Tag Archives: Marty Appel

Baseball by the Book or Let’s Play Two

30 Jul

 

 

Just after the All-star Game break in the long slog of the MLB 162 game  marathon and we  are in the beginning of season 2* of the three seasons (the playoffs being season three).*  The fragile state of our republic, whose governance is currently in the hands of a coterie of three-card Monte dealers, carny barkers and generally sleazy types (that have always been part of the deal). This is a disheartening and deflating state of affairs,. There is, of course, baseball to divert us from the Real World. And as an added pleasure, baseball occasions the publication of countless books actually worth reading.  As one of the oldest recreations in American culture, the sport has always been peopled with odd characters and athletes of extraordinary talent. This season there is a plethora of books of focused on some of those—some well known, some from  ‘back in the day’, some with unusual stories…and some displaying heroic character.

 

 Papi: My Story  by David Ortiz with Michael Holley

If I have to introduce the recently retired  Boston Red Sox slugger, you may want to go elsewhere for some edification. Needless to day David Ortiz was one of the most popular players in the modern baseball era. This is his story

 

 Teammate: My Journey in Baseball and a World Series for the Ages   by David Ross , Theo

 

 

 

 

Epstein (Foreword),with  Don Yaeger

Former Red Sox backup catcher David Ross , who stands as the paradigm of the valuable locker room presence was signed by the Chicago Cubs in Deember of 2014 after they acquired former Red Sox  ace lefty Jon Lester and became Lester’s personal catcher . And given the youth of the 2016 Cubs, he quickly assumed the mantle of sage personage with the sobriquet Grampa attached. Ross’s final season as a major league player found him on  a  World Series champion. Ross’s story is a bit of a fairy tale —which in his case is not a bad thing.  

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Lou: Fifty Years of Kicking Dirt, Playing Hard, and Winning Big in the Sweet Spot of Baseball by Lou Piniella and Bill Madden

The title of Piniella’s baseball memoir is an excellent lead into the fiery Sweet Lou’s persona. He went from a career as  NY Yankee star in the 70’s to managing 5 different teams

Here’s a  signature three-minute temper tantrum by Pinella

 

 

 

 

 

 Lefty O’Doul: Baseball’s Forgotten Ambassador  by Dennis Snelling

I’m guessing you have never heard of  O’Doul (me neither). He is credited with being the father of  Japanese baseball. In 1949, General McArthur who was charged with overseeing the post war the reconstruction of Jaspan asked O’Doul to bring a baseball team to Japan and the rest is, as they say, history. And having mastered the difficult art of hitting a baseball (4th highest batting average in baseball history), he became, for among others, Joe Dimaggio and Ted Williams’s hitting guru. And on a minor note, San Franciscans mourned the closing of the bar O’Doulopened in 1958. Lesser figures have  warranted a hard cover paper and ink biography

 

Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character by Marty Appel 

Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel’ was an important  baseball figure in the by gone era when major league managers had personalities ( a bit of trivia: the only person in history to wear the uniforms of all four New York teams: the Dodgers, Giants, Yankees, and Mets.) As manager of a dominant New York Yankees, he won ten pennants and seven World Series Championships. New York Yankees’ historian and  author Marty Appel  has assembled what will no doubt stand as the  definitive account of this Hall Of Famers life and  recapped the sense  and spirit of a mid 20th baseball

 

 

 Rock Solid: My Life in Baseball’s Fast Lane by Tim Raines with Alan Maimon  

Tim Raines (nicknamed ‘Rock’)a former unanimous MVP for Montreal Expos was inducted into the Hall of Fame  on his 10th and final year of eligibility  After seven seasons with the Expos, he played on Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, and Florida Marlins, ultimately earning three World Series rings. In mid career, Raines overcame a cocaine addiction and returned to baseball, a compelling side bar to his splendid career.

 

 

Hank Greenberg in 1938: Hatred and Home Runs in the Shadow of War  by Ron Kaplan

If you think Jackie Robinson had it tough in the racist environment of post-WWII baseball, attend to  Detroit slugger Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg big league career. While a persistent target of anti-Semitism,  Greenberg always did his best to shut the noise out and concentrate on baseball. In the year that this book focuses on, the Jews of the world were keenly aware of the events in Europe and Hitler and the  Nazi’s genocidal program. Greenberg rarely spoke about the anti-Semitism he dealt with, but as world events unfolded,  the slugger he took  a new role upon himself— saying, “I came to feel that if I, as a Jew, hit a home run, I was hitting one against Hitler.”

 

 

Ballplayer by Chipper Jones  with Carroll Rogers Walton  , Bobby Cox (Foreword)

 
For nearly 19 years Larry Wayne “Chipper” Jones Jr.(retiring in 2012) manned the hot corner for the perennially contending  Atlanta Braves. A nine time All Star, Jone’s team s were skippered by highly regarded Bobby Cox. and included a dominant trio of arms‚—Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and  John Smoltz. In an addition to recounting his experiences playing on a talent laden winner Chipper freely opines on his sense of baseball in its era of financial opulence.

 

The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life  by Rick Ankiel  with Tim Brown

You won’t find the condition known as Yips in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders but as a condition that afflicts athletes, it has attained visibility going back in baseball to at least 1972 with pitcher Steve Blass and later infielder Chuck Knoblauch. Currently, Chicago Cubs ace Jon Lester presents with a very challenged ability to throw over to 1st base. Inthe most famous case, and thus the resultant chronicle of his travails, Rick Ankiel was a stud starting pitcher who without any warning lost his ability to pitch (as in throw strikes). He then spent 4 years struggling to return to the major leagues as an outfielder where he played for a few more years

 

Here’s Ankiel relating his  experience

 

 

They Call Me Pudge: My Life Playing the Game I Love by Ivan Rodriguez with, Jeff Sullivan 

 

It would not be a stretch to value position of catcher in baseball equal to starting pitchers. And when you factor in the number of games per season required of the starting catcher, the scales may tip into the stud behind the plate. At the age of  19 Puerto Rican born Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez debuted with the Texas Rangers in, 1991 and retired in 2012. Pudge played for he played for the Texas Rangers (on two different tours,   Florida MarlinsDetroit TigersNew York YankeesHouston Astros and Washington Nationals. He  made14 All-Star appearances, received 13 Gold Gloves, a Most Valuable Player Award, and won a World Series with the 2003 Florida Marlins. This year he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Here are two tidbits from his book:

 1978
I started really focusing on baseball at the age of seven. Pretty much my whole family played baseball, and at the time both my dad and my mom were playing in softball leagues. I loved the game from Day One. I actually used to be a pitcher and a third baseman. That’s how I started. But my dad was my first coach, and he noticed pretty quickly that I had a strong arm. So one day he sat me down and told me, “You are not going to pitch or play third base anymore, you’re gonna be a catcher. And I think you’re gonna be a good catcher.” I immediately started crying. I didn’t want to catch. I wanted to be a third baseman and hit home runs. He said, “You can cry as much as you want, but you’re gonna catch from now on.” I was eight years old.I cried for about 15 minutes. But from that point on, I was a catcher.

 

 

1989
I got my nickname on the very first day of camp. People always think I’m called “Pudge” because of Carlton Fisk. That’s not the case. I’m a huge fan of Carlton Fisk. He’s one of the greatest to ever play the game. But he had nothing to do with me being known as Pudge. Chino Cadahia, who was a Rangers coach at the time, gave me that name. He saw that I was short and stocky, so, from Day One, he started calling me “Pudge.” It caught on, and the rest is history.

 

 

 

Leo Durocher: Baseball’s Prodigal Son by Paul Dickson

Paul Dickson who has done fine work in documenting various aspects of baseball including the very useful. The Dickson Baseball Dictionary has written a long over due biography of  Leo “THE LIP” Durocher. A former big leaguer and manager whose career spanned 40 years,  Durocher rank high as one of the more colorful characters ever attached to the game. The aphorism, “Nice guys finish last” is mistakenly attributed to him. Nonetheless, he was unabashed in entitling his memoir, Nice Guys Finish Last. Reportedly, he actually said,”Look at Mel Ott over there. He’s a nice guy, and he finishes second. Now look at the Brat (Eddie Stanky). He can’t hit, can’t run, can’t field. He’s no nice guy, but all the little son-of-a-bitch can do is win.” **  Nonetheless he was unabashgewdHe was no doubt happy to entitle his memoir, Nice Guys Finish Last. Leo Durocher was a combative player  ( a three-time All-Star) and became a storied manager (in the top five with 95 career game ejections), winning three pennants and a World Series in 1954.

 

Tomorrow the Liges Grandes season begins in earnest as it is the trading deadline when teams add a piece for this year’s pennantstrecth drive or give up and make deals for the future…

 

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*On a personal note the Chicago Cubs are showing early signs of shaking off their season long (to date) lack luster play (and they went out and obtained a first rate starter)

** The 2017 Hall of Fame induction ceremony is today with Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell this year’s honorees.

*** An alternative attribution “Nice guys! Look over there. Do you know a nicer guy than Mel Ott? Or any of the other Giants? Why they’re the nicest guys in the world! And where are they? In seventh place! Nice guys! I’m not a nice guy – and I’m in first place.” After pacing up and down the visitors’ dugout, the Dodger manager waved a hand toward the Giants’ dugout and repeated, “The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place.”

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“The Cubs Are Gonna Shine in Sixty-Nine.” *

11 Jul

* quote by perennial look on the sunny side guy,Baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks

Its midseason and the baseball standings show few surprises (well, maybe the Nationals in first place) the All Star game was its usual festival of cliches and commercials and Reggie Jackson was right about Alex Rodriquez’s place in baseball. It would be nice if there was a competition for 1st place in at least one division (AL Central?) but barring that you may get more from baseball watching your local Babe Ruth or Legion Ball teams. Or reading one of this seasons’s (baseball themed) literary offerings.

Here’s my idiosyncratic checklist of diamond treatises. Thank me later:

A People’s History of Baseball by Mitchell Nathanson

A People’s History of Baseball by Mitchell Nathanson (University of Illinois Press) satisfies a nascent desire for People’s histories of all manner of things. Inimitable sports scholar Bill Littlefield comments:

I don’t know if Professor Nathanson had Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States in mind when he chose his title, but I think Professor Zinn would have enjoyed this illuminating take on baseball and America if he’d had the opportunity to read it.

Another book on the Yankees—Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss by Marty Appel (Bloomsbury)—big deal!

Lefty: An American Odyssey by Vernona Gomez & Lawrence Goldstone (Ballantine Books)

Lefty Gomez was a Hall of Fame pitcher for Yanquis in the 30’s and 40’s. And a funny guy— I believe “colorful” is the way analysts describe him

The Might Have Been: Joseph Schuster

The Might Have Been: A Novel by Joe Schuster (Ballantine Books)

Last year Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding was the baseball novel that [deservedly]captured significant review attention. I leave it up to others (actually, I have a theory which I will keep to myself) to explain why Joe Schuster’s fine novel about the bittersweet baseball career and life of a minor league manager has slipped quickly from view.

Imperfect: An Improbable Life by Jim Abbott (Ballantine Books)

Ok, who doesn’t find the life of a one armed athlete and baseball pitcher to boot, inspirational?

Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick by Paul Dickson (Walker & Company)

I lived in Chicago when Veeck owned the White Sox. And despite the fact I was a dyed in the wool (whatever that means) North Side Cubbie fan Veeck did get me to pat attention (well, Minnie Minoso and Juan Pizzaro helped). Veeck brought the exploding scoreboard to baseball. Good on him.

Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, a Championship Season, and Fenway’s Remarkable First Year by Glenn Stout (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

By the time the current Red Sox ownership is through fans will also be charged for breathing the air in the base-ball jewel box know as Fenway Park. This year, for the 100th anniversary of the celebrated baseball venue (now also the site for major concerts and classic hockey match ups) commemorative bricks are being sold for an out-rageous amount (ok, I think one penny would be criminal).Anyway,as these kind of hagiographies go this one is useful.

The Last Natural: Bryce Harper’s Big Gamble in Sin City and the Greatest Amateur Season Ever by Rob Miech
(Thomas Dunne Books)

Who doesn’t love to see a kid (a ‘phenom’ really) shine with the big boys. ALl the commentators say he plays “the game the right way” !9 years and someone has written biography about him—what does that tell you?

Summer of ’68: The Season That Changed Baseball–and America–Forever by Tim Wendel (Da Capo Press)

in 1968 I was busy in Grant and Lincoln Parks and following the Viet Cong vs the US and Gene McCarthy vs Democratic king makers. So whatever happened in baseball I missed it. I do recall Wendel wrote one of the worst baseball novels I have ever read— which was also anti Castro screed.

Driving Mr. Yogi: Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry, and Baseball’s Greatest Gift by Harvey Araton (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

WHat would American vernacular be with out the silver tongued Berra?

Ozzie’s School of Management by Rick Morrisey

Ozzie’s School of Management: Lessons from the Dugout, the Clubhouse, and the Doghouse by Rick Morrissey
(Times Books)

Former major leaguer Venezuelen born Ozzie Guillen who currently manages the Miami Marlins (in the National League where he belongs) is the most “colorful” personality in major league baseball — of course he may be the only one. Nonetheless, chronicling Ozzie’s distinctive view of life and baseball is a worthy effort. Here the Wall Street Journal’s take on the book

No one would flee from Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen, who could hold any crowd rapt with opinions on bullfighting, antiquities smuggling and race, as well as his virtuosic use of profanities as pronouns and prepositions. Earlier this year, his first with the Marlins, he caused a major controversy in his new town when he said, “I love Fidel Castro” to a reporter, earning a five-game suspension. This is a man about whom it would be impossible to write a dull book, and while Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Morrissey has tried, he has failed.

Here’s an excerpt

An older gentleman stood near the dugout at U.S. Cellular Field, the home of the White Sox, between innings of a game against the Oakland Athletics in June 2011. His seat was far away from where he was now standing. Joey Cora, the bench coach, had watched the man make his way purposefully down one of the aisles in the premium box seats.
Ozzie Guillen likes to stand on the top step of the dugout in part so he can take in the crowd while he’s working. To put yourself in the line of fire of fan abuse would seem to be masochistic, but Ozzie isn’t like most other major-league managers. He wants to hear and be heard, to see and be seen. Every baseball game is a happening for him, an experience, and part of that is the interaction with the fans. To sequester himself would be like U2 choosing to play a concert in a garage.
And Ozzie would have no one to talk to when he got bored.
Now the old man was saying something, and Guillen could tell by the earnest expression on his face and the way he leaned over the railing that it was important, or at least important to him. But with the music pounding from the stadium’s loudspeakers, Guillen couldn’t make out the words.
“What’s he saying?” he asked Cora.
“He’s saying that Dunn needs to go to the eye doctor,” Cora said.
“He just hit a fucking home run!” Guillen boomed.
Ozzie was laughing now, a big improvement over his mood of a few innings earlier, when the home crowd had stood and cheered after Adam Dunn had been hit by a pitch. That’s how bad things had gotten for the Sox’ designated hitter, a $56 million free-agent signing in the off-season. It was a cheer slathered with derision. Dunn finally has found a way to get on base! If it takes a 90 mph fastball to the elbow to get him there, we’re all for it!
It had been a miserable first two months of the season for the hulking home run hitter. His batting average was a sickly .178, and he had spent most of his time picking dirt off his uniform from the deep hole he had dug for himself. After each strikeout—and there had been lots of them—the crowd booed him as if he were guilty of war crimes.
At its heart, managing is not about poring over statistics during games and making the perfect move at the perfect moment. It’s not about deciding when to bring in a reliever or when to change the batting order. There’s a romanticized image of the major-league manager as a steely-eyed strategist and master move-maker who relies on a treasure trove of statistical data to outwit his opponent. That’s part of managing, the way sliding a cake into an oven is part of making a cake. What Guillen had to do in dealing with Dunn—show unflinching faith through bits of thick and loads of thin—that’s managing. It’s dealing with human beings who have feelings, families, bad days, money problems, large egos, and torturous doubts. It’s dealing with different players in different ways.
It’s doing things behind the scenes that have nothing to do with whether a right-handed hitter does well against a particular left-handed pitcher whenever the relative humidity is at 57.8 percent in the seventh inning. It’s managing people, not numbers.
It’s leaving open the possibility you might be wrong and pushing forward anyway, shoulder down, into the gale. It’s doing it with a flair that only Guillen possesses

Damn Yankees: Twenty-Four Major League Writers on the World’s Most Loved (and Hated) Team by Rob Fleder (Ecco)

Another book on the Yankees —so what? Well, at least some talented writers weigh in.

Nobody’s Perfect by Armando Galarraga & Jim Joyce

Nobody’s Perfect: Two Men, One Call, and a Game for Baseball History by Armando Galarraga & Jim Joyce (Grove)

The story of pitcher Armando Galarraga being denied a perfect game umpire by Jim Joyce’s erroneous call and the subsequent uproar and the graceful conduct of both parties is a good one. One for the ages.

Over Time: My Life as Sportswriter by Frank Deford ( Grove)

Personally I think Deford is a pompous windbag.

Extra Innings: More Baseball Between the Numbers from the Team at Baseball Prospectus by Steven Goldman & Baseball Prospectus (Basic Books)

Stats, stats and more stats

Grantland 2 edited by Bill Simmons

Grantland 2 Bill Simmons editor (McSweeney’s)

The on line sports journal publishes hard copy quarterly. Like good writing? Like thoughtful sports analysis? This one is for you.
 
Shipwrecked: A Peoples’ History of the Seattle Mariners by Jon Wells (Epicenter Press)

Jon Wells who covers the benighted Seattle Mariners writes the case book of who to screw up a champion in the making. Remember the Mariners had A Rod (before he became a punk) Junior Griffey and Randy Johnson.

The Dickson Dictionary of Baseball by Paul Dickson (3rd edition)

Paul Dickson’s The Dictionary of Baseball, 3rd edition, (WW Norton)

Dickson explains why the 3rd edition update:

I twice underestimated the size of this undertaking for several reasons.

1. The language of the game is, as a roster of readers pointed out, more varied, complex, and fraught with subtle distinctions than I had originally imagined—sort of like the game itself. This was manifested in the number of terms that had more than one meaning. There are 15 baseball meanings for hook, 13 for slot, 11 each for break, jump, and cut, 9 apiece for crack, flip, and catch, and 8 for hole.

2. The game outside the lines has continued to change, occasioning the need for terms like wild card, realignment, Executive Council, interleague play, and contraction, to say nothing of terms of self-abuse like greenie and steroid. The growth of sabermetrics and other attempts to better understand the game through statistical terms has mushroomed.

3. Old-school terms that had worked when I began collecting terms to define are being supplemented or even replaced. The late Shirley Povich, writing in The Washington Post in 1996, summed it up for the old-school vocabulary of the game: “Almost gone from the language is the ‘curveball’ that was such a staple for so many generations. It’s the play-by-play orators who have substituted with the ‘sidearm’ and ‘forkball.’ The ‘screwball,’ too, has all but vanished from the lexicon of baseball. But the fastball has taken on multiple identities. Play-by-play men talk now of a ‘four-seam fastball,’ a ‘two-seam fastball,’ and ‘a cut fastball,’ whatever that is.” Since Povich’s passing, a new crop of pitching terms have come into play, including such verbal oddities as the Bugs Bunny changeup and the gyroball, the latter made instantly famous by Daisuke Matsuzaka in the spring of 2007.

Currently reading Say Something Nice About Detroit by Scott Lasser (WW Norton)