I am sure no one has missed me on here, but I should probably give a brief explanation of my MIA status. Between a new job, moving back to Philadelphia and figuring out this whole Fatherhood thing, baseball books have become the victim of circumstances. Now that we are settled in our new place and the very large former Ron Kaplan book collection has been moved, I can hopefully focus on some more books, but if anyone has any ideas how to get an eight month old to sleep through the night, I would love to hear from you. I figured I would start back with a book that was highly anticipated by myself and did not disappoint.
I was familiar with Dickson’s previous work on his Bill Veeck book and really enjoyed that one, so I expected more of the same with this. Leo Durocher was one of those figures in baseball history that was either loved or hated, somewhere in the middle was not an option. To date, there have been a few books about Durocher, but none recently so it was a subject worth revisiting.
Paul Dickson takes a hard look at both Durocher’s playing and managing career. Not really much of a player numbers-wise, he had the small guy attitude that was appreciated by many a manager. This book looks at his trouble with Babe Ruth and the hard-nosed play that forged his cocky reputation. It is very thorough look at an often overlooked part of Leo’s resume.
Durocher’s real strength was his managing obviously. With varying degrees of success at all of his stops in the big leagues, you see how his hard-nosed playing attitude spills over into his managing. The reader also sees how Leo becomes the victim of a changing game. How more success early in his career does not carry over in the latter years. The game changed along with player attitudes, but old Leo stuck to his guns. It translated into some rough times for the long time manager, but those stops still put the finishing touches on an impressive career.
The one aspect of this book I found most interesting was the details of his private life. From associations with known gamblers, to his friendships with the Hollywood types, it leads to a very interesting life. Of course, the four wives add some zing to that private life also. It is an interesting aspect of Leo that we know some details about, but this sheds a whole new light on the subject.
Overall, this book is tirelessly researched and prepared well. It gets a little stat heavy at times, but the overall content of the book makes up for that lone aspect I did not like. If you have any interest in Durocher, or are a fan of this era of the game, check this one out. At 300+ pages it is a lot of reading but is for sure, time well spent.
Check it out, I don’t think anyone will be disappointed.
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
I am all about giving respect where respect is due. As always, anniversaries are a great way to show respect. Baseball has never been one to shy away from commemorating something either big or small, or both. 2016 is the 30th anniversary of the last Mets World Series winner and the events marking that this year have been coming at fans both fast and furiously. The book arena has been no exception to these celebrations, and while we have covered several of these in previous posts, I think I have the last two out there this year that I am going to do. It is amazing how much time and money has been spent this year for this one and done World Series winner, but for me, it is time and I am ready to put this subject to bed. So without further ado, here are the final two books.
Originally released in 1995 One Pitch Away takes a unique look at all the post-season teams in 1986. You get perspectives from several key members who played for one of the four teams, which is a nice change, because most of these books about 1986 only cover the World Series teams. You get a real good feel as to what was going through the heads of those involved during this amazing post-season.
I first read this when it was released in 1995. My initial reaction then was the same as it is now. It gives great insight into the games from the players themselves and Sowell’s work comes through strong. The interviews seem well prepared for by both parties and is time well spent reading about the fab-four of the 1986 post-season.
If you are a fan of any of the teams involved check out this book, I don’t think you will be disappointed. You can get this book from the nice folks at Summer Game Books. One Pitch Away
The next book brings us to current times with the 2015 Mets. By winning the division last year the Mets re-captured the hearts of the New York faithful in the Big Apple. After a decade and a half or so of the Yankees being the toast of New York, it was nice to see the love spread around town.
Greg Prince who runs his own New York Mets blog, also has written about the Mets several times before. He has an intense love for his team and it shows in his writing. He takes a thorough look at the colorful cast of characters the Mets were able to put together for their improbable run in 2015. If you are a fan of the Mets it is a fun reflection on an improbable year. It is for sure a good read, but will probably be more enjoyable in 10 or 15 years when time has passed and the limelight has faded on this particular team. This is another book that is time well spent reading today, but as it ages will become even more valuable to certain fans. You can get this from the nice folks at Sports Publishing.
I am a big fan of anniversaries and nostalgia in baseball. Its good to remember where we came from and what has been accomplished, so a remembrance is always a welcome sight in my eyes. This year we knew it was coming, the 30th anniversary of the 86 World Series. It seems to be a bigger deal this year than the 25th anniversary was, but I always thought the 25th was celebrated more than the 30th, so I’m confused. Be my confusion what it is, we have chosen to go all out and celebrate the 30th anniversary of one of the most thrilling World Series’ on record. With this anniversary there have been a slew of new books coming out celebrating the World Series champs, but today’s books take a look at both teams and gives balanced comparisons of them.
If you are not familiar with the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), you have no idea what you are missing. They are the folks who do tireless research and find us more information about our sport than we all ever thought possible. They research complete teams and individual players, and do a stellar job at both. New for this years 30th Anniversary, they have produced two different but connected books that remind fans that the series was about more than just Bill Buckner.
Both of the books follow the same format, so as I am describing them it pertains to both volumes. The authors look at each man on that respective teams roster for the 1986 season. Giving in depth bios, analysis of the season performance and interesting facts about the players. They follow the same format for the Manager, General Manager, Coaching Staff and Announcers. So if this is not your home town team you get a real good feel of their complete personnel package.
Next they look at key team performances throughout the year and take note of several key games that helped the team gain momentum and what made them work as a cohesive unit. Next you see analysis of the Championship Series and the World Series. Finally, it asks a few honest questions about the way the teams were constructed and the important numbers that stick out for each team.
Quite honestly, this is your typical SABR book and is in line with what we have all come to expect from them. It is well researched and you feel very comfortable in the fact that you can take all information at face value and accept as that. Mainly this is because of the tireless efforts and dedication of the SABR staff and the quality work that every one of them puts forth on SABR projects. Each one of these folks that worked on these books should be commended because they have created another quality product.
Baseball fans should check this out because there is always something new fans can learn from these types of SABR books, plus it’s always fun to remember Bill Buckner.
You can get these books from the nice folks at SABR.
Sometimes I find a baseball autobiography and wonder if this player really needed their own book. If that player had an average, or even less than average career, what could they possibly bring to the table? Sometimes I get a pleasant surprise when one of those average player writes a book that holds my interest and produces a good reading experience for me. Today’s book falls into that pleasant surprise category and from an unlikely source to boot.
Jerry Reuss by most standards had an average career. Never the ace of a staff, but a serviceable arm that would eat innings and help teams in their push to the top. Pitching for eight teams over a 22 year span, Reuss compiled an impressive win total of 220. From a pitcher that never won more than 18 games in any given season, that is an impressive total.
Jerry Reuss starts the reader on a journey through his early years in Missouri, where he first dreamed of becoming a major league pitcher. Signing with the hometown St. Louis Cardinals, Reuss had all the makings of a real life dream come true.
Reuss then shows the reader what the inside, off the field life of a baseball player is really like. Back stabbings by the upper management people he trusted, trades, releases and other not so pleasant things a player deals with on an annual basis. It shows how much more players even back in those days had to deal with off the field.
The big thing I took away from this book is how remaining true to yourself and dealing fair with people will help you get ahead at whatever your vocation. Jerry Reuss played more years than many of his contemporaries did who maintained the same skill set. It comes across as being a combination of perseverance at his chosen trade and being a decent person on and off the field. In the end this average pitcher ended his career, after a few stops in different cities, the proud owner of a World Series ring.
This book is a pretty enjoyable read. It moves along at a brisk pace and holds the readers interest through more than just on the field happenings. Anecdotes about himself and teammates keep you engaged and give you a real feel what it was like to be a teammate of Reuss’. It also shows a glimpse of the personality of Reuss himself which comes across as a fun loving guy and a great teammate.
If you are a fan of Reuss or any of the teams he played for, take the time to read this book. It is not a book that one would compare to War & Peace in any way. It is more of a breezy light hearted read of an average pitcher with an interesting journey. I wasn’t expecting much out of Reuss’ stories about his career and his teammates, but was pleasantly surprised at what I got. You never know who or what is going to present you with an enjoyable book.
You can get this book from the nice folks at the University of Nebraska Press
Each of us has a certain player or an event that they can link with a certain point in time. In the 50’s it was Mantle and the New York Yankees the 60’s it may have been Sandy Koufax and the newly transplanted Dodgers and the 70’s it could have been Charlie Hustle and the Big Red Machine. For myself, the 1980’s is the first decade that I was a fan from beginning to end. The decade promised prospect after prospect that were going to have Hall of Fame careers. Some panned out while some others went up in flames. One name that stands out to me in my own head and is the first go to guy when I think about that decade is Dwight Gooden. He took the world by storm in the epicenter of the baseball universe in the Big Apple. A Pitcher who from day one showed flashes of greatness and made his way into main stream America during the middle of the decade. A career derailed by personal demons and bad choices, one is left only to ask what might really have been.
Fast forward thirty years later to today, a hot summer day in upstate New York. I heard about a local autograph appearance at a business by none other than Dwight Gooden, the baseball stud of the mid-80’s, a childhood dream come true, and the best part about this whole thing was it was a free appearance. My first thought was how awesome was this because we never get baseball appearances around here, the closest ones are usually two hours away. My second thought was which of my baseball books can I get signed. So, I loaded up the Wife, a few things to get signed and off we went to see Doc Gooden.
I honestly thought this was going to be a mob scene when we arrived, I mean, come on, its Doc Gooden in New York state. I did find it on the odd side that Doc would be making an appearance at a place that manufactures mobile trailer homes, but I figured if it was free it was for me. When we got there it was the exact opposite of what I expected. No long lines, no great Mets Nation turnout, no real fanfare for this baseball icon of the 80’s. What we got in return when we arrived was this….
Doc Gooden waiting patiently for people to arrive all by himself. Like I said no lines and nor rush to get the autographs and move on. To say I am shocked at the fan turnout and how this went is an understatement, I mean it wasn’t like this was Casey Candaele or a player of that caliber……..this was Doc!. Greeted with a smile and a handshake, Dwight Gooden was everything this 10 year old trapped in an old man’s body could have ever hoped for. Sometimes when you finally get the chance to meet one of your baseball heroes you come away disappointed, because they are not what you expect. Thankfully not this time, this was easily one of the top 3 experiences I ever had meeting a former player. There was also a local reporter there from a small town local newspaper asking Doc some easy questions and recording the interview on his phone. While waiting for our autographs he was answering the reporters questions. After he was done with the reporter Doc turns to my wife and asks, “how did I do with that interview, was it ok?” Holy crap, if my wife only had the realization of the magnitude of that question and who it came from. I know she goes to things like this to appease me, and its a good trade off for killing spiders around the house for her I guess.
I chose to take two of Doc’s books to get signed, DOC published in 2013 and Heat published in 1999.
While signing the books Doc asks me”so which one did you like better?” I told him I thought DOC felt more authentic and Heat felt like a quickie bio. He explained that “DOC is the true and accurate story and I took the time to give the actual story to the fans, Heat was just mostly crap“. So now we have it from the source as to where the truth lies. The books have conflicting stories in them so it is nice to hear which version of those stories are accurate.
These books are also takes of what could have been. A career and life derailed by Alcohol and Drugs, and all the bad things that come with that. Doc had multiple chances to overcome them and made the best he could of the opportunities at the time. He seems from other books I have read this year and by seeing him in person that he is on the right track to long term sobriety. He may have let his demons destroy his Hall of Fame possibilities and a good portion of his career, but it looks like he is not interested in letting them destroy his future. Check out both of these books, because it is very interesting to see the contrast between the two volumes.
On a personal note I would like to thank Doc Gooden. Thank you for not even being close to what I expected. For not being a bitter former star, who is still pissed his star faded. For not being another former Met with a chip on his shoulder because he was a New York Met. Thank you for not destroying my illusion of what I thought you would be like, if I met you when I was ten years old and you were in your prime. Thank you for being friendly with my wife, because not all former players are. Most importantly thank you for coming to some crap hole town in the middle of nowhere New York to meet your fans, at least one of us (me) really appreciated it. I may have been ten when you came along but I knew greatness when I saw it even then, and today just proved I was right about you all along. This has shown me how even the mightiest may fall, but they can still do it with grace and dignity while finding the strength to carry on.
There are teams out there that have through their history had iconic players. When you think of the Yankees, Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle always pop to mind. For the Red Sox, Ted Williams is the man. What if you are a team that does not have a century long history in the game and has had limited success on the field. The Tampa Rays come to mind with having no one that has been a stand out player and really have had limited success. The Astros and the Mets both entered the league together and have taken different paths. The journey of the Mets has generated a bunch of post-season births, coupled with a few World Series championships and a roster of iconic players. The Astros on the other hand have had limited success and a handful of post season appearances. With their past performance it is surprising how many great players the Houston Astros have had during their time in the league. One name that immediately pops to mind is the iconic Jimmy Wynn. Essentially being there from the beginning when they were still the Colt 45’s, Wynn’s performance on the field and his down to earth nature easily made him a force to be reckoned with on the field and a fan favorite off of it. While today’s book is not a new release, I wanted to share it because it really is an enjoyable tale.
In today’s terms Jimmy Wynn was a stud. Being the player on the top of the Houston power heap, Wynn was able to give the Astros someone to build a team around during their formative years in the league. Unfortunately for both parties they were never able to reach the ultimate goal of a visit to the World Series during their time together.
This is not like reading a regular book, it is more like sitting on the porch with your friend and listening to his stories. Wynn walks the reader through his childhood in Cincinnati and his dreams of one day being a big league baseball player. You get a nice look at the Wynn family values and how those ideals helped produce a fine person in Jimmy Wynn. Next you see the minor league struggles that brought Wynn from the hometown Reds farm system to the fields of Houston.
A good portion of this book is rightly so about his time with the Astros. He his most widely known for his accomplishments on the field there and where he spent the biggest bulk of his career, so it is only natural it takes up so much space in the book. Jimmy tells the reader about events both on and off the field that have helped him both learn and grow as a person, as well as the mistakes he has made along the way that effected his life. Finally the book takes us through stops with the Dodgers, Braves, Yankees and Brewers. It is a career well traveled and a lot of accomplishments that any player would be proud of.
The most surprising thing is that Jimmy Wynn admits his flaws and his mistakes he has made over the years. Most baseball players would not take the time to admit these things at all, let alone do it in their autobiography. It really shows the depth of character he has and what a genuine person he really is.
The book is a great read for all baseball fans. It shows the real side of a baseball star and how they are human just like the rest of us and have their own faults. It also shows how a player of this caliber can admit his faults and shows there is no shame in asking forgiveness from those you have wronged. Check it out, I don’t think you will be disappointed..
You can get this book from the nice folks at McFarland