Tag Archives: Paul Dickson

Baseball Books 2017 Part I and more

30 Mar

In a few days the valiant ( relatively) few who enjoy what once was the NATIONAL PASTIME and of which scholar Jaques Barzun opined the dubious  and simplistic, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.” will have the pleasures of the opening of  the 2017 Major League  Baseball’s regular season. From now through November we will have sanctuary and perhaps some relief from the metastasizing toxicity emanating from the Bedlamite regime. But since almost all the owners of major league baseball franchises are billionaires there is no guarantee that that some faux patriotic  gesture might not make its way into some of MLB’s consumer-oriented spectacles (think All Star game, Home Run Derby etc)

As has been the case for a long time, Baseball has attracted talented insightful writers to produce a substantial bibliography about the nuances of the sport and the people who are associated with it. And that circumstance makes reading about the sport as enjoyable as watching, Every year there is a plethora of new tomes and before I get onto noting the new there are a handful of books that have acquired the status of classics.Or at least I place thek in my pantheon of ur-texts,


1. The Dickson Baseball Dictionary (Third Edition)  by Paul Dickson with Skip McAfee

Dickson’s well-researched and comprehensive compendium of baseball information features more than 10,000 terms with 18,000 individual entries, and more than 250 photos.



Baseball: A Literary Anthology .ed Nicholas Dawidoff

This Library of America volume is a gem. Here’s the publisher’s description,

“… offers a lively mix of 70 stories, memoirs, poems, news reports, and insider accounts about all aspects of the great American game, from its pastoral nineteenth-century beginnings to its apotheosis as the undisputed national pastime. Here are the major leaguers and the bush leaguers, the umpires and broadcasters, the wives and girlfriends and would-be girlfriends, fans meticulously observant and lovingly, fanatically obsessed…

Drawing from the work of novelists from Ring Lardner to Don DeLillo, sportswriters from Damon Runyon to Red Smith, and poets from William Carlos Williams to Yusef Komunyakaa, and gathering essays and player profiles from John Updike, Gay Talese, Roger Angell, and David Remnick, Baseball: A Literary Anthology is a varied and exuberant display of what baseball has meant to American writers….”



3. Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Lewis is as good a writer/reporter as there is publishing today—which a quick scan of his bibliography will validate. This book became a seminal work in the field of talent evaluation and helped fans to some understanding of the burgeoning sabermetric approach to building a baseball roster as well as game management. All wrapped up in a readable narrative focusing on the small-budget Oakland A’s and their wily general manager, Billy Beane Lewis recounts

I wrote this book because I fell in love with a story. The story concerned a small group of undervalued professional baseball players and executives, many of whom had been rejected as unfit for the big leagues, who had turned themselves into one of the most successful franchises in Major League Baseball. But the idea for the book came well before I had good reason to write it—before I had a story to fall in love with. It began, really, with an innocent question: how did one of the poorest teams in baseball, the Oakland Athletics, win so many games?




4. The Bill James Handbook 2017 by Bill James and Baseball Info Solutions

Bill James is the most prominent practitioner in the sabermetric world and his annual includes annual Fielding Bible Awards, insightful essays, and lots of statistical analysis you won’t find anywhere else. Lifetime stats (including playoff stats) for every player in the major leagues (plus a few others) through the end of the regular 2016 season. Plus cover features a photo of Big Papi Ortiz arguably the most popular ball player of his era.


5. American Jews In America’s Game  by Larry Ruttman

 This is useful and well-crafted work of oral and cultural history, featuring the life stories of well-known and as well as lesser known and unheralded Jews. Compiled from 50 engaging interviews and arranged by decade “…each person talks about growing up Jewish and dealing with Jewish identity, assimilation, intermarriage, future viability, religious observance, anti-Semitism, and Israel. Each tells about being in the midst of the colorful pantheon of players who, over the past 75 years or more, have made baseball what it is…”

Veeck as in Heck

24 Sep

I have discovered in 20 years of moving around a ballpark, that the knowledge of the game is usually in inverse proportion to the price of the seats. Bill Veeck

Bill Veeck (peg legged) Opening Day 1976.

I was in Chicago (where I grew up) recently amidst the roiling atmosphere of a city wide teacher’s strike,lovely autumnal meteorological conditions, personal nostalgia and lo and behold, a pennant race (involving, to my mind the wrong Chicago team))on the South Side. I don’t know if Chicago is still, in Nelson Algren’s famous phrase, ” a city on the make” but it is most apparently, a city on the go.

One of my Chitown stops was a visit to my buddy Mike James at his Heartland Cafe. Having made several voyages to the Caribbean Basin with Mike it is always a treat to check in with him and see in what he is involved. Mike is an incredibly energetic septuagenarian, running a well-regarded hospitality empire, continuing his life long radical activism (see Athletes United for Peace)
shepherding a flock of kids (driving one of his sons out to Evergreen State University in Washington State) and now working on a number of book projects include a memoir/history of the 1960’s community organization Rising Up Angry that James was instrumental in
working with.

Mike and I spent some time watching the White Sox in a day game versus their American League Central rival,The Detroit Tigers. Having only enjoyed the Chi Sox when Ozzie Guillen was their jefe, I asked Mike why he was a Sox partisan. His one word answer, “Veeck.”

Bill Veeck by Paul Dickson

Biil Veeck, who at one time owned the Chicago White Sox, was a baseball owner of a different stripe and looking around at the sad collection of gray and hollow plutocrats who own baseball today— well,its not an encouraging group. Paul Dickson, whose Baseball Dictionary is an indispensable resource, has penned a biography of the great baseball legend, Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick (Bloomsbury). Though it needs to be said that he was baseball’s only maverick (no, I haven’t forgotten Charlie Finley), Veeck was also baseball’s sole (political) lefty who denounced baseball’s reserve clause and had he achieved his life’s ambition of owning the then Washington Senators (now the Minnesota Twins) he fully intended to install that team with the game’s first black manager. Dickson captures Veeck’s endearing complexity which combined, as Steven Roberts opines, “hucksterism and heroics” Baseball could use a guy like that today.And evermore.

Currently reading Elsewhere: A Memoir by Richard Russo (Knopf)

“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)