Nostalgia is a dangerous thing. If not used correctly it can skew the memories of people, times and places of bygone eras. It can make one think and long for something that in hindsight we believe was much better than it really was. Since Baseball has been around for almost a century and a half, there are many eras that none of use were able to witness first hand. We rely on history books, the research of many and documentation to see what really happened. The Deadball era is one that many people have a fondness for and like to learn about it as much as they can. I recently found a book that allows those Deadball era lovers to get some inside stories of what the game was really like during that time, without succumbing to all that messy nostalgia.
Tales From the Deadball Era allows readers to do some time traveling if you will. It takes them back to when violence, segregation and gambling were some of the nicer things happening at the baseball games. A time when fields were in disrepair, equipment was unsophisticated and quite honestly the final product was somewhat of a mess. It was nothing like the showcase we get to witness on a daily basis today.
Halfon introduces us to some of the major events of the era. Showing us these highlights along with some of the great personalities ever to play the game, he gives the reader a very complete picture of what was going on during this era. He also shows some of the more lighthearted moments that infiltrated the game during that period. Many of these things you would not even dream of as being part of the game today. The book also shows how necessity is the mother of invention. Things we normally accept as part of the game had to come from somewhere, and this book shows us those things we should all be thankful for.
If you fancy yourself a novice baseball historian this book is a good book for you. It gives the reader a nice feel for this time period and will leave you wanting to find out more information about the Deadball era and its personalities. If you fancy yourself a novice historian on the John Thorn level then you may want to stay away from this one. If you are at that level you more than likely wont get any new information from this book. Honestly most fans will enjoy reading this book and spending the time traveling back to these decades long ago.
You can get this book from the nice folks at Potomac Books
This time of year with Spring Training in full swing, it reminds us of all the exciting possibilities this upcoming year has to offer. Everyone is looking forward to all the games and highlights in the near future, but the business end of baseball is the furthest thing from most fans minds. Truth be told, somewhere, someone is attending to the business end of the game and always has. Most fans don’t think about the contract negotiations that take place, the players working conditions that the union fights for or the meal money stipend the players get. These are all the realities of the game and have been for decades. It may be hard to comprehend for the average fan why these are important and further more how they arrived at where they stand today, but today’s book takes the time to explain what has transpired throughout the history of the game in regards to working conditions.
Krister Swanson has created a really interesting book. It starts from the very early years of the game and shows what relations were like between the owners and players. It was more of a parental relationship versus a business one. It shows how the owners were able to realize what an advantages they had in the reserve clause and how to use it to their own benefit. The author shows how owners were able to maintain low salaries and reap all the rewards without having to share almost anything with their players.
Swanson also shows that the players started to realize how they were being exploited by the owners and attempted to improve conditions both on the field and monetarily. The few feeble attempts at first which finally led to the formation of the MLBPA are chronicled in these pages. I don’t think the owners or the establishment of the game itself had any idea what the possibilities were for the newly formed union. It shows the union’s rise to power, how the media helped that and the fans sympathy that would help them along their journey. The book also covers the few short strikes and lockouts along the way that occurred, just to keep things interesting.
The problem I had with the book is it seemed to stop the history lesson after the 1981 players strike. I know as a fan, there were other strikes that occurred after 1981 and they were very influential on the shape of the game we now know. Obviously there are other books out there that cover these strikes, but I think for complete coverage of the topic it should have been included in some shape or form in this book. The only other problem I had was it said that Bob Feller played his entire career for the Braves. I mean for me that is a huge error that should have been caught by someone.
Overall this is a very entertaining book. It gives a great and thorough history lesson that even the most die hard baseball fan will be able to gain some knowledge from, plus the early years of labor relations within the game are not always widely covered.
You can get this book from the nice folks at the University of Nebraska Press
Baseball is a game full of wild and outrageous stories. Players, coaches and even fans get in the mix. Regardless of where these stories originate from, on or off of the field, most of the time they are entertaining. But what about all those people behind the scenes that make the process function. Little people who work in the world of baseball, you may casually notice but never really give a second thought to. What are their stories? What are their dreams? Today’s book takes a look at one of those people who lived his life chasing his dreams of being one of those petty functionaries who make the game happen.
Before we jump into this book please keep in mind it is not 100% baseball, but contains enough about our sport that it warrants a place in my bookcase. A trip to the stadium requires the efforts of hundreds of people behind the scenes. Some people who you never knew existed. Some you see right out in the open, such as vendors and ushers, but most folks don’t really think twice about them either. Jon Hart was never a super athlete but he has fulfilled his mission to become one of those people who are part of the experience and still not a part of the actual game. It almost feels like a personal bucket list, by taking on the jobs in sports that most of us would not relish.
The author takes on jobs at various venues and relates his experiences. What one of us has not wished we were a vendor at Shea Stadium on a 100 degree day, or a ball boy at Wimbledon. How about life in a mascot suit, or stair climbing competitions. These are all things none of us go, wow that is my lifelong dream to work, but Jon Hart has made them his own.
He has taken on each of his professional challenges on the very edges of the sports world and strives to be the best he can be at it. He has shown the struggles that are inherent with each career path as well as whatever highs can be mustered from each position. It’s a funny book that takes the reader to a spot where they rarely will be able to go, and gives us the insight as to what really happens behind the scenes. It shows that with a little work and some creative interpretation of what being a professional athlete really is, it is not that difficult to be a part of that world.
As I said above it contains other sports besides baseball, so all sports fans will find something in here that will interest them. It is a fun look at one man’s personal journey through the world of sports, and will probably make you laugh out loud more than once. It truly shows that with a little ingenuity, the world of sports is open to everyone who wants to participate.
You can check out the Author’s website at the address below.
Lets face it. The New York Yankees have always been the prettiest girl at the dance, the prom queen and grandma’s favorite at Thanksgiving dinner. They get all the ink in the press, they get all the big impact free agents, and have a seemingly endless supply of money. These reasons above have given fans plenty of reasons to hate the Bronx Bombers. In the course of winning 27 World Championships the Yankees have had the occasion to create more than one dynasty in New York. Today’s book takes at the most recent dynasty assembled in the Big Apple, down to its very core.
The last thing I want to do when I find time to read a book, is partake in the Yankees propaganda machine. After the 2014 grand retirement extravaganza that was Derek Jeter, I as a fan was tired. I more wanted to find a book that would make me enjoy the good old days of the recent Yankees without finding out why Derek Jeter was the best player ever. Even though Jeter is part of today’s book, it thankfully wasn’t dominated by Derek.
Core Four takes a look at the roads traveled by the four main players that were members of the Yankees new millennium dynasty. While that dynasty actually started in 1996, it carried over into the 21st century, so I figured that was the easiest way to categorize it. The book looks at Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and of course Derek Jeter. It shows the journey each of them made in their private lives to get to professional baseball, their minor league journeys, as well as their pecking orders in the Yankees minor league system. Finally our core four move to the majors and you review each of their individual accomplishments.
The part of the book I found most interesting was the way that these four players were present for a substantial period of success in Yankees history. Six pennants and four World Series over the course of eight seasons while these four called each other teammates. That in itself is nothing to sneeze at. But you also see how as some of these pieces moved on to other teams how the Yankees suffered. It is a really interesting look at how the foundation of that dynasty was assembled and how it functioned.
Some people enjoy Phil Pepe’s writings, and I am one of them. He is obviously New York biased which is fine if you accept that fact before you start reading the book. This is another stellar effort on his part in the telling of the Yankees dynasty and New York fans should really enjoy it.
You can get this book from the nice folks at Triumph Books
There are times when successful teams become monsters. Not necessarily just on the field. In the annals of history the teams legacy can become grander than they ever really were, and take on an entire life of their own. One such team that I feel has taken on a new meaning as time has marched on is Charlie Finley’s Oakland Athletics. The team was born of a time before free agency and assembled through the farm system and trades. The end result of that work was the formation of a powerhouse that may never be duplicated in the future. 1971-1975 was a magical time to be a Oakland A’s fan. This book we are looking at today helps us relieve the magical era by the bay.
What is there not to love about the 70’s???? Handlebar mustaches, bell bottoms, disco and of course the almighty Oakland A’s. They were the hands-down the most dominating powerhouse of the American League in the first half of the decade, and produced a legacy that would be destroyed by the advent of free agency as well as the miserly ways of their owner Charlie Finley.
The A’s on the field were virtually unstoppable. Multiple trips to the World Series in the early 70’s as well as a few rings to boot, made them the favorite to repeat each year. With stars such as Reggie Jackson, Vida Blue, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, Mudcat Grant, Gene Tenace and Sal Bando, they were almost unstoppable. With this many elite stars assembled on one team, of course drama would not be far behind in Oakland.
Bruce Markusen has assembled a nice collection of stories on the A’s during their dynasty years. Through exhaustive research he has created several analyses on what made the A’s such a formidable team and what led to such a prolonged success. This newer updated version also has interviews with some of the players and behind the scenes stories that really bring the Oakland A’s to life. Of course since it is the Charlie Finley Oakland A’s we are talking about here, you get stories and details about all the bickering and in-house disputes between teammates, managers and the front office. It does paint a very good picture of the A’s figured out how to win on the field and become a powerhouse, in spite of their behavior off the field. They easily rivaled, if not surpassed any Steinbrenner run team in the drama department.
The author has written a very enjoyable book if you have an interest in the A’s. It shows an inside look at a team success that we as fans, will be hard pressed to see again in modern baseball. One can only imagine if the A’s had an owner other than Charlie Finley, how much more success they could have attained in the latter half of the 70’s
You can get this book from the nice folks at St Johann Press
Every team has a history. Some teams have stayed in one place and followed the straight and narrow, while others have made stops along the way, some of those in three or four towns no less. Sometimes it is lack of fan support, the lure of a new stadium or for other owners its just the temptation that the grass is greener on the other side, that makes them up-root their teams. The Minnesota Twins, born out of the remains of the original Washington Senators, are one of those such teams and todays book takes a look at their rich history after moving out to the prairie.
The upper mid-west was a grand opportunity for the owner of the Minnesota Twins. There was not much in the way of professional sports representation for that area at the time, and Calvin Griffith saw a gold mine for the taking. Sometimes these moves go as expected and sometimes not, just ask Charlie Finley how Kansas City was. Regardless, Minnesota got a new baseball team for the 1961 season and the endless love affair between team and city has not missed a beat since.
Stew Thornley takes an in-depth look at the team from its humble beginnings in 1961, through a few World Series appearances and finally to their new home at Target Field. The author breaks down each decade of the teams existence and shows the highs and lows that came about. The book is a very quick read at only 123 pages, but it does not just touch on the main events. It encompasses the minor details that have made Twins baseball special to the people of Minnesota. Thornley also gives a nice overview of what baseball was in Minnesota prior to the Twins arrival on semi-pro levels. From Killebrew and Oliva to Molitor and Mauer, this book does a great job of covering the team history.
If you are a Twins fan or someone who is not in the Minnesota region but likes to learn about team history, you will really enjoy this book. It paints a solid team picture in a short span, and helps you understand why the fans of Minnesota are so proud of their hometown team.
You can get this book from the nice folks at The History Press
Canada has always in my opinion, been an overlooked area when we read about baseball. I realize it really only came into play in the last 45 years or so, but I never thought it got the attention it deserved. In reality over the last 50 years it has created two strong teams, introduced Canadian fans to the game and to some degree cut into the Hockey monopoly in Canada. With talk of the Rays possibly packing up and moving to Montreal, I thought now would be a good time to see what books are available for the teams north of the border.
The Expos in Their Prime 1977-84
By Alain Usereau – McFarland & Co. 2013
To me it feels like the Expos didn’t exist. Maybe its a matter of nobody remembers that they were even there or that nobody wants to remember. But whatever the case may be they did exist at one point. During that existence they had a span of years where they were always at the top of the standings fighting for the division crown. The years from 1977-84 were really the defining years of the franchise. They had a steady parade of Hall of Famers on the roster but could never quite get over the hump to glory. When you have names like Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Pete Rose, Tony Perez and countless other stars like Rusty Staub, Ellis Valentine and Warren Cromartie, you would think they would be able to pull it off a few times during those years.
Obviously they did not, but Alain Usereau has taken a deep, hard look at the Expos during their glory years. You get some behind the scenes look at the way the team operated on and off the field, both as a group and individually. You see the mind-set of the front office and why they made some of the moves they did during those years. The reader also gets a look at what the team meant to the fans of Montreal. This book proved to me that Montreal is still today, a viable option for a MLB team as the fans would support it there. Perhaps it was the poor product on the field in the final years of the Expos that contributed to poor fan support. It seems that in Montreal if you build it, they will come……if it’s a decent product.
This book gives a lot of insight to an often forgotten team with limited success. It’s overall a good book, that most baseball fans should enjoy. I only mention this next thing because it is a pet-peeve of mine. It would have benefitted from a little better copy editing because their were to many grammatical errors for my liking in a finished book. But as I said its a good book that most fans will enjoy.
You can get this book from the nice folks at McFarland & Co Publishing, http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com
Lets look at the other side of the coin in Canada, the Toronto Blue Jays. Since their inception they have had good fan support and produced some serious thrills for their fans. A few division titles, and oh yeah, two World Series Championships, which make for a happy fan base. While the Blue Jays had their growing pains in the beginning, they seemed to stumble upon a better plan for on-field success that the Expos could never quite attain. But what happens in Toronto when the team and the fans have huge expectations and it blows up in their faces?
Great Expectations, The Lost Toronto Blue Jays Season
By Shi Davidi and John Lott – 2013 ECW Press
For all intents and purposes, 2013 was supposed to be the Toronto Blue Jays year. Much like the Chicago Cubs have done this off-season, the Blue Jays blew up the roster and started over. The looked at weaknesses at every position and went out and brought in some of the best names in the game to fix their problems. On paper the Blue Jays looked like the team to beat and at the start of the 2013 season other teams noticed. But as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the 2013 was a flat-out train wreck. Injuries, career declines and pretty much the fact that anything that could go wrong……did go wrong, the Blue Jays had a dismal year.
Davidi and Lott take the reader on a journey through the 2013 season. They look at the blockbuster trades that were made in the off-season, free agent signings, spring training and of course the season. They give a nice look at the operations side of the Toronto front office and how the fans had embraced the new hope in Toronto. It also shows the mindset of the GM and what management felt they were accomplishing by assembling this team on the field. The book gives a detailed look at how the season in Toronto, and in the end the fans turned on the team and the front office. It is a great look at how the Blue Jays and its fan base operate and feed off of each other.
The 2014 season was a little better than 2013, and probably the residue of this 2013 team will achieve the initial success they expected eventually. But I think much like the Expos, the Blue Jays are often an afterthought to fans outside of Toronto. But it is nice to see that books are coming forth that show the Canadian pride in their teams and most of the time they are just as good if not better than the other teams out there. Just because most of the country is hockey crazy does not mean that they have forgotten how to love baseball.
Baseball on the field rarely changes. The bases are always 90 feet apart. Sixty feet six inches is another norm. Nine men on the field is another thing that hasn’t changed either. What has changed, is the way we look at the game off the field. I am not talking about media interaction or the fan experience at the stadium. I am solely looking at the change in the way we view the importance of statistics. Numbers have always been an integral part of the game, but now all decisions are based around what the numbers tell us. Gone are the days of gut feelings, and hunches in player evaluation. Now it is cold hard numbers that tell the tale. There are so many new and different ways you are now able to analyze what you see on the field in this new age of baseball.
Baseball Prospectus is one of the books that is out there that gives a different look at the game. It is published on an annual basis, so you are always up to date on your favorite team. Each team is broken down into their own section and gives an overview of the past seasons fortunes. It shows the good, bad and ugly for each team and where the strengths and weaknesses are. It also breaks down the roster of each team taking a look at the individual stats for the player and a brief synopsis of their strength and weaknesses. It is a nice commentary on the players and you can get a real feel for what each team is bringing to the table this season. The authors also give their own commentary on each team and projections of what the upcoming season will offer. For the casual or fan this is a very informative book. For the hardcore fan there is more.
This book is strictly for the hardcore fan. This book caters to the “stat-geeks” and offers an amazing amount of information. The 2015 almanac has covered every major league team on all levels. By that I mean they offer statistics on every level of the team organization. You get the majors, the rookie leagues and everything in between. It gives hardcore stats that analyze every aspect of the game. This book also offers a look at the college level players we may see in the future as well as high school and then checks out the upcoming amateur draft. It does do some review of the past season and some team overviews, along with the previous seasons statistical leaders. What this book does offer is deep analysis that hard-core fans will find helpful. If you are looking for baseball by the numbers this would be the book for you.
Each of these book may be considered statistical analysis books but the offer something totally different. They each target a different level fan and present the information based on that specified audience. While they offer the same general product they have hit the mark in being able to appeal to different level of fans. As the game shifts to being even more numbers based, these books will only gain importance in the game we all love. I always say knowledge is power in the game of baseball, and this only proves it.
I have never once made it a secret that my favorite team is the Philadelphia Phillies. Through 130 years of existence, they have manged to win two World Championships and amassed over 10,000 losses. While it is not always easy to be a Phillies fan, my dedication has gone unchallenged for almost 40 years and still going strong. It is due to my team allegiance that when any books come out about my team, I have to check them out. In those 130 years of history there are bound to be some real heartbreaking years in there. For Phillies fans 1964 stands out as the all-time worst, and can generate profanity from old ladies and nuns without much effort. That brings us to todays book, an in-depth look at that bitter 1964 season.
The Year of the Blue Snow – The 1964 Philadelphia Phillies
By Mel Marmer and Bill Nowlin – 2013 Society for American Baseball Research
Books written by the members of SABR have always been thorough and highly detailed. They are the results of long hours of painstaking research that have given fans great historical reports with unparalleled accuracy. The Year of the Blue Snow is no exception to SABR’s great book catalog. Marmer and Nowlin have created a great chronicle of the horrible season that all but destroyed Phillies fans.
The authors break the season down and more importantly dissect the roster. They look at the highlights and lowlights that occurred during the 1964 season. Those occurrences were then put into perspective of how they fit into the season as a whole. It gave a nice look at what actually happened to the team, how it effected them, and how it contributed to the final result, the season ending choke.
Another aspect of this book I found very enjoyable was that it took a look at the complete roster. It did not just a look at the original season opening day roster as other books have done. It is everybody who wore a uniform that year, opening day, in season trades, minor league call ups, coaching staff and waiver claims. The biographies of each player expand beyond 1964. You get a glimpse of each players road to the majors, complete major league career, of course 1964 and post Phillies career as well as their life after baseball. These are very complete biographies of the players and of the quality I have come to expect from SABR books.
If you have any interest in the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies, this is a great book to take a look at. I have read and reviewed several of the books produced on this season, but this one is easily the most comprehensive. Its scope covers everything and gives an accurate and extensively detailed picture that is chock full of information for the fans.
You can get this book by contacting the nice folks at the Society for American Baseball Research
With all the noise the Chicago Cubs have made during the off-season this year, I figured now would be a good time to take a look at todays book.
Wrigley Field – 100 Stories for 100 Years
By Dan Campana and Rob Carroll – 2013 The History Press
I have said before that the stadiums are an important part of the fan experience. It’s the sights, sounds and smells of each individual place that make each park unique. The longer a ball park stands, the more ingrained in the city it becomes, and over time becomes an extension of the team. Wrigley Field is no exception to that phenomenon. It has been witness to the triumphs and tragedies of the Chicago faithful and become a beloved friend to the Cubbies fans for over a century.
Campana and Carroll have written a book that takes a look at the bond between fans and their ball park. The cool part is it does not stop at just the fan base. It tells stories, from fans, players, coaches, announcers employees and the city locals. It gives an inside look at the bond built between the Chicago faithful and their stadium on hot summer nights. A bond that with the passing of time has only become stronger.
Each story is broken into its own separate chapter and give an in-depth look at what makes Wrigley Field so special to so many. It is more than just the fact that Wrigley has been standing for what seems like eternity. It is the magic and charm that only an old ball park can offer. It has 100 years of smells and memories that each individual holds dear.
If Wrigley Field has ever been a place you wanted to make a baseball pilgrimage to, then you may want to check this book out. It will give you an idea of the truly special place you are going to visit. Cubs fans will enjoy it for obvious reasons as well as other fans who have respect for the game’s history.
You can get this book from the nice folks at The History Press