• Robert Birnbaum

Let's Play Two...Part I

Updated: Nov 5, 2018

Copyright Norman Rockwell

In a hundred years, if there is still real, unmodified green grass and breathable air and an ionosphere to mitigate dangerous solar rays, baseball will still be played pretty much as it has been since the mid 19th century. Which I don’t think can be said about football. The cascading evidence of the serious health risks derived from playing that sport at a high level makes it likely that at some point the plantation owners of the organization known as the National Football League will realize the jeopardy their brand is in. Having worked so hard to convince the nation that the NFL is America’s Game and, of course, reaped inordinate financial reward ,I predict that as artificial intelligence and robotics are perfected, the NFL ownership cabal and what ever lackey is the commissioner at the time, will have androids (aka ‘a robot with a human appearance).playing the game

Anyway, this year baseball’s fourth season (Season 1 and 2 are pre and post all=star spectacle, # 3 is the post season), commonly know as the Hot Stove League which normally involves much inter team horse trading and organizational reshuffling was suspiciously inactive. Which led to an inordinate amount of grousing and additionally whispers of owner collision to tamp down free agent salaries... That and the silly attempts to accelerate the pace of play and the ongoing issue of the Cleveland Indians’s disingenuous stand on their controversial logo/mascot Chief Wahoo*. The team has disassociated itself from the longstanding gross caricature of a native American, removing it from their uniforms and and ball park signage . The thing is they still sell hats and paraphernalia on a number of websites.

The Cleveland Indians mascot, Chief Wahoo

Culturally, the once and future national pastime, does provide a lordly share of good sports writing and every spring as the grass grows and the sun shines, I spend a little time paying attention to the newest crop of baseball tomes, annotating publisher's notes

A Season in the Sun: The Rise of Mickey Mantle by Randy Roberts & Johnny Smith

"Mickey Mantle was the ideal batter for the atomic age, capable of hitting a baseball harder and farther than any other player in history. He was also the perfect idol for postwar America, a wholesome hero from the heartland.

Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith recount the defining moment of Mantle's legendary career: 1956, when he overcame a host of injuries and critics to become the most celebrated athlete of his time. Taking us from the action on the diamond to Mantle's off-the-field exploits, Roberts and Smith depict Mantle not as an ideal role model or a bitter alcoholic, but a complex man whose faults were smoothed over by sportswriters eager to keep the truth about sports heroes at bay. "

Tom Yawkey: Patriarch of the Boston Red Sox by Bill Nowlin

"Few people have influenced a team as much as did Tom Yawkey (1903–76) as owner of the Boston Red Sox. After purchasing the Red Sox for $1.2 million in 1932, Yawkey poured millions into building a better team and making the franchise relevant again.

Although the Red Sox never won a World Series under Yawkey’s ownership, there were still many highlights. Lefty Grove won his three hundredth game; Jimmie Foxx hit fifty home runs; Ted Williams batted .406 in 1941, and both Williams and Carl Yastrzemski won Triple Crowns. Yawkey was viewed by fans as a genial autocrat who ran his ball club like a hobby more than a business and who spoiled his players. He was perhaps too trusting, relying on flawed cronies rather than the most competent executives to run his ballclub. One of his more unfortunate legacies was the accusation that he was a racist, since the Red Sox were the last Major League team to integrate, and his inaction in this regard haunted both him and the team for decades. As one of the last great patriarchal owners in baseball, he was the first person elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame who hadn’t been a player, manager, or general manager.

This book is a careful and close look at Yawkey’s life as a sportsman and as one of the leading philanthropists in New England and South Carolina. It also addresses Yawkey’s leadership style and issues of racism during his tenure with the Red Sox. "

{editor's note] There are efforts underway to rename Yawkey Way (which is adjacent to Fenway Park) because of the former owner's racist attitudes.

Tinker to Evers to Chance: The Chicago Cubs and the Dawn of Modern America by David Rapp

"Their names were chanted, crowed, and cursed. Alone they were a shortstop, a second baseman, and a first baseman. But together they were an unstoppable force. Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance came together in rough-and-tumble early twentieth-century Chicago and soon formed the defensive core of the most formidable team in big league baseball, leading the Chicago Cubs to four National League pennants and two World Series championships from 1906 to 1910. At the same time, baseball was transforming from small-time diversion into a nationwide sensation. Americans from all walks of life became infected with “baseball fever,” a phenomenon of unprecedented enthusiasm and social impact. The national pastime was coming of age.

Tinker to Evers to Chance examines this pivotal moment in American history, when baseball became the game we know today. Each man came from a different corner of the country and brought a distinctive local culture with him: Evers from the Irish-American hothouse of Troy, New York; Tinker from the urban park lands of Kansas City, Missouri; Chance from the verdant fields of California’s Central Valley. The stories of these early baseball stars shed unexpected light not only on the evolution of baseball and on the enthusiasm of its players and fans all across America, but also on the broader convulsions transforming the US into a confident new industrial society. With them emerged a truly national culture.

This iconic trio helped baseball reinvent itself, but their legend has largely been relegated to myths and barroom trivia. This engaging history resets the story and brings these men to life again, enabling us to marvel anew at their feats on the diamond. It’s a rare look at one of baseball’s first dynasties in action."

Try Not to Suck: The Exceptional, Extraordinary Baseball Life of Joe Maddon by Bill Chastain Jesse Rogers

"With his irreverant personality, laid-back approach, and penchant for the unexpected, Joe Maddon is a singular presence among Major League Baseball managers. Whether he's bringing clowns and live bear cubs to spring training or leading the Chicago Cubs to their first World Series victory in 108 years, Maddon is always one to watch.  In Try Not to Suck, ESPN's Jesse Rogers and MLB.com's Bill Chastain fully explore Maddon's life and career, delving behind the scenes and dissecting that mystique which makes Maddon so popular with players and analysts alike. Packed with insight, anecdotes, and little-known facts, this is the definitive account of the curse-breaker and trailblazer at the helm of the Cubs' new era."

Bill James Handbook 2018  by Bill James

"Bill James and the Baseball Info Solutions team of analysts continue to pack in new content, including a fresh look at the continued rise and effectiveness of The Shift and a new breakdown of home runs and long flyouts. And, as always, the book forecasts fresh hitter and pitcher projections for those looking to get an early jump on the next season. Baseball Fun for Serious Fans: Sabermetrics has a mixed reputation in the outside world. In mainstream sportswriting, it's sometimes seen as something real sportswriters don't need because they see all the games and know all the players. In academia, it's not always respected as serious research, because it often doesn't fit into any specific established discipline (although economists are starting to get involved), because it often doesn't use enough fancy math, and because it's "only" about baseball. And it used to be that in baseball itself, sabermetrics was not perceived to be anything that would be of use to the baseball insiders of a major league baseball team.But in today's game almost every conceivable move becomes a metric—e.g, how many time s a batter spits before stepping into the batter's box..."


There are of course perennials that any add a dimension of cogitation and rumination to the to the enjoying the subtleties and the traditions of baseball like Paul DIckson's definitive glossary:

The Dickson Baseball Dictionary (Third Edition) by Paul Dickson

"Hailed as “a staggering piece of scholarship” (Wall Street Journal) and “an indispensable guide to the language of baseball” (San Diego Union-Tribune), The Dickson Baseball Dictionary has become an invaluable resource for those who love the game. Drawing on dozens of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century periodicals, as well as contemporary sources, Dickson’s brilliant, illuminating definitions trace the earliest appearances of terms both well known and obscure. This edition includes more than 10,000 terms with 18,000 individual entries, and more than 250 photos"



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