Let’s Play Two: Reading About Baseball
Baseball’s off season, also known as the hot stove league, featured unusual dormancy, leaving a number of significant free agents unsigned (Yu Darvish[until today], JD Martinez, Jake Arrieta , sparking claims of owner collusion and hints of the coming of labor strife. Serious baseball fans and fantasy baseball geeks care about this stuff —which is understandable as there are no other sports in which to immerse oneself (football being a whole other thing [and may not exist in a decade])
Well, spring training starts this week with pitchers and catchers reporting to camps beginning the long 162 + game campaign for the joy of playing October baseball .By the way, if you are hungry for real baseball, the Caribbean regional tournament (“world series”) where there is spirited competition (which Cuba no longer dominates) and high quality play.
A few times during a MLB season* I take the opportunity to pay attention to new baseball books — so I am going to kick off 2018 with a handful of publications, historical, analytic and imaginary that illuminate the joys and traditions of America’s once and future pastime.
Baseball Beyond Our Borders: An International Pastime Edited and with an introduction by George Gmelch and Daniel A. Nathan
Baseball Beyond Our Borders celebrates the globalization of the game while highlighting the different histories and cultures of the nations in which the sport is played.
This collection of essays tells the story of America’s national pastime as it has spread across the world and undergone instructive, entertaining, and sometimes quirky changes in the process. Covering nineteen countries and a U.S. territory, the contributors show how each country imported baseball, how baseball took hold and developed, how it is organized, played, and followed, and what local and regional traits tell us about the sport’s place in each culture.
But what lies in store as baseball’s passport fills up with far-flung stamps? Will the international migration of players homogenize baseball? What role will the World Baseball Classic play? These are just a few of the questions the authors pose.
Editor’s note : The next (5th) World Baseball Classic is scheduled for 2021. Maybe by that time this international tournament will be recognized as the true world series…
The Year of the Pitcher: Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, and the End of Baseball’s Golden Age
Publisher’s notes: In 1968, two remarkable pitchers would dominate the game as well as the broadsheets. One was black, the other white. Bob Gibson, together with the St. Louis Cardinals, embodied an entire generation’s hope for integration at a heated moment in American history. Denny McLain, his adversary, was a crass self-promoter who eschewed the team charter and his Detroit Tigers teammates to zip cross-country in his own plane. For one season, the nation watched as these two men and their teams swept their respective league championships to meet at the World Series. Gibson set a major league record that year with a 1.12 ERA. McLain won more than 30 games in 1968, a feat not achieved since 1934 and untouched since. Together, the two have come to stand as iconic symbols, giving the fans “The Year of the Pitcher” and changing the game. Evoking a nostalgic season and its incredible characters, this is the story of one of the great rivalries in sports and an indelible portrait of the national pastime during a turbulent year—and the two men who electrified fans from all walks of life.
Legends Never Die: Athletes and their Afterlives in Modern America (Sports and Entertainment) by Richard Ian Kimball
With every touchdown, home run, and three-pointer, star athletes represent an American dream that only an elite group blessed with natural talent can achieve. However, Kimball concentrates on what happens once these modern warriors meet their untimely demise. As athletes die, legends rise in their place.
The premature deaths of celebrated players not only capture and immortalize their physical superiority, but also jolt their fans with an unanticipated intensity. These athletes escape the inevitability of aging and decline of skill, with only the prime of their youth left to be remembered. But early mortality alone does not transform athletes into immortals. The living ultimately gain the power to construct the legacies of their fallen heroes. In Legends Never Die, Kimball explores the public myths and representations that surround a wide range of athletes, from Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio to Dale Earnhardt and Bonnie McCarroll. Kimball delves deeper than just the cultural significance of sports and its players; he examines how each athlete’s narrative is shaped by gender relations, religion, and politics in contemporary America. In looking at how Americans react to the tragic deaths of sports heroes, Kimball illuminates the important role sports play in US society and helps to explain why star athletes possess such cultural power.
The Draw Of Sport by Murray Olderman
The Draw of Sports compiles, in art and text, more than 150 of nationally syndicated columnist Olderman’s favorite personalities (of an estimated 6,000 potential subjects) from the sporting world. Each full-page illustration is accompanied by Olderman’s own personal reminiscences of those illustrious stars. Amongst the many names readers will recognize: Abdul-Jabbar, Ali, Berra, Chamberlain, Dempsey, Elway, Koufax, Lombardi, Mantle, Robinson, and Wooden. As a nationally syndicated columnist, Olderman met ― and in many cases, got to know ― most of the greatest sports personalities of the 20th century, going back as far as Jesse Owens and Babe Ruth, up to present-day superstars like Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant. Black & white illustrations throughout.
Big League Dream by Roy Berger
Cindy Adams- New York Post- May 16, 2017:
Big League Dream.” Its author, Roy Berger, is not your usual non-famous, unheard-of, starving-in-NY, fresh-out-of-college baseball writer.He’s president/CEO of MedjetAssist, the global air medical transport tied in with AARP, which, in an emergency, flies you home fast — aboard one of 200 private ambulances or aircraft with medical attendants — from anywhere on Earth to the US hospital of your choice.OK — so why do a “play ball” book?
Berger: “I’m 65. Grew up in Long Island dreaming of the Major Leagues. My whole life I’ve wanted to play baseball. I played high-school first base … poorly. In 2008 — for 5 grand — I went to one of those baseball camps, which was like a lone fantasy week.“Living everybody’s dream, coached by a former Major Leaguer, I was in heaven. And for my age, I was pretty good. I could … almost … run. Then I met Bucky Dent, who lives in Florida and in ’73, at a party, Fritz Peterson. I’m like a hotshot these 20 years, but what I always wanted was to be a shortstop for the Yankees.”
Who’s Fritz Peterson?After hearing about Peterson of the Yankees and Bucky writing this book’s forward … why this book, which sells on Amazon and Apple’s iTunes?
“‘Big League Dream’ is like sitting with Bucky, Ron Swoboda, John Mayberry, Jim ‘Mudcat’ Grant and those who were kids’ idols and hearing stories from the talented few who earned the shot to play while the rest of us could only watch from the stands.”Right. Great idea. So who’s Jim “Mudcat” Grant?
The Pride of the Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary Cooper, and the Making of a Classic
by Richard Sandomir
On July 4, 1939, baseball great Lou Gehrig delivered what has been called “baseball’s Gettysburg Address” at Yankee Stadium and gave a speech that included the phrase that would become legendary. He died two years later and his fiery widow, Eleanor, wanted nothing more than to keep his memory alive. With her forceful will, she and the irascible producer Samuel Goldwyn quickly agreed to make a film based on Gehrig’s life, The Pride of the Yankees. Goldwyn didn’t understand–or care about–baseball. For him this film was the emotional story of a quiet, modest hero who married a spirited woman who was the love of his life, and, after a storied career, gave a short speech that transformed his legacy. With the world at war and soldiers dying on foreign soil, it was the kind of movie America needed.
Using original scrips, letters, memos, and other rare documents, Richard Sandomir tells the behind-the-scenes story of how a classic was born. There was the so-called Scarlett O’Hara-like search to find the actor to play Gehrig; the stunning revelations Elanor made to the scriptwriter Paul Gallico about her life with Lou; the intensive training Cooper underwent to learn how to catch, throw, and hit a baseball for the first time; and the story of two now-legendary Hollywood actors in Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright whose nuanced performances endowed the Gehrigs with upstanding dignity and cemented the baseball icon’s legend.
Sandomir writes with great insight and aplomb, painting a fascinating portrait of a bygone Hollywood era, a mourning widow with a dream, and the shadow a legend cast on one of the greatest sports films of all time.
Off Speed: Baseball, Pitching, and the Art of Deception by Terry McDermott
In August 2012, Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners pitched a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays in what Terry McDermott calls “one of the greatest exhibitions of off-speed pitches ever put on.” For McDermott, a lifelong fan and student of baseball, the extraordinary events of that afternoon inspired this incisive meditation on the art of pitching.
Within the framework of Hernandez’s historic achievement, Off Speed provides a vibrant narrative of the history and evolution of pitching, combining baseball’s rich tradition of folklore with the wealth of new metrics from a growing legion of statisticians who are transforming the way we think about the game. Off Speed is also the personal story of a fan’s steadfast devotion, first kindled in McDermott by his father at the local diamond in small-town Iowa and now carried forward with the same passion by his own daughters.
Approaching his subject with the love every fan brings to the park and the expertise of a probing journalist, McDermott explores with irrepressible curiosity the science and the romance of baseball.
Fail Better: Why Baseball Matters by Mark Kingwell
Taking seriously the idea that baseball is a study in failure—a very successful batter manages a base hit in just three of every ten attempts—Mark Kingwell argues that there is no better tutor of human failure’s enduring significance than this strange, crooked game of base, where geometry becomes poetry.
Weaving elements of memoir, philosophical reflection, sports writing, and humour, Fail Better is an intellectual love letter to baseball by one of North America’s most engaging philosophers. Kingwell illustrates complex concepts like theoretically infinite game-space, “time out of time,” and the rules of civility with accessible examples drawn from the game, its history, and his own halting efforts to hit ‘em where they ain’t. Beyond a “Beckett meets baseball” study in failure, Kingwell crafts a thoughtful appreciation of why sports matter, and how they change our vision of the world.
Kill the Ámpaya! The Best Latin American Baseball Fiction
by Dick Cluster (Translator), Eduardo del Llano
A rich variety of baseball fiction exists south of the Florida Straits and the Rio Grande, but almost none available in English. This collection translates for the first time stories ranging from the highly literary to the vernacular. These inventive and entertaining stories reveal the place of baseball in Latin America. Mixing fan and fandom, baseball and politics, rural and urban life, sexism and poverty, Kill the Ampaya! reveals how baseball shapes the social fabric of everyday Latin American life.
The collection includes well known writers such as Leonardo Padura from Cuba (The Man Who Loved Dogs), Sergio Ramírez from Nicaragua (Divine Punishment, A Thousand Deaths Plus One). Others are well known writers in their home countries such as Arturo Arango and Eduardo del Llano in Cuba, Alexis Gómez Rosa and José Bobadilla in the Dominican Republic, Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro in Puerto Rico, Vicente Leñero in Mexico as well as emerging literary figures such as Salvador Fleján and Rodrigo Blanco Calderón in Venezuela, Sandra Tavarez and Daniel Reyes Germán in the D.R., Carmen Hernández Peña in Cuba.
Cuban born Chicagoan Achy Obejas (The Tower of Antilles and Other Stories) “If baseball is really a metaphor for life, then Kill the Ámpaya — Dick Cluster’s wonderful collection of Latin American baseball stories — is an astonishing record of its beauty and coarseness, redemption and tragedy. You don’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate these stories, each one hinged on baseball directly or indirectly, and delight in this reading.”—Achy Obejas, author of The Tower of Antilles and Other Stories
Editor’s note: It should come as no surprise ro people who areaware of my predilections that this tome is my favorite
The Streak: Lou Gehrig, Cal Ripken Jr., and Baseball’s Most Historic Record
by John Eisenberg
When Cal Ripken Jr. began his career with the Baltimore Orioles at age twenty-one, he had no idea he would someday beat the historic record of playing 2,130 games in a row, a record set forty-two years before by the fabled “Iron Horse” of the New York Yankees, Lou Gehrig. Ripken went on to surpass that record by 502 games, and the baseball world was floored. Few feats in sports history have generated more acclaim. But the record spawns an array of questions. When did someone first think it was a good idea to play in so many games without taking a day off? Who owned the record before Gehrig? Whose streak—Gehrig’s or Ripken’s—was the more difficult achievement?
Through probing research, meticulous analysis, and colorful parallel storytelling, The Streak delves into this impressive but controversial milestone, unraveling Gehrig’s at-times unwitting pursuit of that goal (Babe Ruth used to think Gehrig crazy for wanting to play every game), and Ripken’s fierce determination to stay in the lineup and continue to contribute whatever he could even as his skills diminished with age.
The question looms: How do these streaks compare? There were so many factors: the length of seasons, the number of teams in the major leagues, the inclusion of nonwhite players, travel, technology, medical advances, and even media are all part of the equation. This is a book that captures the deeply American appreciation—as seen in the sport itself—for a workaday mentality and that desire to be there for the game every time it called.