Baseball Timeout

17 Jul
Pudge Birnbaum (photo: Robert Birnbaum)

Pudge Birnbaum (photo: Robert Birnbaum)

All Star contests are a big business and every professional sport holds one, most including any number of embellishments (Home Run Derby, Slam Dunk Contest ad nauseum). And one supposes that their audiences are served, though personally I haven’t watched one of these events in years and thus I view MLB’s All Star break as welcome hiatus (as do most of the sports active participants) in a long demanding season. And now with with full bodied inter-league play, there is even less reason to watch the show. Although I must say I did catch and was impressed by Pedro Gomez’s linguistically skillful post Home Run Derby interview with winner Yoenis Cespedes

Earlier in the 2013 season I noted an array of baseball books which left off a few worthy titles —an omission that the following list attempts to correct

Who's on Worst-Filip Bondy

Who’s on Worst-Filip Bondy

Who’s on Worst?: The Lousiest Players, Biggest Cheaters, Saddest Goats and Other Antiheroes in Baseball History by Filip Bondy (Doubleday)

Baseball’s long and colorful history allows for goofy compendia such as Bondy’s which plays off the famous Abbott and Costello routine for its title.

American Pastimes The   Best of Red Smith-edited by Daniel Okrent

American Pastimes The Best of Red Smith-edited by Daniel Okrent

American Pastimes: The Very Best of Red Smith edited by Daniel Okrent(The Library of America)

Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith was the most widely read sportswriter of the last century and the first to win the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Daniel Okrent who claims to have invented fantasy baseball edits this tome from the non-pareil Library of America

Mickey and Willy by Allan Barra

Mickey and Willy by Allan Barra

Mickey and Willie: Mantle and Mays, the Parallel Lives of Baseball’s Golden Age by Allen Barra

Two of the greatest ball players ever to have played the game arrived at the Bigs in 1951 as 19 year old rookies. Here’s an excerpt:

Tom Hanks may have thought there was no crying in baseball, but as the summer of 1951 approached, the sport’s two most highly prized rookies were weeping.

Major league pitchers are a community within a community, and word quickly got around that 19-year-old Mickey Mantle had weaknesses. From the right side it was high fastballs, slightly up out of the strike zone, which for some unexplained reason he simply couldn’t lay off. From the left side it was low outside curves or other breaking pitches. Mickey began striking out — in bunches.

Mantle’s shyness had, up to this point, masked a ferocious temper. After striking out six times in a doubleheader in June, he began assaulting water coolers again, a serious enough offense when committed at Yankee Stadium, but downright unacceptable when it occurred in other ballparks around the league. After fanning twice against the St. Louis Browns, Mickey destroyed the cooler in the visitors’ dugout, much to the amusement of Hank Bauer and Yogi Berra, who did not truly understand how frustrated their new phenom was.

Yogi thought he could lighten the atmosphere with a joke. “Why are you so nervous?” he asked Mickey. Mantle mumbled that he wasn’t. “Then how come you’re wearing your jock strap outside of your uniform?” Yogi said with a grin. Mantle actually glanced down to see if it was true.

Mantle did not learn quickly from his early failures, but simply gritted his teeth and swung harder. He was pushing himself to the point of emotional strain to fulfill Mutt’s dream. Stengel began to lose patience with Mickey, not because he was striking out but because he was swinging at bad pitches. Casey was right about the bad pitches, but raised in an era when making contact with the ball was the hitter’s primary job, he did not understand — as many would not understand for decades — that the new game in baseball was power and that every home run Mantle hit was well worth the two or three strikeouts that it cost. But then, in the late spring of 1951, Mantle had also stopped hitting home runs.

Allie Reynolds tried to tell him about the virtue of choosing the right pitch to hit, of getting ahead in the count and forcing the pitcher to throw him something he could drive. It wasn’t that Mantle paid no attention to Reynolds, but that he was too young to translate Reynolds’s good advice into action. As Hank Bauer put it, “In the summer of 1951 we could see that Mickey wasn’t ready for the big leagues.” But, said Bauer, “it was just as obvious that in a short time he was going to be very ready.”

Class A by Lucas Mann

Class A by Lucas Mann

Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhereby Lucas Mann (Pantheon)

Mann follows a Single A minor league team in sunny climes of America’s heartland.

Doc A Memoir by DOC Gooden

Doc A Memoir by DOC Gooden

Doc: A Memoir by Dwight Gooden and Ellis Henican(Simon & Schuster)

Former Mets pitching great and recovering coke addict Dwight Gooden begins his memoir by explaining how he missed the 1986 victory parade celebrating the Mets’ truimph over the Red Sox in that year’s World Series. The rest is his harrowing chronicle of what should have been a Hall of Fame career.

Mr Wrigley's Ball Club by Roberts Ehrgott

Mr Wrigley’s Ball Club by Roberts Ehrgott

Mr. Wrigley’s Ball Club: Chicago and the Cubs during the Jazz Age Roberts Ehrgott (University Of Nebraska Press)

The Cubs continue to labor under a losers mystique bu that doesn’t make them any less interesting as Ehrgott’s account details Here’s Bill Littlefield’s take:

What sets the book apart from many set in baseball is how Roberts Ehrgott handles the context in which the fun and games transpired. In the ’20s, Chicago was certainly the Cubs, but it was also Al Capone, and, as Ehrgott writes, “Chicagoans venturing to other parts of the country and abroad learned that their city was becoming a byword for mayhem and violence.” . . . Chicago’s dizzy baseball hopes and dreams seem especially poignant against the background of the onset of the Great Depression

American Jews and America's Game by Larry Ruttman

American Jews and America’s Game by Larry Ruttman

American Jews and America’s Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball by Larry Ruttman (University Of Nebraska Press)

I am certain everybody will want to read the thoughts of Hank Greenberg, Al Rosen, Sandy Koufax, Ken Holtzman,Kevin Youkilis, Ryan Braun, Ian Kinsler, Bud Selig, Marvin Miller, Don Fehr, Jerry Reinsdorf, Stuart Sternberg, Theo Epstein Mark Shapiro, Murray Chass, Ross Newhan, Ira Berkow, Roger Kahn, a Jewish Alan Dershowitz and Barney Frank.

Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes by John Rosengren (NAL)

The great Jewish slugger Hank Greenberg gets a well deserved and reportedly definitive biography. John Rosengren explains:

Markusen: John, why did you decide to do a full-length book on Greenberg, and why at this time?

Rosengren: While working on an article about Greenberg’s dramatic ninth-inning, pennant-clinching grand slam on the last day of the 1945 season for Memories & Dreams (the Baseball Hall of Fame’s magazine), I realized there was a lot more to his story than that single home run but that no one had done a definitive biography of him. Hank had already passed away and so had many of his teammates and opponents. I wanted to write his story before the rest of those who had played with and against him were gone. Fortunately, I was able to speak to many of those still surviving, like Bob Feller and Ralph Kiner, and to plenty of fans who had watched him play. I felt like I was capturing these memories that were in danger of dying out if they weren’t recorded.

More here

Willard Mullin's Golden Age Of Baseball Drawings

Willard Mullin’s Golden Age Of Baseball Drawings

Willard Mullin’s Golden Age Of Baseball Drawings 1934-1972 (Fantagraphics)

Toot's Shor's Bar by Willard Mullin

Toot’s Shor’s Bar by Willard Mullin

In the 1940’s, The New York World-Telegram and Sun sports cartoonist Willard Mullin painted this beautiful tribute to his regular hang-out, the legendary Toot’s Shor’s circular bar. He featured many of the regulars including Joe E. Lewis and Joe DiMaggio, the giant saloon keeper Toots himself (in the foreground) with his tiny wife “Baby” and various newspaper journalists, columnists, sportswriters and fellow cartoonists:

Ball Park Mysteries #6, The Wrigley Riddle by David Kelly

Ball Park Mysteries #6, The Wrigley Riddle by David Kelly

Those of us who are associated with kid sports and specifically baseball, are aware that a fierce competition has arisen between America’s Game and a number of pinko, tennis shoe wearing, arugala eating so called sports such as soccer and lacrosse (lacrosse, really?) A crisis which speaks to a failure of keepers of flame and adult fans to present and reinforce the joys of the game to the coming generations. Dave Kelly,( the spirit of full disclosure requires me to point out Dave’s son, Scooter is a teammate of my son’s) has a series of kids books entitled Ball Park Mysteries which do a splendid job of presenting baseball as the splendid sport and entertainment we all know it to be

Miracle Mud by David Kelly and Oliver Dominguez

Miracle Mud by David Kelly and Oliver Dominguez


Kelly has also penned Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the Secrete Mud that Changed Baseball (Millbrook Press) with illustrator Oliver Dominguez

From the publisher:

Learn the incredible story behind the slippery, slimy stuff they have to rub on baseballs before each major league game. Lena Blackburne loved baseball. He watched it, he played it, he coached it. But he didn’t love the ways players broke in new baseballs. Tired of soggy, blackened, stinky baseballs, he found a better way. Thanks to a well-timed fishing trip and a top-secret mud recipe, Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud was born. For seventy five years, baseball teams have used Lena’s magic mud to prepare baseballs before every game. Read the story of how Lena’s mud went from a riverbank to the major leagues and all the way to the Hall of Fame.

Currently reading Ready for A Brand New Beat by Mark Kurlanksy (Riverhead)

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