My take-away from weeks of World Cup hysteria is that futball is 1) truly the people’s sport and 2) that the organizations that purport to administer nonprofessional sports (The Olympic Committee, FICA, NCAA,International Cycling Union) are frequently reported to be corrupt or negligent in their oversight of their purviews ( read Dave Zirin or Franklin Foer for more on this). This can not be said about professional sports— as their obvious mandate to see the wheels of commerce (aka the profit motive) kept churning, obviates concerns about venality and criminality.
Geopolitically, it is an interesting turn that the nations most disliked on their respective continents (Germany and Argentina)are finalists for the World Cup. Any way, the annual Major League Baseball spectacle, The All-Star Game, is upon us. I see it as a pretty useless interlude in the long season (well, there is all that revenue generated) excepting that the winner is awarded home field advantage in the US National Tournament Championship (aka The World Series). And players have a few days of rest and who-knows-what.
Earlier this season I published an annotated array of new baseball books. As you will discover from what follows, there is an abundance of new books limning the century and a half of baseball’s history
When Baseball Went White: Reconstruction, Reconciliation, and Dreams of a National Pastime by Ryan A. Swanson (University of Nebraska Press)
University of New Mexico mentor Ryan Swanson did some fruitful research to tell the story of the few moments that baseball was bi-racial and its subsequent descent into its post Civil War racist iteration. Not surprisingly, segregating baseball was mostly about the money. Swanson spotlights three cities—Philadelphia, Washington DC and Richmond— metropolises with large black populations, to exhibit the implementation of Jim Crow in baseball.
Miracle at Fenway: The Inside Story of the Boston Red Sox 2004 Championship Season by Saul Wisnia and Dave Roberts (St Martins)
Career sports writer Saul Wisnia (his web journal is Fenway Reflections) assembles a useful oral history of the now ‘legendary” 2004 Boston Red Sox National tournament champions. Ten years is a sufficiently elapsed period of time to take a look back and enough (for Bosox fans) to revisit and refresh the time when long suffering fans’s dreams came true.
Wild Pitches: Rumblings, Grumblings, and Reflections on the Game I Love Hardcover by Jayson Stark (Triumph Books )
Philly homeboy and Phladelphia Inquirer scribbler turned ESPN talking head Jayson Stark, anthologizes some of his columns on baseball. Here’s fellow Philly sports guy Stan Hochman on Stark’s new opus:
Stark did 21 years of hard time here, covering baseball for the morning paper. Made the move to ESPN, the worldwide leader, in 2000. Digs out nuggets all the time. Uncovers a lot of baubles, bangles and beads. Weird stuff, funny stuff.
The next best thing to watching memorable baseball is reading Stark, writing about memorable baseball. And now they have gathered a sampling of those nuggets in an anthology called “Wild Pitches: Rumblings, Grumblings and Reflections on the Game I Love.”
The job has gotten tougher as the players have gotten richer, more aloof, more hostile. The job has gotten easier with technology. Tony Gwynn struck out fewer than 20 times in eight different seasons. Ever done before? Never done before? Often? Seldom? Stark can find out in 90 seconds.
Bull City Summer: A Season at the Ballpark by Howard Craft,Adam Sobsey,Emma Miller,Sam Stephenson (Daylight Books)
This 200 page monograph is the culmination of the Bull City Summer documentary project, inspired by the 25th anniversary of the movie Bull Durham, documents the 2013 season of the Durham Bulls, one of the most successful minor league teams in the US. A number of artists collaborated to contribute 129 photographs to this handsome and well produced book— some of which can be found here.
The Closer by Mariano Rivera and Wayne Coffey (Little Brown)
Even the most casual baseball fan knows of the legendary New York Yankee reliever Mariano Rivera and his omnipotent cut fastball, and perhaps his 5 national tournament rings and his record 652 career saves and 1173 career strikeouts. His is a true rags-to-riches story— from a poor Panamanian fishing village to becoming one of the most popular New York Yankees ever—admired by fans and opponents alike. Colin Fleming opines:
The book vividly sketches out his origin story: a Panamanian kid, smelling of fish from working on his father’s boat, coming to America to begin what seems, from any perspective, a most unlikely baseball career. There’s real terror in the early pages as Rivera, without any command of the English language, gets a flight for Florida when he’d never been more than six hours from home.
He’s anxious, you’re anxious, and no matter what team you usually root for, you’ll root for Rivera in the early pages of “The Closer.” It’s the kind of baseball odyssey that leaves readers with a sense of the Homerian that later extends to the stuff of clutch strikeouts, “Casey at the Bat”-style grandeur and fallen records.
American Jews and America’s Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball by Larry Ruttman (University of Nebraska Press)
Being a god-less Semite, it would a fool’s errand for me to dismiss Larry Ruttman’s diligent effort to document (and not so subtly, lionize)the Jews place in what was once America’s National Pastime (certainly no longer America’s Game, a rubric invented to for the NFL). By and large an oral history, Ruttman includes the testimonies of Bud Selig, the late Marvin Miller, Kevin Youkilis, Ian
Kinsler, Ken Holtzman(the second coming of Sandy Koufax), Al Rosen, Art Shamsky, Gabe Kapler, Ron Blomberg, Shawn Green, and Brad Ausmus, Jerry Reinsdorf Stuart Sternberg, Randy Levine, Theo Epstein and Mark Shapiro , sportswriters Murray Chass, Ira Berkow, Roger Kahn, Ross Newhan ,Alan Dershowitz and Barney Frank.
Alan Dershowitz and Barney Frank? Ruttman even manages a Gay Talese stroke (“Frank Sinatra Has a Cold”) with a chapter on what a mensch Sandy Koufax is for personally calling him to refuse an interview.
The Yankee Way: Playing, Coaching, and My Life in Baseball by Willie Randolph (It Books)
Brooklyn born and raised Randolph’s credentials as a Yankee are slightly tarnished as he was a one time manager of the New York Mets.Nonetheless, he was a Yankee when some great baseball personalities were in the game, that’s worth something. And universally regarded as a good guy.
Double Play by Ben Zobrist, Julianna Zobristand Mike Yorkey (B&H Books )
Christianity and baseball. That’s Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist’s story.
Throwback: A Big-League Catcher Tells How the Game Is Really Played by Jason Kendall, Lee Judge (St. Martin’s Press)
Jason Kendall was star Major League catcher from 1996 to 2004, playing with six different teams and suffering some terrible injuries, garnering accolades and awards and some dubious achievements (a career 254 times being hit by a pitch, fifth all time). Given the notion that catchers are the smartest and most aware players on the field you an be sure that Kendall’s revelations bring a new insights to viewing baseball.
Ted Williams, My Father: A Memoir by Claudia Williams(Ecco)
Personally, I would recommend Ben Bradlee’s excellent biography on Ted Williams, The Kid.
Blood Sport: Alex Rodriguez, Biogenesis, and the Quest to End Baseball’s Steroid Era by Tim Elfrink, Gus Garcia-Roberts (Dutton)
This is a compelling true crime story that involves the universally despised Alex Rodriguez, the highest paid and the most overpaid major league player and 14 other ball players, in their acquisition and use of performance enhancing drugs and their unsuccessful efforts to cover up these practices.Taking place in a Miami clinic, Biogenesis,of course, adds a frisson of decadence to the alleged criminality and reporters Elfrink and Gus Garcia-Roberts flesh out the tawdry details. If you can stand reading yet another word about Rodriguez, by all means have at Blood Sport.
by Lawrence Hogan (Praeger)
Its a misleading title, as in order to be forgotten something first has to be known—maybe “The Ignored History…” would be more appropriate. In any case, baseball historian Hogan who has also written Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball delves into the origins of African-American participation in baseball, from southern plantations through the Jim Crow era and onward.To say this a valuable and much needed piece of work is an understatment.
Black Baseball Entrepreneurs, 1902-1931: The Negro National and Eastern Colored Leagues by Michael E. Lomax ( Syracuse University Press)
A solid piece of scholarship that fills in big gaps in baseball historiography.
Outsider Baseball: The Weird World of Hardball on the Fringe, 1876–1950 by Scott Simkus (Chicago Review Press)
This tome might also have been entitled Oddball Baseball as it accounts for a segment of baseball history populated by the likes of independents and novelties such as the Cuban Stars, Tokyo Giants, Brooklyn Bushwicks, Negro league teams,the House of David and Bloomer Girls and heretofore ignored. Its a world that vanishes by the mid 20th century and Simkus does history and the game a great service with this book His Outsider Baseball Bulletin is on hiatus and he plans to start up again in 2014.
currently reading Perfidia by James Ellroy (Knopf)