). This book brilliantly interweaves the unforgettable drama of the seven-game World Series against the Cleveland Indians with the narrative background of how the Cubs got to that point, featuring the eccentric yet old-school managing of Joe Maddon; the acquisition of key players such as Anthony Rizzo, Kris ­Bryant, and Aroldis Chapman; and tales from the history of the “lovable losers,” including the Bleacher Bums. Throughout, ­Verducci elegantly dances between poignant individual backstories, thoughtfully nuanced baseball philosophy, and thrilling play-by-play descriptions of significant moments on the field. VERDICT This volume will be cherished by Cubs fans and appreciated by all baseball ­lovers as a memorable and well-written account of a legendary sports story.—Brian Sullivan, Alfred Univ. Lib., NY

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