• Robert Birnbaum

Let's Play Two: Part IV

Updated: Aug 23, 2018

Well now, we are two thirds through the2018 MLB season and (uncomplicated) trade dead line has passed—MLB purported $400 million man went from American League Baltimore to National League Los Angeles.  A  transaction that seem to lubruicate the Dodgers path to a return visit to National Tournament. . And other than MLB commissioner Rob Manfred's ceaseless and misdiredted efforts to shoe horn a 19th century sport into 21th century attention spans, the season has unfolded the way this lengthiest of sports seasons do—some surprises (the A's, the Braves , the Pirates and the continued underachievement of the Nationals, record number of position players being used as pitchers)) and some predictable ( Red Sox. Yankees, Astros, another awful Mets performance) and some surprises (the A's, the young Braves and the Phillies)

Personally, as an expatriate, I am pleased to watch the Chicago Cubs hover in and around 1st place in the National League Central. This year's Cubs again feature the funnest (sic) player in the known baseball world, "El Mago", Ednel Javier Báez— frequent purloiner of home plate and the fastest tag hand in the East& West and everywhere in between. Its a fun aggregation led by life coach Joe Madden and barring an apocalyptic event we should find Chicago's North Siders once again playing hardball in October.

As promised, I am continuing to look over this year's crop of baseball books, some of which venture into heretofore unexamined aspects of our once and future national pastime: 

The Pitcher and the Dictator: Satchel Paige's Unlikely Season in the Dominican Republic by Averell "Ace" Smith

In baseball lore, Leroy Robert "Satchel" Paige stands all as a legendary figure. This story has him and some of his Pittsburgh Crawfords teammates (Josh Gibson and "Cool Papa" Bell) sojourning to the Dominican Republic in the spring of 1937  for some cash ($30,000, which at the time was an astronomical sum) and recreation, to play a short baseball tournament for US puppet , Rafael Trujillo. Not taking their opponents seriously, they spent their evening succumbing to the easy charms of the tropics and the days losing close games.

Which understandably, pissed off “El Jefe”Trujillo, clearly a sore loser and reportedly a homicidal despot;  El Presidente conscripted  the commander of his death squads to join the Ciudad Trujillo all-star team management —a move which got the team's attention— the properly motivated northamericans rallied and narrowly won the tourney, As they story goes, the genocidal Trujillo had moved on to other interests, ordering the killings of fifteen thousand Haitians at the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic 

When Paige and his teammates returned to the states they were banished from the Negro Leagues. They did go on to barnstorm (to tour through rural districts staging usually theatrical performances ) across America wearing their Trujillo All-Stars uniforms and making kore dollars than their Negro League salaries.

It escapes me why there has not been a Satchel Paige biopic ( a natural vehicle for Chadwick Boseman. 

If you want to know more about Paige, two excellent books are:

The 50 Greatest Players in Boston Red Sox History by Robert W. Cohen

Here's the publisher's description: 

"The Boston Red Sox are one of the most iconic baseball teams, representing not just a city or a state, but an entire region—it’s the only professional baseball team in New England. Baseball greats such as Cy Young and Babe Ruth wore the uniform early in their careers and many other players, including Ted Williams, Wade Boggs, Carl Yastrzemski, Pedro Martinez, and Johnny Damon have played with New England’s beloved ball club. Sports historian Robert W. Cohen has chosen the 50 best ever to play for the Sox and profiles their exploits. Chances are you’ll find your favorite player here"

No doubt this title will find its way to many homes of  the commercial fabrication known as Red Sox Nation. I'll say no more...

The Age of Ruth and Landis: The Economics of Baseball during the Roaring Twenties by David George Surdam & Michael J. Haupert

Though it can be argued that the big money has adversely affected professional sports, the profit motive has always been a big factor in the history of baseball. This account with slugger Ruth and baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the two headliners wisely follows the money. The 20's saw a surge in slugging and a diminution in base stealing (not unlike the current  season), and owners trying to provide  a better ballpark experience by upgrading their stadiums. Despite eschewing new technologies such as radio, electrical lighting, and air travel, the owners, made conscious efforts to improve the game, which led to livelier baseball, new stadiums, and the game's overall stability.

Alou: My Baseball Journey by Felipe Alou &‎ Peter Kerasotis ,‎ Pedro Martínez (Foreword)

In the 60's,the Dominican Alou family and friends, contributed to an enlivening of the staid national pastime.  Felipe Alou's led that invasion and his autobiography credits his groundbreaking achievements— the first Domincan to play and manage in Major League Baseball and also the first to play in the World Series. Alou paved the way for his younger brothers Matty and Jesús and scores of other Dominicans, including his son Moisés. Today, the Dominican Republic produces more Major League players than any country outside the United States.. 

Its a feel good rags-to-riches story Although Alou was intent on becoming a doctor, professional sports not any part of his future plans. In the 1955 Pan American Games, he was recruited to replace a hole in the roster and he was scouted and signed to a professional contract for 200 pesos a circumstance which has its own backstory)

Alou played in the Major Leagues for 17 years with a lifetime batting average of .286 and and on base percentage of  .328  and had more than two thousand hits. In that stint he played with f Hall of Famers: Willie McCovey, Wille Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Gaylord Perry and countryman Juan Marichal with the Giants, and Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, Joe Torre and Warren Spahn with the Braves He also managed fourteen years, four with the San Francisco Giants and ten with the Montreal Expos


The Alou Brothers, Jesus, Matty and Felipe

“This is almost a baseball book, almost,” Alou has been asserted. “There’s a lot of other stuff besides baseball. It’s the story of a family, the Alou family. The Rojas-Alou combination. This is a book that people 20 years ago wanted me to write. I was kind of reluctant to do it. I had a couple of ups and downs in my life that I didn’t want to share with people before this.

“Finally, I decided to do it before I die, and I’m glad I did.”

He still blames himself for failing to bunt his brother, Matty, over to second base in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1962 World Series. The Yankees beat the Giants, 1-0. Matty was stranded on third and Willie Mays on second when Willie McCovey lined out to Bobby Richardson to end the Series.

So it goes...

Koufax Throws a Curve: The Los Angeles Dodgers at the End of an Era, 1964-1966 by Brian M. Endsley

Who doesn't know the story that Sandy Koufax, the ace Jewish southpaw of the Brooklyn/ LA Dodgers, he refused to pitch the opening game of the 1965 World Series because it conflicted with Yom Kippur. If you want to know more about  this Hall of Fame , Jane Leavy has written his definitive biography, Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy

Brian Endsley (Bums No More: The 1959 Los Angeles Dodgers, World Champions of Baseball)

takes on the last three years of Koufax's unparalleled career. Consider this: in the last two seasons of his career ('65. '66): Koufax averaged an 27 complete games, 27 wins and 350 strikeouts Understandably, the baseball world was stunned when shortly after winning his 2nd Cy Young award. he retired at the age of 30.

The New Boys of Summer: Baseball's Radical Transformation in the Late Sixties by Paul Hensler

This book is as much about the turbulent 1960s as the major leaguers who played and the  expansion of both the American and National leagues, appointment of Bowie Kuhn as commissioner,the rising influence of Marvin Miller as the director of the players association, and new stadiums (the once and past Houston Astrodome, With nice sleight of hand, Hensler manages to chronicle the changes in Major League Baseball with  lionizing any of the players of that time.  And not surprisingly then as now, MLB players were not know for their political activism

This is well written and useful history of the once and future national pastime the last time the MLB bowed to modernity,

Ninety Percent Mental: An All-Star Player Turned Mental Skills Coach Reveals the Hidden Game of Baseball by Bob Tewksbury & Scott Miller


Bob Tewksbury is a former major league pitcher with 13 seasons under his belt. And he has master’s degree in sport psychology and counseling and is a Certified Mental Performance Consultant. He is also a mental skills coach for the Boston Red Sox and San Francisco Giants.

In this book  he purports to provide insight into the inner game, explores the psychology behind baseball, chews the fat on some of baseball's most signature  moments and a slew of anecdotes of players and managers who he played with and against — Mark McGwire, Craig Biggio, and Greg Maddux, Joe Torre, Bruce Bochy, Brian Sabean Seen as a 'baseball whisperer", Tewksbury shares an original and engaging point of view.

While the MLB season plays itself out, the Little League World Series tourney currently in action at Williamsport PA with the championship being scheduled to be played on Sunday August 26

Go CUBS # Everybodyin



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