• Robert Birnbaum

Let's Play 162: Baseball 2019

Updated: Jul 17, 2019

"The sports team from my locale is superior to the sports team from your locale" Izzy Birnbaum

This year's hot stove league was rather tepid with the Manny Machado/Bryce Harper free agency sagas devolving into a snooze fest. It wasn't that interesting to begin with and as the daily conjecture devolved into dismissible speculation and spring training arrived and exhibition contests were being played, one's attention was directed to the actual games being played and all manner of prognostications for coming season.

For some years now, each spring, I have been reporting on the annual crop of new baseball books.* 2019's scribbling is quite promising —two biographies of "Mr Cub," Ernie Banks; a Pete Rose memoir; former MLB commissioner, Bud Selling's take on baseball's transformation; a few appealing picture books; a number of engaging books viewing the game from original perspectives. An an abridged (abridged because only die-hard fans care for the full monte) version of this year's 'bibiolisticle' was published in the Washington Post.

Now that we are in the post All Star game portion of the regular season(with approximately 70 games, even die-hard fans's attentions may wander from the day-to-day of professional sports longest season. So, as has been so frequently noted, baseball is a sport most amenable to be written about— this season's harvest being no exception.

Here's the whole shebang:

Red Sox vs. Yankees: Hometown Experts Analyze, Debate, and Illuminate Baseball's Ultimate Rivalry by Bill Nowlin,David Fischer

2000 plus contests in over a century qualifies as a serious rivalry. Baseball historians Bill Nowlin (Red Sox) and David Fischer (Yankees) pow-wowed to discuss who each team’s best position player was and which super team would win in a head-to-head series and other stuff that matter only to fans of these clubs..The question is resolved with the help of Action! PC Baseball, for a simulation to find out which team would win in a head-to-head battle. That's if you care...

Baseball Epic: Famous and Forgotten Lives of the Dead Ball Era

byJason Novak

This is a fun book. Jason Novak explores the dead ball era of baseball―from 1900 to 1920 — so named because a single ball was used for an entire game. Miniature graphic biographies of long forgotten sports heroes.

My Dad, Yogi: A Memoir of Family and Baseball 

by Dale Berra

Lawrence "Yogi" Berra stands as a titan in the pantheon of baseball. Today he is more remembered for his lexicographical contributions to pop culture.A Hall of Famer, he was on ten World Series Championship New York Yankee teams and managed the National League Champion New York Mets in 1973. Adding to the extensive Berra bibliography, his son Dale, who had a 10-year MLB stint, reports on his father from a singularly intimate perspective. The younger Berra also talks about the drug problem that cut short his own career and how Yogi’s response saved his life. Berra‘s story both illuminates baseball history and usefully adds to the elder well-worn biography.

Let's Play Two: The Life and Times of Ernie Banks 

by Doug Wilson

Let's Play Two: The Legend of Mr. Cub, the Life of Ernie Banks

by Ron Rapoport

"Mr. Cub”, first ballot Hall of Famer, Ernie Banks’ trademark phrase is the title of two new biographies of the 14-time all-star who spent 19 seasons (1953-1971) in Wrigley’s ‘friendly confines “ with the hapless Cubs. In his prime, he was the premier major league slugger in spite of which the Cubs were never in pennant contention. Bank’s story —rising from mean beginnings in the racist South to glory in a racist northern city , is well told by Chicago sports writer Rappaport. His is a full bodied,(based on interviews with more than a hundred of his family members, teammates, friends) extensively researched portrayal of the public figure and the lesser known private Banks. Doug Wilson, who is an experienced baseball biographer ( Brooks Robinson, Mark Fydrich,Carlton Fisk) complements Rappaports work tracking down several friends from Banks’s childhood and high school, as well as three Kansas City Monarchs with whom he played in the Negro League. They a are both excellent profiles —"Let's read two."..

108 Stitches: Loose Threads, Ripping Yarns, and the Darndest Characters from My Time in the Majors

by Ron Darling

As baseball (and many sports)are being increasingly obsessed with quantification, it was to be expected that book title would be derived from some minor aspect of the sport—78 Inches (the distance from the pitcher's rubber to home plate) or 65 Pounds (the weight of the pitcher's rubber.) A baseball is made with 108 stitches, so apparently it was an obvious choice for former major league hurler, Ron Darling to entitle his compendium of stories from his life with and in baseball (1983-1995).

X K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches 

by Tyler Kepner

While much of the chronicling of baseball falls into neat categories—biographies, team histories, ethnographies, the sport also allows for unusual ways to tell its stories. New York Times's Kepner’s conceit is to use the ten major types of pitches — Slider, Fastball, Knuckleball, Splitter, Screwball, Sinker, Change-Up, Cutter, Spitball, Curveball to organize his history. In so doing he relies on the testimony of eighteen of the twenty-five hurlers including wenty-two Hall of Famers--from Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, and Nolan Ryan to Greg Maddux, Mariano Rivera, and Clayton Kershaw-- with the most recorded strikeouts, elucidating the mysteries of the art of throwing a spheroid, 9–9​1⁄4inches in circumference and weighing 5 to 5 1/4 ounces, 60 feet, 6 inches.

For the Good of the Game: The Inside Story of the Transformation of Major League Baseball by Bud Selig Foreword by Doris Kearns Goodwin

During his 22-year tenure as commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig dealt with a number of challenges, including the 1994 players union strike and the cancellation of that year’s World Series. During his time as commissioner, interleague play was implemented and instant replay was introduced. Selig is credited with increases in revenue and attendance, but the steroid scandal remains uppermost in his mind. Part memoir, part business book, part apologia, Selig’s testimony is a necessary addition to baseball history.

Here's the Pitch The  Amazing, True, New, and Improved Story of Baseball and Advertising by Roberta J. Newman,

Baseball being the country’s oldest professional sport and for a long time considered America’s national pastime is for some academic’s knowledge /familiarity with the sport was essential for an understanding of the national culture NYU mentor Roberta J. Newman, charts the synergy beginning in mid 19th century between the nascent pastime and the neophyte advertising industry.  She ably surveys the bilateral connection which both mirrored the culture and created it and a smart critique of advertising and its relationship with baseball as a reflection of the changes, in American society.

Understanding baseball, the country’s oldest sport, is for some observers — see Jacques Barzun — essential for grasping American culture. Newman, a cultural historian, charts the synergy, beginning in the mid-19th century, between the nascent pastime and the neophyte advertising industry, offering a savvy critique of the connection.

Play Hungry: The Making of a Baseball Player  

by Pete Rose

In 23 seasons Pete Rose, a.k.a. “Charlie Hustle,”established a bunch of records— most hits (4,256), most games played (3,562), most at-bats (14,053), you get the idea. His baseball career ended in 1989 after revelations that he gambled on baseball, a subject he discusses for just two pages in a book billed as the star’s “love letter” to the game. This is not Rose’s first book since he was permanently banned from baseball and made ineligible for induction at Cooperstown. Here he focuses on stories from baseball’s Golden Age and on his dedication to playing the game “the right way.”

Infinite Baseball: Notes from a Philosopher at the Ballpark

by Alva Noe

This is an original, amusing tome that validates the “small ball” theory of writing — the smaller the ball, the better the writing. Noë, a baseball-loving philosopher, disagrees with the current preoccupation with numbers and Major League Baseball’s obsession with speeding up — thus shortening — the game. (There’s a full chapter called “In praise of being bored.”) In addition to some metaphysical reflections, Noë takes up the more administrative aspects of the sport — the role of umpires, the strike zone and the value of instant

Full Count: The Education of a Pitcher Doc, Donnie, the Kid, and Billy Brawl: How the 1985 Mets and Yankees Fought for New York’s Baseball Soul by David Cone

Full Count: The Education of a Pitcher Doc, Donnie, the Kid, and Billy Brawl: How the 1985 Mets and Yankees Fought for New York’s Baseball Soul

by David Cone

In hurler David Cone's 17 year MLB career (1988-2003), he was a five time All Star and a five time World Champion, playing on the Royals. Mets. Blue Jays, Yankees. a forgettable year with the Red Sox. He pitched the 16 th perfect game, struck out the second most batters (19) an a game and was a 20 game winner twice.

A Fine Team Man by Joe Cox

A Fine Team Man by Joe Cox

Jackie Robinson maybe baseball's bibliographical counterpart to Abraham Lincoln, about whom more books have been written than anyone except for Charles Darwin. Robinson's 100th birthday is celebrated this year and this book's conceit plays off his signature quote "that a life is not important except for the impact it has on other lives". In this case, the others were Rachel Robinson, Branch Rickey, baseball commissioner ”Happy” Chandler; Clyde Sukefort, Red Barber, Wendell Smith, Burt Shotton,Pee Wee Reese , Dixie Walker, the veteran Dodgers star who vowed never to play alongside Robinson,

America's Game: A History of Major League Baseball through War II  by Bryan Soderholm-Difatte

As the title indicates, Bryan Soderholm-Difatte provides a wide rangeing chronicle of Major League Baseball, during the time when it was in fact the national pastime. The story's dramatis personae |book include baseball executives Judge Landis and Branch Rickey, managers John McGraw and Joe McCarthy, and legendar players such as Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.

Winning Ugly: A Visual History of the Most Bizarre Baseball Uniforms by Todd Radom

Winning Ugly is an ode to our favorites from today and yesterday that bring smiles and sighs to all baseball fans—who will enjoy reliving the moments most teams would like to forget.

Curveball: How Failure on the Mound Taught Me Success in Life by Barry Zito

Curveball: How Failure on the Mound Taught Me Success in Life  by Barry Zito

Despite signing a seven-year, $126 million contract (at that time, it was the largest contract ever given to a pitcher) with the San Francisco Giants, Barry Zito was miserable.This story reveals Zito's come toJesus journey

When Big Data Was Small: My Life in Baseball Analytics and Drug Design by Richard D. Cramer

From the publisher:

"Richard D. Cramer has been doing baseball analytics for just about as long as anyone alive, even before the term “sabermetrics” existed. He started analyzing baseball statistics as a hobby in the mid-1960s, not long after graduating from Harvard and MIT. He was a research scientist for SmithKline and in his spare time used his work computer to test his theories about baseball statistics. One of his earliest discoveries was that clutch hitting—then one of the most sacred pieces of received wisdom in the game—didn’t really exist. In this book, Cramer recounts his life and remarkable contributions to baseball knowledge"

Empire of Infields: Baseball in Taiwan and Cultural Identity, 1895-1968  by John J. Harney

From the publisher:

" In Empire of Infields,John J. Harney traces the evolution and identity of Taiwanese baseball, focusing on three teams: the Nenggao team of 1924–25, the Kanō team of 1931, and the Hongye schoolboy team of 1968. Baseball developed as an aspect of Japanese cultural practices that survived the end of Japanese rule at the end of World War II and was a central element of Japanese influence in the formation of popular culture across East Asia. The Republic of China (which reclaimed Taiwan in 1945) only embraced baseball in 1968 as an expression of a distinct Chinese nationalism and as a vehicle for political narratives."

From the publisher:

"Reclaiming 42 centers on one of America’s most respected cultural icons, Jackie Robinson, and the forgotten aspects of his cultural legacy. Since his retirement in 1956, and more strongly in the last twenty years, America has primarily remembered Robinson’s legacy in an oversimplified way, as the pioneering first black baseball player to integrate the Major Leagues. The mainstream commemorative discourse regarding Robinson’s career has been created and directed largely by Major League Baseball (MLB), which sanitized and oversimplified his legacy into narratives of racial reconciliation that celebrate his integrity, character, and courage while excluding other aspects of his life, such as his controversial political activity, his public clashes with other prominent members of the black community, and his criticism of MLB.

MLB’s commemoration of Robinson reflects a professional sport that is inclusive, racially and culturally tolerant, and largely postracial. Yet Robinson’s identity—and therefore his memory—has been relegated to the boundaries of a baseball diamond and to the context of a sport, and it is within this oversimplified legacy that history has failed him. The dominant version of Robinson’s legacy ignores his political voice during and after his baseball career and pays little attention to the repercussions that his integration had on many factions within the black community.

Reclaiming 42 illuminates how public memory of Robinson has undergone changes over the last sixty-plus years and moves his story beyond Robinson the baseball player, opening a new, broader interpretation of an otherwise seemingly convenient narrative to show how Robinson’s legacy ultimately should both challenge and inspire public memory."

Edgar: An Autobiography by Edgar Martinez

Coming from the barrio in Dorado, Puerto Rico, Edgar Martinez spent the entirety of his 18-year (eventual) Hall of Fame major league career with the Seattle Mariners. This year he will finally be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame..

Mission 27: A New Boss, A New Ballpark, and One Last Ring for the Yankees' Core Four by Mark Feinsand

From the publisher:

"Boasting a mix of homegrown talent and All-Star signings, the 2009 Yankees were composed of the very best. With the previous season's failed playoff bid still as fresh as the paint job on the new Yankee Stadium, a 27th championship flag represented the singular objective of a squad that ultimately carved out a unique spot among the Yankees' pantheon of World Series teams.

It was the last title for the "Core Four"—Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte—who would each retire over the course of the next five years. It was the lone title for Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, A.J. Burnett, and Nick Swisher, each of whom saw memorable peaks and valleys during their time in the Bronx. For CC Sabathia and Brett Gardner, it was their first championship, though the veterans were still in pinstripes as the latest generation of Yankees arrived for what they hope will be the next dynasty. Mission 27 is a thoroughly reported chronicle of an unforgettable season, packed with interviews with the full cast of key players, team executives, broadcasters, and more."

No Place I Would Rather Be: Roger Angell and a Life in Baseball Writing by Joe Bonomo

Here's my 2003 conversation with Raj...

...the game has changed so much. One of the things that has kept me at this is not that I am doing the same thing over and over. Baseball provides surprises and refreshments automatically. But the game has changed a lot, everything about it except the actual game has changed. The stadiums, the crowds, the sounds of baseball. There used to be wonderful silences, there were different kinds of cheering and you could close your eyes and almost tell what was happening in the game. The derisive cheer, the derisive boo, to every level…a lot of that has gone out now because the sounds are so enormous and there is this constant blasting of loudspeakers and rock music is playing. It’s not the same at all. And the crowd doesn’t watch the game in the same way. Very few people keep score. For young people it’s more like going to a rock concert. Bart Giamatti was the first person I know who saw all that when he was National League president and then Commissioner. He told the owners, and he told me that he’d said this. He kept telling the owners, "You are going to have to take care of both audiences, the devout close watchers, like you and me who keep score and that watch everything on the field. And the people who are paying more attention to the gigantic score board and what is coming on to that." So that’s a difference, and then television is a huge difference. TV has changed us all more than anything has in my lifetime, obviously. And instant replay, which changes everything. Instant replay replaces memory—in all of us—I think. Our memories are not what they used to be because some part of us says we can turn memory off and just find the replay. I once talked to Carlton Fisk—I was writing a piece about home runs —and I asked, "Do you have any memory of that home run in the sixth game in 1975, any private memory of what it was like? We all know the famous TV shot of you going to first base waving the ball fair, pushing it to the field and it hits the foul pole and the game is won." He said, "It’s very interesting that you should bring this up. I have only seen that shot about four or five times in my lifetime. Every time I see it coming up, I leave the room or turn the set off. Because I want to keep a crystal memory of what that was like for me." I was very touched...

From the publisher:

"Legendary New Yorker writer and editor Roger Angell is considered to be among the greatest baseball writers.He brings a fan’s love, a fiction writer’s eye, and an essayist’s sensibility to the game. No other baseball writer has a through line quite like Angell’s: born in 1920, he was an avid fan of the game by the Depression era, when he watched Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig hit home runs at Yankee Stadium. He began writing about baseball in 1962 and continued through the decades, lately blogging about baseball’s postseasons.

No Place I Would Rather Be tells the story of Angell’s contribution to sportswriting, including his early short stories, piece s for the New Yorker, autobiographical essays, seven books, and the common threads that run through them. His work reflects rapidly changing mores as well as evolving forces on and off the field, reacting to a half century of cultural turmoil, shifts in trends and professional attitudes of ballplayers and executives, and a complex, discerning, and diverse audience. Baseball is both change and constancy, and Roger Angell is the preeminent essayist of that paradox.

The MVP Machine: How Baseball's New Nonconformists Are Using Data to Build Better Players by Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik

From the publisher:

"As Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik reveal in The MVP Machine, the Moneyball era is over. Fifteen years after Michael Lewis brought the Oakland Athletics' groundbreaking team-building strategies to light, every front office takes a data-driven approach to evaluating players, and the league's smarter teams no longer have a huge advantage in valuing past performance.

Lindbergh and Sawchik's behind-the-scenes reporting reveals:

How the 2017 Astros and 2018 Red Sox used cutting-edge technology to win the World SeriesHow undersized afterthoughts José Altuve and Mookie Betts became big sluggers and MVPsHow polarizing pitcher Trevor Bauer made himself a Cy Young contenderHow new analytical tools have overturned traditional pitching and hitting techniquesHow a wave of young talent is making MLB both better than ever and arguably worse to watchInstead of out-drafting, out-signing, and out-trading their rivals, baseball's best minds have turned to out-developingopponents, gaining greater edges than ever by perfecting prospects and eking extra runs out of older athletes who were once written off. Lindbergh and Sawchik take us inside the transformation of former fringe hitters into home-run kings, show how washed-up pitchers have emerged as aces, and document how coaching and scouting are being turned upside down. "

Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game by Rob Neyer

Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game by Rob Neyer

From the publisher:

"Rob Neyer recreates an action-packed 2017 game between the Oakland A’s and eventual World Series Champion Houston Astros to reveal the myriad ways in which Major League Baseball has changed over the last few decades.

On September 8, 2017, the Oakland A’s faced off against the Houston Astros in a game that would signal the passing of the Moneyballmantle. Though this was only one regular season game, the match-up of these two teams demonstrated how Major League Baseball has changed since the early days of Athletics general manager Billy Beane and the publication of Michael Lewis’ classic book.

Over the past twenty years, power and analytics have taken over the game, driving carefully calibrated teams like the Astros to victory. Seemingly every pitcher now throws mid-90s heat and studiously compares their mechanics against the ideal. Every batter in the lineup can crack homers and knows their launch angles. Teams are relying on unorthodox strategies, including using power-losing—purposely tanking a few seasons to get the best players in the draft.

As he chronicles each inning and the unfolding drama as these two teams continually trade the lead—culminating in a 9-8 Oakland victory in the bottom of the ninth—Neyer considers the players and managers, the front office machinations, the role of sabermetrics, and the current thinking about what it takes to build a great team, to answer the most pressing questions fans have about the sport today.

Bill James Handbook 2019 by Bill James

Bill James Handbook 2019 by Bill James

James Handbook remains the comprehensive, annual baseball book,in the known universe, a veritable sabermetric bible. Include are lifetime statistics and leader boards for every player in the major leagues and projections for how they might do in the future.

Redesigned! Hard Hit Balls Analysis

Improved! Injury Info Tables

New! Strike Zone Runs Saved

Exclusive! Annual Fielding

Bible Awards

Complete! Career Data for every 2018 Major Leaguer

Unique! Win Shares, Career Targets, Shifts,

Instant Replay Analysis

First! Hitter and Pitcher Projections for 2019

Doc, Donnie, the Kid, and Billy Brawl: How the 1985 Mets and Yankees Fought for New York’s Baseball Soul

Doc, Donnie, the Kid, and Billy Brawl: How the 1985 Mets and Yankees Fought for New York’s Baseball Soul by Chris Donnelly

Chris Donnelly focuses on the 1985 New York baseball season, a season like no other since the Mets came to town in 1962. Never before had both the Yankees and the Mets been in contention for the playoffs so late in the same season. For months New York fans dreamed of the first Subway Series in nearly thirty years, and the Mets and the Yankees vied for their hearts. 

After the Miracle: The Lasting Brotherhood of the '69 Mets by Art Shamsky

After the Miracle: The Lasting Brotherhood of the '69 Mets by Art Shamsky

It seems as if every '69 Met thought they should write a book...

From the publisher:

The New York Mets franchise began in 1962 and the team finished in last place nearly every year. When the 1969 season began, fans weren’t expecting much from “the Lovable Losers.” But as the season progressed, the Mets inched closer to first place and then eventually clinched the National League pennant. They were underdogs against the formidable Baltimore Orioles, but beat them in five games to become world champions. No one had predicted it. In fact, fans could hardly believe it happened. Suddenly they were “the Miracle Mets.”

Playing right field for the ’69 Mets was Art Shamsky, who had stayed in touch with his former teammates over the years. He hoped to get together with star pitcher Tom Seaver (who would win the Cy Young award as the best pitcher in the league in 1969 and go on to become the first Met elected to the Hall of Fame) but Seaver was ailing and could not travel. So, Shamsky organized a visit to Tom Terrific in California, accompanied by the #2 pitcher, Jerry Koosman, outfielder Ron Swoboda, and shortstop Bud Harrelson. Together they recalled the highlights of that amazing season as they reminisced about what changed the Mets’ fortunes in 1969.

The New York Yankees of the 1950s: Mantle, Stengel, Berra, and a Decade of Dominance by David Fischer

The New York Yankees of the 1950s: Mantle, Stengel, Berra, and a Decade of Dominance  by David Fischer

From the publisher:

The 1950s marked a transformative period in postwar American history. In baseball, one dynasty was the story during the decade. The New York Yankees played in eight World Series from 1950 to 1959, winning six of them. Yankees icon Joe DiMaggio retired following the 1951 season, but a new super star, Mickey Mantle, took over in Yankee Stadium’s center field in 1952. Mantle, the powerful switch-hitter who blasted tape-measure home runs and was often tortured by leg ailments, became the number one box office draw in baseball. He was the American League’s most valuable player in 1956 and 1957, putting together a triple crown season in 1956. Mantle came into baseball when television was just catching on, and with the Yankees reaching the World Series and appearing on national TV seemingly every season, he became the face of the game during the decade. Mantle joined with his pals, pitcher Whitey Ford and infielder Billy Martin, to form a hard-partying trio that would be a joy and a pain to management. The author of several books on the Yankees, David Fischer brings expertise and a knack for great story-telling to the saga of the most dominant decade in the annals of sport, set during a defining moment in U.S. history.

They Bled Blue: Fernandomania, Strike-Season Mayhem, and the Weirdest Championship Baseball Had Ever Seen: The 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers by Jason Turbow

They Bled Blue: Fernandomania, Strike-Season Mayhem, and the Weirdest Championship Baseball Had Ever Seen: The 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers by Jason Turbow

From the publisher:

In the Halberstam tradition of capturing a season through its unforgettable figures, They Bled Blueis a sprawling, mad tale of excess and exuberance, the likes of which could only have occurred in that place, at that time.

That it culminated in an unlikely World Series win—during a campaign split by the longest player strike in baseball history—is not even the most interesting thing about this team. The Dodgers were led by the garrulous Tommy Lasorda—part manager, part cheerleader—who unyieldingly proclaimed devotion to the franchise through monologues about bleeding Dodger blue and worshiping the “Big Dodger in the Sky,” and whose office hosted a regular stream of Hollywood celebrities. Steve Garvey, the All-American, All-Star first baseman, had anchored the most durable infield in major league history, and, along with Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey, was glaringly aware that 1981 would represent the end of their run together. The season’s real story, however, was one that nobody expected at the outset: a chubby lefthander nearly straight out of Mexico, twenty years old with a wild delivery and a screwball as his flippin’ out pitch. The Dodgers had been trying for decades to find a Hispanic star to activate the local Mexican population; Fernando Valenzuela was the first to succeed, and it didn’t take long for Fernandomania to sweep far beyond the boundaries of Chavez Ravine.

Mantle: The Best There Ever Was by Tony Castro

Mantle: The Best There Ever Was  by Tony Castro

Ted Williams fans might take exception...

From the publisher:

In Mantle: The Best There Ever Was former Harvard classics scholar Tony Castro delivers a bold retelling of the Greek mythological hero Achilles from The Iliadi n the powerful but doomed legendary baseball slugger who came to symbolize post-World War II American might in the 20th century. "Mantle's life story has been told many times, but it's never received as loving a treatment as this one," raves one reviewer

Son of Havana: A Baseball Journey from Cuba to the Big Leagues and Back by Luis Tiant

Son of Havana: A Baseball Journey from Cuba to the Big Leagues and Back 

by Luis Tiant

Cuba has contributed a long list of beguiling and accomplished players to the Big Leagues, not the least being Luis “El Tiante” Tiant, the ’70s-era Red Sox pitching ace. “Son of Havana,” a lively memoir, recounts his colorful, bittersweet life on the mound and beyond. In “Last Seasons in Hvana,” journalist César Brioso focuses on the final three seasons of the Cuban League (1958-59 to 1960-61) and the last two seasons of the Havana Sugar Kings, a MLB AAA affiliate (1959 and 1960).

From the publisher:

Luis Tiant is one of the most charismatic and accomplished players in the history of the Boston Red Sox and all of Major League Baseball―a cigar-chomping maestro who was the heart and soul of Boston’s title-contending teams in the 1970s. In his white polyester uniform, with a barrel-chested physique and a Fu Manchu mustache, Tiant may not have looked like the lean, sculpted aces he usually faced off against, but nobody was a tougher competitor on the diamond, and few were as successful. There may be no more qualified 20th-century pitcher not yet enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

His big-league dreams came at a steep price―racism in the Deep South and the Boston suburbs, and nearly fifteen years separated from a family held captive in Castro’s Cuba. But baseball also delivered World Series stardom and a heroic return to his island home after close to a half-century of forced exile. The man whose name―"El Tiante"―became a Fenway Park battle cry has never fully shared his tale in his own words, until now.

In Son of Havana, Tiant puts his huge heart on his sleeve and describes his road from fields strewn with rocks and rubbish in Havana to the pristine lawns of major league ballparks. Teammates, opponents, family, and media also weigh-in―including a foreword by fellow Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski and the first in-depth interview ever with Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk on the magic behind these Boston batterymates.

Readers will share Tiant’s pride when appeals by a pair of U.S. senators to baseball-fanatic Castro secure freedom for Luis’s parents to fly to Boston and witness the 1975 World Series glory of their child. And readers will join the big-league ballplayers for their spring 2016 exhibition game in Havana, when Tiant―a living link to the earliest, scariest days of the Castro regime―threw out the first pitch.

Last Seasons in Havana The Castro Revolution and the End of Professional Baseball in Cuba by César Brioso

Last Seasons in Havana The Castro Revolution and the End of Professional Baseball in Cuba by César Brioso

From the publisher:

Last Seasons in Havana explores the intersection between Cuba and America’s pastime from the late 1950s to the early 1960s, when Fidel Castro overthrew Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. César Brioso takes the reader through the triumph of the revolution in 1959 and its impact on professional baseball in the seasons immediately following Castro’s rise to power.

Baseball in pre‑Castro Cuba was enjoying a golden age. The Cuban League, which had been founded in 1878, just two years after the formation of the National League, was thriving under the auspices of organized baseball. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, players from the Major Leagues, Minor Leagues, and Negro Leagues had come to Cuba to play in the country’s wholly integrated winter baseball league. Cuban teams had come to dominate the annual Caribbean Series tournament, and Havana had joined the highest levels of Minor League Baseball, fielding the Havana Sugar Kings of the Class AAA International League. Confidence was high that Havana might one day have a Major League team of its own.

But professional baseball became one of the many victims of Castro’s Communist revolution. American players stopped participating in the Cuban League, and Cuban teams moved to an amateur, state‑sponsored model. Focusing on the final three seasons of the Cuban League (1958–61) and the final two seasons of the Havana Sugar Kings (1959–60), Last Seasons in Havanaexplores how Castro’s rise to power forever altered Cuba and the course of a sport that had become ingrained in the island’s culture over the course of almost a century.

They Played the Game: Memories from 47 Major Leaguers by Norman L. Mach

They Played the Game: Memories from 47 Major Leaguers by Norman L. Mach

From the publisher:

Noted baseball historian Norman L. Macht brings together a wide‑ranging collection of baseball voices from the Deadball Era through the 1970s, including nine Hall of Famers, who take the reader onto the field, into the dugouts and clubhouses, and inside the minds of both players and managers. These engaging, wide-ranging oral histories bring surprising revelations—both highlights and lowlights—about their careers, as they revisit their personal mental scrapbooks of the days when they played the game.

Not all of baseball’s best stories are told by its biggest stars, especially when the stories are about those stars. Many of the storytellers you’ll meet in They Played the Gameare unknown to today’s fans: the Red Sox’s Charlie Wagner talks about what it was like to be Ted Williams’s roommate in Williams’s rookie year; the Dodgers’ John Roseboro recounts his strategy when catching for Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax; former Yankee Mark Koenig recalls batting ahead of Babe Ruth in the lineup, and sometimes staying out too late with him; John Francis Daley talks about batting against Walter Johnson; Carmen Hill describes pitching agai

They Said It Couldn't Be Done: The '69 Mets, New York City, and the Most Astounding Season in Baseball History by Wayne Coffey

They Said It Couldn't Be Done: The '69 Mets, New York City, and the Most Astounding Season in Baseball History by Wayne Coffey

From the publisher:

The story of the 1969 New York Mets’ season has long since entered sports lore as one of the most remarkable of all time. But beyond the “miracle” is a compelling narrative of an unlikely collection of players and the hallowed manager who inspired them to greatness. Future Hall of Fame ace Tom Seaver snagged the biggest headlines, but the enduring richness of the story lies in the core of a team comprised of untested youngsters, lightly regarded veterans, and four Southern-born African-American stalwarts who came of age in the shadow of Jackie Robinson. Most of the Mets regulars were improbable candidates for baseball stardom. The number two starting pitcher, Jerry Koosman, grew up on a Minnesota farm, never played high-school ball, and was only discovered because of a tip from a Mets’ usher. Outfielder Ron Swoboda was known for long home runs and piles of strikeouts, until he turned into a glove wizard when it mattered most. All of these men were galvanized by their manager: the sainted former Brooklyn Dodger Gil Hodges, whose fundamental belief in the power of every man on the roster, no matter his stats, helped backup players like Al Weis and J.C. Martin become October heroes. As the Mets powered through the season to reach a World Series against the best-in-a-generation Baltimore Orioles, Hodges’s steady hand guided a team that had very recently been the league laughingstock to an improbable, electrifying shot at sports immortality. In these pages, bestselling author Wayne Coffey has captured the voices of players and fans, reporters and umpires, to bring to life a moment when a championship could descend on a city like magic, and when a baseball legend was authored one inning at a time.

Ballpark Baseball in the American City By Paul Goldberger

Ballpark Baseball in the American City By Paul Goldberger

From the publisher:

From the earliest corrals of the mid-1800s (Union Grounds in Brooklyn was a "saloon in the open air"), to the much mourned parks of the early 1900s (Detroit's Tiger Stadium, Cincinnati's Palace of the Fans), to the stadiums we fill today, Paul Goldberger makes clear the inextricable bond between the American city and America's favorite pastime. In the changing locations and architecture of our ballparks, Goldberger reveals the manifestations of a changing society: the earliest ballparks evoked the Victorian age in their accommodations--bleachers for the riffraff, grandstands for the middle-class; the "concrete donuts" of the 1950s and '60s made plain television's grip on the public's attention; and more recent ballparks, like Baltimore's Camden Yards, signal a new way forward for stadium design and for baseball's role in urban development. Throughout, Goldberger shows us the way in which baseball's history is concurrent with our cultural history: the rise of urban parks and public transportation; the development of new building materials and engineering and design skills. And how the site details and the requirements of the game--the diamond, the outfields, the walls, the grandstands--shaped our most beloved ballparks.

Ten Innings at Wrigley: The Wildest Ballgame Ever, with Baseball on the Brink

by Kevin Cook

Wrigley Field, despite money-grubbing improvements, rightfully stands with Fenway Park as a revered baseball venue. Among the most memorable games played there was the 1979 slugfest between the Phillies and the “lovable losing” Cubs. Kevin Cook recounts the contest — indeed a wild game — that was knotted 22-all in the ninth inning (no spoilers here) before ending with 45 runs scored. It’s a vivid tale of a dramatic contest just as the sport was about to enter an era that was more, well, money-grubbing

Here's the Catch: A Memoir of the Miracle Mets and More by Ron Swoboda

Here's the Catch: A Memoir of the Miracle Mets and More by Ron Swoboda

From the publisher:

Ron Swoboda wasn’t the greatest player the Mets ever had, but he made the greatest catch in Met history, saving a game in the 1969 World Series, and his RBI clinched the final game. By Met standards that makes him legend. The Mets even use a steel silhouette of the catch as a backing for the right field entrance sign at Citi Field.


Chumps to Champs: How the Worst Teams in Yankees History Led to the 90's Dynasty by Bill Pennington

Chumps to Champs: How the Worst Teams in Yankees History Led to the 90's Dynasty by Bill Pennington

The title tells the story: The New York Yankees were shrouded in a “cloak of doom” from 1989 to 1992. Longtime New York Times reporter Bill Pennington traces the team’s resurrection with an insider’s baseball expertise, crediting general manager Gene Michael with exemplary talent evaluation, building a farm system that produced the core four of the next decade’s success — shortstop Derek Jeter, pitcher Andy Pettite, catcher Jorge Posada and Hall of Fame reliever Mariano Rivera.

A Season to Forget: The Story of the 1988 Baltimore Orioles by Snyder Ronald

A Season to Forget: The Story of the 1988 Baltimore Orioles by Ronald Snyder

From the publisher:

The Orioles were a model franchise thanks to its “Orioles Way” approach to building a franchise through a strong farm system. Future Hall of Famers like Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Cal Ripken Jr., and Eddie Murray made their ways through the ranks and helped put consistent winners on the field.

But five years after Ripken caught the final out to clinch the Orioles World Series victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, the franchise was in disarray. From not understanding how to utilize free agency to having their once famed farm system dry up of talent, the once-proud franchise was spiraling downward.

Heading into the 1988 season, the Orioles expected to struggle after a 95-loss season the year before. Not even the return of famed manager Earl Weaver in 1985 and 1986 was enough to turn the team around. The Orioles attempted to revamp their roster in 1988 with 14 new players on the roster compared to the year before.

The team opened that season 0–21, shattering the record for futility to start a season by eight games. They consistently found different ways to lose each night to the point that President Ronald Regan sent a message of support to the lovable losers from Charm City. Religious leaders and mental health professionals even offered to help the team find that elusive first win.

In the same vein as Jimmy Breslin’s Can’t Anyone Here Play This Game?on the 1962 New York Mets, author Ron Snyder discusses just how did a once model franchise devolved into a team with the distinction of having the worst start of any team in MLB history. A Season to Forgettakes an in-depth look at the lead up to that season, a game-by-game breakdown of the streak, and the toll it took on those who lived through it.

Almost Yankees: The Summer of ’81 and the Greatest Baseball Team You’ve Never Heard Of byJ. David Herman

Almost Yankees: The Summer of ’81 and the Greatest Baseball Team You’ve Never Heard Of by J. David Herman

From the publisher:

Almost Yankees is a poignant and nostalgic narrative of the lives and travails of Minor League Baseball, focusing on the 1981 championship season of the New York Yankees’ Triple-A farm club, the Columbus Clippers. That year was especially notable in the annals of baseball history as the year Major League Baseball went on strike in midseason. When that happened, the Clippers were suddenly the best team in baseball and found themselves the focus of national media attention. Many of these Minor Leaguers sensed this was their last, best chance to make an impression and fulfill their dreams to one day reach the majors.

The Clippers’ raw recruits, prospects, and Minor League veterans responded to this opportunity by playing the greatest baseball of their lives on the greatest team most of them would ever belong to. Then the strike ended, leaving them to return to their ordinary aspirational lives and to be just as quickly forgotten.

Almost Yankees is the previously untold baseball story of a team and its players performing in the shadow of one of the sport’s most famous teams and infamous owners. Featuring interviews with more than thirty former players (including Steve Balboni, Dave Righetti, Buck Showalter, and Pat Tabler) and dozens of other baseball and media figures, this season’s narrative chronicles success, failure, resilience, and redemption as told by a special group of players with hopes and dreams of big-league glory. J. David Herman, who worshipped the team as an eleven-year-old, tracked down his old heroes to learn their stories—and to better understand his own. The season proved to be a launching pad for some, a final chance for others, and the end of the dream for many others.

The Legendary Harry Caray: Baseball's Greatest Salesman by Don Zminda

Cubs' home games occasionally feature Harry Caray's rendition of Take Me Out To The Ballgame for the 7th inning stretch.

From the publisher:

Harry Caray is one of the most famous and beloved sports broadcasters of all time, with a career that lasted over 50 years. Always a baseball fan, Caray once vowed to become a broadcaster who was the true voice of the fans. Caray's distinctive style soon resonated across St. Louis, then Chicago, and eventually across the nation.

In The Legendary Harry Caray: Baseball's Greatest Salesman, Don Zminda delivers the first full-length biography of Caray since his death in 1998. It includes details of Caray's orphaned childhood, his 25 years as the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals, his tempestuous 11 years broadcasting games for the Chicago White Sox, and the 16 years he broadcast for the Chicago Cubs while also becoming a nationally-known celebrity. Interviews with significant figures from Caray's life are woven throughout, from his widow Dutchie and grandson Chip to broadcasters Bob Costas, Thom Brennaman, Dewayne Staats, Pat Hughes, and more.

Caray was known during his final years as a beloved, often-imitated grandfather figure with the Cubs, but the story of his entire career is much more nuanced and often controversial. Featuring new information on Caray's life--including little-known information about his firing by the Cardinals and his feuds with players, executives, and fellow broadcasters--this book provides an intimate and in-depth look at a broadcasting legend.

Ballparks Then and Now by Eric Enders

Ballparks Then and Now by Eric Enders

From the publisher:

The ballpark experience has changed dramatically from baseball's early days on grassy lots with wooden grandstands and free admission. The Union Grounds in Brooklyn, New York, is considered by many to be the first ballpark ever built, when William Cammeyer converted the Union Skating Pond in 1862.

Ballparks Then and Now traces the evolution of stadiums used by all the MLB teams today. Organized alphabetically they range from Anaheim and Atlanta to Toronto and Washington. Ballparks grew in size and grandeur from wooden bleachers and stands that often perished in ferocious fires (Boston, Cincinnati) to the concrete cookie-cutter ballparks of the 1960s and 1970s (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh). These multi-sport stadiums have now been replaced by modern retro designs (Yankees, Mets) that give each park its own unique feel. Batting far into the 9th are the carefully updated historic ballparks (Redsox, Cubs) nested in the heart of their communities.


Given that a bucolic 19th century game continues to be played in the roiling chaos of the 21st century, market driven Major League Baseball searches will-nilly for ways of maintaining and and even attempting to increase 'market share'— wrongheadedly focusing on speeding the game up. Perhaps MLB should follow the NBA and consider cutting down the 162 game regular season...


*Baseball Book Roundup 2015

Baseball Book Roundup 2014

Baseball Book Roundup 2013


© 2018 by Robert Birnbaum. Proudly created with Wix.com