Like it or not, wherever your favorite team plays is an integral part of the game experience. From unique dimensions, playing surfaces and the elements, these things can all add or detract from the overall experience. With the birth of so many new venues over the last 25 years, the fan experience has been dramatically improved. For the most part the previous generation of stadiums lacked ingenuity or any sort of bling and at the bare minimum left something to be desired for the fans. The only fun part of them was the nicknames that were bestowed to several of them such as concrete doughnut and my personal favorite…..the Toilet. There was one stadium that stood out among all of these circular disappointments and stood above all the rest, The Houston Astrodome. Its amenities were well ahead of the times and served the fans of Houston well for several decades. Now there is a book that celebrates the creation of the iconic stadium and shows all the work that went into building the eighth wonder of the world.
I have always looked at the Astrodome as a baseball stadium. Never giving much thought to the other uses for this multi-purpose marvel. First, this book takes a look at the political wrangling that it took for the city of Houston to procure a Major League team as well as some of the promises it was required to make as part of that deal. It shows the tireless efforts of several key figures in Houston and the many failed previous efforts of the town. It paints a vivid picture of how much time and effort goes in to just getting a promise of a team.
The book also goes into great detail about the political obstacles the new stadium faced in Houston as well as all the engineering hurdles that had to be cleared to create something of this magnitude. It goes into great depth to explain how the stadium was physically built to withstand the elements and how it has been able to withstand the test of time. The authors also show the readers all of the unique attributes that were built into the stadium and you can see how forward thinking those involved with its construction truly were.
The book also addresses the many uses the Astrodome had. From concerts, rodeos, football and countless other uses, it really lent itself to being a jack of all trades. Like all stadiums of this era, it was a living, breathing and evolving building and changed with the needs of the times. Finally, it does take a harsh look at the aging of the dome and how it fell victim of the current times. In the end, the once grand palace of baseball became just another decrepit old stadium. A stadium that no one is sure what to do with and probably at some point, like all the one time greats, will meet its demise.
The book is very comprehensive and shows those not living in Texas what the Astrodome was truly about. It also gives a nice glimpse at Texas politics and how that works as well as the way the people of Houston have helped change their self image with the help of the dome.
While this is not a baseball only book, it still has a large chunk of Colt 45’s/Astros information. If you have interest in old stadiums this book covers it from its beginnings to its possible near end. It has lots of information readers will find informative and entertaining, If like me, you were never lucky enough to visit the Astrodome, this book will surely make you wish you had.
You can get this book from the nice folks at the University of Nebraska Press
Baseball stadiums are a funny business. In the last few years we have opened the remainder of the publicly funded monsters that are basically welfare projects for the mega rich owners. Convincing the fan base that it is a good idea to fund the building of these monsters through tax dollars, all in the name of civic pride. Everyone that has wanted a new stadium has gotten one in the last 25 years, we are even starting to see some of these stadiums become outdated and cries for replacements are starting. These stadiums are all one dimensional and other uses of these parks is very limited. It makes one look back and see how useful the last generation of stadiums truly were. Baseball, Football, Concerts, Monster Truck Rallies or almost anything you could imagine would happen there. In today’s game almost everyone has their individual dedicated to one type of event stadium. But what about that one glorious year when one stadium housed two Baseball teams and two Football teams. Rarely a day went by when something wasn’t going on. Today’s book looks at that one unique and busy year.
Shea Stadium was the lucky recipient of all this attention in 1975. The obvious home of the New York Mets, but also temporary home to the New York Yankees during the remodeling of Yankee Stadium. It also housed the New York Giants and the Jets while construction of the Meadowlands was wrapping up. It made for scheduling nightmares and helped create an atmosphere within Shea that was hard to beat.
Brett Topel’s new book takes a look at that busy season and gives a solid background on each of the teams that called Shea home. He shows the reader how each of the tenants agreements came to be with the city owned stadium and how the legalities of it all threw a few wrenches into the works.
Topel, through interviews with the men who were on the field in 1975 explain what the vibe was like that year. How the Yankees felt playing on enemy territory across town from their beloved stadium and having to call Shea home. It had to be a very interesting mind set for the players since the dimensions were so different between the two stadiums. It also shows how the transplant to Shea Stadium effected the Yankees fans and their attendance.
The book covers both the Baseball and Football teams that called Shea stadium home in 1975, but it is much more centered on the baseball side of the stadium activities. More than likely because in a given year with two teams calling Shea home you would have 162 baseball games that would be considered home games versus the 16 home games for Football on Sundays. It shows how utilitarian these multi purpose stadiums really were. They were treated like a jack of all trades, instead of todays specialized delicate little flowers that are sparingly used for only one activity. I find it amazing that these new sport palaces are starting to have a shorter life span than the older and more widely used multi purpose stadiums.
If you are a fan of New York sports you should check this one out. It shows a very unique situation in an interesting time period of sports league growth. A situation like this we will never see again and for good reason.
You can get this book from the nice folks at Sports Publishing
I have mentioned before how I find it odd how certain great players get lost to the passage of time. I don’t know if that is a product of playing for a smaller market team, playing in the shadow of a teammate or them being the type of player that does not seek the spotlight of the media. Whatever the case may be, today’s book takes a look at one of those players that left a huge mark on the field but never seems to get the full recognition he deserves.
Over the past year I have talked on here about two or three other Willie Stargell books. I have come to the same conclusion with each one that he was an extremely underrated player that was finally getting his deserved props even if they were coming posthumously.
Frank Garland takes an approach to Willie Stargell that is in many ways like the other books. Looking at his upbringing in California, through his time in the segregated minor leagues to his rise to stardom as member of the Pittsburgh Pirates that culminated in immortality in Cooperstown. Garland’s research is very thorough and paints a very detailed and complete picture of Willie Stargell the baseball player.
What is different about this book from the others out there is Garland takes his research beyond just the field. He gets involved in the story line of Stargell’s life after baseball. This area is one place where the other biographies fail in comparison. This book shows Willie’s love and involvement in the classical music scene after his retirement. It also shows his involvement as a coach with the Atlanta Braves. Many people forget that Willie was a coach in the Braves system and his tutelage left an undeniable mark on some of their up and coming big league prospects. These are the same prospects that when they finally came to the big leagues won 15 or so division championships. It shows the knowledge Stargell possessed and how he was able to pass it on to a new era of superstars.
This book is another example of giving Willie Stargell his accolades while presenting some different aspects of the player and the man. If you have read other Stargell biographies you may find some of what is talked about repetitive, but in the end it does present some new information that was not included in other books. The book does move along at a moderate pace and allows the reader to stay engaged with the story.
I have yet to figure out why Willie Stargell is relegated to the shadows. Is it playing in Pittsburgh his entire career, is it the quiet strength he brought to his team or is it playing in the shadow of Robert Clemente? I am not sure if it is all or any of these but they are reasonable questions to ask. For this fan though, it is nice to see Willie Stargell remembered for being the superstar that he was both on and off the field.
You can get this book from the nice folks at McFarland
Why are we baseball fans? What draws you to the game? Is it something tangible or is it a feeling you get from watching it? Is it the same reason that it was when you were 13, 43 or 63 years old? Obviously everyone will have a different answer and quite honestly there is no wrong answer. One thing we all have in common is at one point in our lives, every single one of us wanted to be out on that field as a member of the pros. That dream faded for many of us when we realized we had not one bit of talent to back it up. Today’s book takes a look at one of the very few who were lucky enough to keep that little boy’s dream alive inside themselves, and while it may be 40 years behind his schedule it is still a monumental dream fulfilled.
Roy Berger is an average guy just like the rest of us. Making a home, enjoying his family and friends and raising his kids to the best of his abilities. But deep down inside he had that dream that to some degree we all still have, he wanted to be a major league baseball player. While reality sets in for all of us when we realize we don’t have the ability to back up the dream, all of us like Roy never totally let go of that dream. Being a Pittsburgh Pirates fan in his youth, the 50th anniversary of the 1960 World Series Champions led for a unique opportunity for Roy to make his dreams come true.
Fantasy Camps to me were always a toy for the rich fans. The ability to hob-nob with the heroes of yesteryear and the chance to be shoulder to shoulder with them out on the battlefield. Now while I still believe these are the tools of the affluent fan, this book shows us how much dedication one has to put into playing in a fantasy camp along with proving no matter what your financial status is in life, you can’t put a dollar sign on your dreams.
Roy Berger takes us on his journey through four Fantasy Camps. He starts with his first true love the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1960 team. The Pittsburgh Pirates being the first love of his youth was a logical starting point and provided good value for the money. He shows the reader how any fan might feel going into the first fantasy camp and it gives you a good feel for what these camps are all about. It also shows how addictive the game of baseball really is to true lifetime fans.
His second year he takes us on tour with the Detroit Tigers. The combination of rain delays and cancellations at that camp plus the fact that he had no real attachment to the Detroit Tigers led to his worst experience of all the visits. It was the lowest price of all the camps he attended and proves the adage you get what you pay for. This trip also showed that even though he was a player in his late 50’s that he still treated the game with respect and went through the needed preparation to give it his best.
His third year, 2012, Roy takes us to his adult adopted team, the New York Yankees fantasy camp. The highest priced of all the camps, because its the Yankees and they can do it, it offered the most amenities along with the opportunities to hob nob with the most players. An overall great experience both on and off the field, the only downside of course was the price.
Roy’s final fantasy camp took us back to the Pirates, which to me seems to be the best value of all the camps he attended. A combination of on field injuries and Father Time catching up with Roy made this his poorest performance at any of the camps and lowest showing in the camps final standings for any of the teams he had been on.
This book is a great example of how no matter how old we are, we never can outgrow that little kid inside of each of us that wants to play baseball. I find it amazing that grown men will pay thousands of dollars for a week of playing baseball with some of their heroes. It is also the opportunity for grown men and women to create new friendships that endure year to year. Without doubt this is very a unique opportunity and one that price will ever forbid me from partaking in, and at any age, but if I could afford it I would most certainly go.
Roy’s book does a great job of showing the reader what one goes through in a Fantasy Camp. It is not just show up and play ball, because at our age (over 40) most of our bodies would just laugh at us if we tried that. He shows the preparation and dedication required to play and the most important what it takes to not look like an idiot in front of your heroes. It shows that no matter how old we get, as long as you can write the check, baseball will always keep us young at heart.
If you have any sort of inner child this book is great for you. It will show you where baseball may lead you if you always stay true to both yourself and the game. You can get this book direct from Roy Berger himself.
There are certain seasons that stand out from others. Perhaps it is a historical event that happened during that particular year, a team that overcame great odds or even a year of monumental changes that may be hard to recognize without the use of hind sight. 1972 is one of those years that on the surface while it was happening, the participants really were not living it going this is something great we are doing here. It was a year that was plop in the middle of the time when the players union was starting to be a formidable force within the game, as well as a noticeable change in society’s values. Time where authority was being challenged, inflation was starting to run rampant and in the public’s eyes baseball would start moving from just a game to a business. Today’s book takes a look at the one pivotal year within this decade of change and shows some of the signs that people may have missed that the game was changing.
1972 offered some interesting things to baseball fans. Rosters were jammed full of future Hall of Famers, some at the beginnings of their careers and sadly other at the end, but when the bell would ring, still able to bring it. It was the first year the Player Union made enough noise to institute a strike and cost MLB owners some games, showing that Marvin Miller was not going to go away quietly as they had hoped. Salaries were on the move up and players were going from needing to have extra income in the off-season(second job) to living comfortably all year on their baseball earnings. On the field the most amazing thing happened was that the Oakland A’s run by the miserly Charlie Finley won the first of their three straight World Series titles. But at the time nobody realized what they were about to witness. Facing the straight laced Cincinnati Reds led by Pete Rose they knocked off their first title and showed the baseball world that the guys with their long hair and mustaches had finally arrived.
Ed Gruver’s new book takes the reader through the changing times in baseball during the 1972 season. Looking back on that year from our comfy couches in 2016, the big headlines that year was the 1972 World Series between the A’s and the Reds. Essentially a clash between old school baseball and new world values. On the field it was all old school baseball but off the field the Oakland A’s were a sight glass into the changing norms of society. Clothing, attitude and rules were all up for debate as far as the rowdy A’s were concerned.
The author also does a great job at covering at the different teams that made a splash during the 1972 season. The Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates and St Louis Cardinals all had seasons to remember on the field and some individuals made headlines as well. Willie Mays made triumphant return to the New York by joining the Mets, Hank Aaron was making headlines almost every day in his chase of Babe Ruth’s career home run mark and Dick Allen was singlehandedly saving the Chicago White Sox franchise on the way to winning the American League MVP trophy. It gives the reader a good look of what was going on around baseball beyond just the World Series participants. It shows the up and downs of other teams that before the decade was out would create their own histories.
This book gives you a great feel of what being part of 1972 was all about and how to some degree it was the changing of the guard within baseball. Old school baseball thinking versus new school societal ways created some tumultuous times and 1972 was the tipping point. I always enjoy these books that pick a single year and dissect all the important events. We have seen this type of book in Dan Epstein’s book about the 1976 season, Stars & Strikes and TimWendel’s Summer of ’68. Those books like this one, segregate that one season and look at the effects that it may have had on other seasons down the line. These are great tools for fans who were not able to be there the first time around, but want to know the ins and outs of that season and what made it so special.
This book is published by the University of Nebraska press and the last book I recently did by them was in my opinion not up to their normal editing standards from a factual standpoint. I am glad to say this book has raised the bar back up to their normal standards for the most part, but did have one easily verifiable mistake that drove me crazy, and as a Phillies fan it made me even crazier. The book states that Dick Allen was the first black player ever on the Phillies when he debuted in 1963. That would be three years after the last team integrated in Major League Baseball. For the Phillies the first player of color was John Kennedy in 1957. Other than that there was nothing substantial in the error department.
If you are a fan of this era you should enjoy it. It does start out a little slow and does offer a bit too much game play by play in spots but the product as a whole reads well. You get a new appreciation for 1972, because this year is an integral part of a larger era and sometimes gets overlooked when examined as part of the greater time frame.
You can get this book from the nice folks at the University of Nebraska Press
When you think of the Houston Astros in the 1970’s, one of the first names that comes to mind is J.R.Richard. Being a tall and lanky pitcher with a blazing fastball, he combined both of these attributes to scare the crap out of hitters throughout the National League. In an era in Houston before Nolan Ryan, Richard was the ace on the staff of the young up and coming group. With the signing of Nolan Ryan the Astros became a force to be reckoned within the league and the sky was the limit for everyone. Then one day the glass ceiling shattered and for one player life would never be the same.
I was really looking forward to this one. I was always a fan of J.R.’s growing up and remember him in the Astros uniforms of the late 70’s. I remember hearing of his stroke and trying to follow his comeback as best a fan who lived in Philadelphia in 1980 could. The translation of that last sentence means I could not follow it very well. So between the story line and Lew Freedman working on this book I expected a winner. I am happy to say I was not disappointed.
The book follows a back and forth format. Each chapter starts with an overview of what that chapter is going to cover, presumably in the words of Freeman. Then it shifts to Richard sharing his story. It is a good format that works very well for this book, instead of trying to make it all seem like J.R. doing all of the storytelling.
The book covers a great deal of topics in Richard’s life. It talks about his poor upbringing, his trek through the minors and then finally arriving in Houston to stay. The biggest part of this book is of course, talking about his unfortunate stroke and the devastating after effects it has had on his entire life. He shows you how his career was never able to be revived, how marriages failed, business dealings went bad and all the things that eventually led to him living on the streets of Houston.
One would think after all of this J.R. Richard would be extremely bitter, but I found just the opposite in this story. He has been lucky enough to find God and get his life back on track. He has through his faith been able to understand his past, and accept it for who it has helped him become. It really is a remarkable story of perseverance and overcoming obstacles in one’s life. He shows great character and is a better man than I ever could because of his outlook of his own life. If it was me that had to struggle through all of this, I don’t ever think I could have kept the positive outlook he was able to maintain.
There has not been a lot of things published on J.R. in the past, so this book really helps fans understand what truly went on in J.R. Richard’s life. All baseball fans should check this out it really is both an enjoyable and remarkable story.
You can get this book from the nice folks at Triumph Books
Happy Reading and Merry Christmas to all, may Santa be nice to your library this year.