When I had the thought of doing a book review blog, I figured I would stick to just doing autobiographies. I knew there were tons of those types of books out there to pick from. What I didn’t realize was that there was books on so many different facets of the history of the game. I have been pleasantly surprised at some of the books I have found, and it has allowed me to become a history student again. Todays book added some new information to my ever-growing knowledge base.
Baseball’s Peerless Semipros
Thomas Barthel-2009 St. Johann Press
I will admit before I got this book I had never heard of the Bushwicks. Happily though, through my learning process I found a very interesting story. A bunch of semi-pros, former major leaguers and negro-leaguers formed a high quality team that most competitors found, was hard to beat. Through the process of winning they also produced a form of civic pride that most residents of Brooklyn found more appealing than the professional teams of the day.
Max Rosner who was a Jewish immigrant was the owner of the Bushwicks. Through his hard work and promotion he built a local empire. He basically created one of, if not the biggest draw of the first half of the twentieth century participating in baseball. That is no small feat if you consider he was competing against the Dodgers, Yankees and Giants in the same city.
I always find it interesting that you can see where something considered an innovation back in the day was derived from. Rosner was the brainchild behind the idea of night baseball under the lights. His idea sprang forth a full five years before the Cincinnati Reds decided to give it a try. It is small innovations like that which are now part of the everyday norm in baseball.
Barthel gives you a year by year look at the Bushwicks and the triumphs and struggles they encountered along the way. One of the big things they had an issue with was finding qualified competition. The team existed in almost a no-mans land if you will. They were not major league quality but still too good to be considered amateurs. It almost looks as if they were a quality minor league team in an era before minor league baseball existed.
You really get a glimpse in to the inner workings of a baseball team before MLB ruled the world. They may not have been the big apples within the Big Apple but they were still a pretty impressive team. Books like this I always enjoy because they are definitely off of the mainstream that baseball fans normally read and talk about. History buffs will really enjoy this and each fan should take the time to read and learn something new.
You can get this book from the nice folks at St. Johann Press.
By now we all have heard the story of Branch Rickey. The one man with enough courage formulate a plan to challenge baseballs long-standing but unspoken color barrier. With his signing of Jackie Robinson he set in motion changes that would affect the face of the game forever. Today we take a look at another Branch Rickey biography……
Branch Rickey – A Life
By:Jimmy Breslin – 2011 Penguin Books
Through the years I have read several Branch Rickey biographies. Some of those were good and some not so good. Unfortunately this book falls into the latter category. Branch Rickey-A Life has several flaws, at least in my opinion. Since there have been so many Ricky biographies published, one would hope at least the common factual information would be correct.
I am learning now that Breslin may not be one of my preferred writers to read. Perhaps its his writing style, or the fact that these are very short books he writes. You don’t get the chance to read in any great detail, any of the information in his books. Regardless of the subject matter he seems to have a 150 page limit to tell the story. Within those 150 pages you are only able to briefly immerse in each topic, and as we all know Rickey is a story that is very complex.
In the end what you get with this book is a very basic biography about the man. It is almost a warm and fuzzy rendition of Branch Rickey and left me wondering why did we need this. Almost Fifty years after Rickey’s death and Seventy years after the birth of his great experiment, the reader expects much more. After plunking down your hard-earned money to buy this book I feel safe in saying the reader deserves more as well.
As I said above maybe I am the issue with Breslin’s writing style. I just didn’t get what he was trying to give the reader in this book. If it was geared towards a juvenile audience it would have accomplished its goal much better. But as a Biography on a large figure in the baseball realm, it failed miserably.
I had the same problem with Can’t Anybody Here Play this Game, also by Breslin, but learned after the fact it was some sort of compilation of articles manifested into a complete book. I don’t think that is the case here. I really feel that this book just totally missed its mark.
I think most readers will be disappointed with this book, especially seasoned baseball readers……..but you be the judge, I am just one opinion.
You can get this book from the nice folks at Penguin Books
When you think of Jackie Robinson, so many things come to mind. Integrity, class, dignity, respect, …..the adjectives are endless. He is the face of racial equality within baseball. He has set the standard for generations to follow on how to be a leader and a great human being. There are several books out on the market that spell out the details of Jackie’s career but I think todays book stands above the rest.
Defining Moments-Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball
Lauri Collier Hillstrom-2013 Omnigraphics
This book has a little different approach from the traditional baseball biography we are all used to. It moves away from the more common approach of a story and seems more like a lesson about baseball. The book is divided into six major and separate sections. It covers how the color line in baseball worked and what Branch Rickey’s experiment hoped to accomplish. It then moves to Jackie Robinson himself where you learn in detail about the man and the player. Struggles associated with joining the major leagues, dealing with threats and continued racism as well as new-found stardom are covered. Finally you see what Robinson was able to accomplish after baseball and how the baseball experiment fueled his desires to join other causes in society.
I tink what was most interesting is that last part about life after baseball. Those of us who read a lot of baseball books and those who are just fans, are well aware of Robinson’s accomplishments on the field. I have never really come across a book that delves into his activities in the civil rights movement in the 60’s. Some others have touched on it but not to this extent. The author gives an interesting perspective on the effect of his personal legacy and how it applies within society.
Also included in this book are short biographies of a few Dodger teammates as well as the Commissioner of Baseball and Larry Doby. It really finished off a complete picture of the Branch Rickey experiment. The final thing I found interesting about this book is each chapter was broken into sub-chapters, It allowed the story to explore the various avenues that each chapter title produced.
The only thing I found odd about the book was the binding. It did not have the traditional feel of a regular book. It gave the feeling of a text-book. Almost like the kind that you would have had back in grade school. It did feel different while holding and reading it but nonetheless it was still a very good book.
Fans of baseball history and Brooklyn Dodger fans alike will enjoy this book. It provides a complete and somewhat unique picture of a man who we already knew very much about.
You can get this book from the nice folks at Omnigraphics
I was well aware of George Altman’s Major League Baseball career before I read this book. I have seen the stats from when he played in Chicago, St Louis and New York. To say they were average at best is fair. He never played for a pennant winner and was hard pressed to even play for a team that was in the first division. Again, he was a serviceable player whom had an average career. All of that being said this book opened my eyes to what a remarkable career he really did have after all.
George Altman-My Journey from the Negro Leagues to the Majors and Beyond
By:George Altman and Lew Freedman- 2013 McFarland Publishing
I was genuinely surprised by the journey George had throughout his career. This book starts like an other baseball autobiography we come across. You get the family background and the stories from childhood. After a few stories about college George moves on to the Negro Leagues under the tutelage of Buck O’Neil. After one season with the Monarchs which it seems he really enjoyed, you move along with George to the MLB and his stops in the minors. The book gives great insight of what it was like to be a player in minor league baseball during the era. It shows you the steps that needed to be taken in that era to make it to the big time. It also shows the bigotry that still existed during that era in our society which found George as well.
Finally George makes it to the majors and you see how his journey evolves. The reader learns how he adapted to the big time and how he worked on his game and battled through injury to become a better player. Sometimes it worked and other times it didn’t, yet you get the complete picture of the whole process that George went through in his own words. Eventually, you see the decline and eventual end of George’s American baseball career and the closing of one door and the opening of another……on another continent.
This is the point of the book that I found most interesting. Most of the time when a player leaves the American baseball scene for the Japanese league you know about it. I may be the only one that didn’t know about George’s incredible career in Japan but I was amazed at his career over there. He worked very hard to adapt to the culture and be an accepted guest in the country while honing his craft. He truly had a remarkable career over in Japan and it seems that this may be some of the most enjoyable time George spent playing baseball.
After some injuries and health problems, you see how George prepared for, and adapted to life after baseball. He had a remarkable journey through three leagues and seems very thankful for his experiences and the people he has met along the way. From what I have seen it takes a special person to play and adapt to the two premiere baseball leagues in the world. Actually George played in three leagues of that caliber, if you include the Negro League, and looks to have enjoyed every minute through his incredible journey.
I think all fans that know of George and his career will enjoy this book. It gives an honest glimpse in to the man himself as well as the career he had. It is well written and is a quick read, I just wish it had a few more pictures.
You can get this book from the nice folks at
McFarland Publishing 800-253-2187