Baseball is a game full of firsts. First pitch, first game, first out, first inning……the list is endless. But for us baseball book geeks (a badge I wear with honor by the way), that list of firsts also includes our first baseball book. For some people it starts in childhood when you get that first juvenile baseball book under your belt. For others its in adulthood after you settle down and figure out who you are. Then for the rest of us, its starts when you are 12 years old and stumble upon a book that you may not have been the target audience.
There has never been a shortage of biographies out there about Reggie Jackson. This one from 1984 I hold in higher esteem than all the others, mostly because it was my first. My first baseball book was a shear accident. My Dad, who I owe most of my fan dedication and knowledge to, bought me this book. From his Thursday night supermarket trip in 1985 he plucked it from the bargain bin at Pathmark and brought it home for me. Thus sending me on a literary journey lasting over 30 years so far.
I always liked Reggie Jackson because he was somewhat of a local hero. He grew up in the town five minutes away from the one I grew up in. He went to the local high school and at that time was the one superstar who came from our own backyard. So right off the bat the appeal was there about the book of our local guy made good.
Now this book has been out for over thirty years, is probably tame by today’s standards and more biographies about Reggie have come out in the subsequent decades. But for me, after countless other books, this book is the one. For all of my time on earth, this book about Reggie, this tattered copy especially, will hold a special place in my heart forever. It is the book that made me realize how many cool baseball books were out there. I may not have been the target audience of this book, but it did open my eyes to what baseball was really like. This book led me to baseball classics, such as Dynasty and Bums by Peter Golenbock. To books about Cobb, Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Musial, Maris, DiMaggio and hundreds of others. Taking me to places in my own head, which for some was the only way imaginable to get there, allowing me to learn about the people and places that made baseball great.
I realize a lot of people say Ball Four was the book that brought them into the baseball world, and that it is the epitome of the baseball book. For my money I will stick with my copy of Reggie. Everybody has that one special baseball book they love for whatever reason they so chose. For me its not that popular tell-all baseball book by Jim Bouton that everyone loves to some degree. It is yet another tired rendition of how great Reggie Jackson was or is, depending on how you look at it and there is no other book out there I am willing to give it up for.
So take some time and pull out that old copy of the book that started it all for you. Spend some time with that old worn out friend and re-live what made baseball books so appealing to you, because you will never forget your first.
Too much of a good thing is not healthy. But how does one know when they get to that point. It could be with food and drink, gambling, or countless other vices, usually you know when you have had enough. With baseball books how are we to know when the market has been saturated with a particular subject? Is it when the subject runs its course of popularity and what defines the point that subject transcends its own timeline? There are certain personalities out there that no matter how much time passes between their relevance to the game and current times, the books keep on coming. Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and a handful of others come to mind as players with too many books about them out there. But today’s book to me is another biography on an above average player and manager that gets a ton of coverage no matter how many decades have passed.
Billy Martin is a guy who got more mileage out of his personality than almost anyone in baseball. People loved him and hated him, all at the same time, but you couldn’t deny his passion and skills. On and off the field he was a lightning rod for trouble and everywhere he went, some sort of altercation interrupted his career at that time. He has been the subject of many, many books and this new one tries to give the reader something different.
Bill Pennington has thrown his hat in the Billy Martin Ring with his new volume. Pennington has done thorough research and given the reader a comprehensive story of the life of the volatile player and skipper. From his early days in California to his career at various stops in the majors, the author has given you a good look at what made Billy tick. There were some minor details about Martin’s story that knowledgeable fans may question but overall it is a nice piece of work that readers will enjoy.
The bigger question I have is why do we need another Billy Martin biography? What has happened in recent years that has changed any opinions of Billy. In the almost 25 years since Martin’s death, nothing new has surfaced that would warrant another book. There have been several books on the market that have done this dance. I know of at least ten other biographies that have chronicled Martin’s life and there is a lot of overlap between those books already. So I am not sure why we needed another one. I understand the appeal of the Yankees and Martin’s personality, so that is really the only reason I can conceive as to why this book, at this point in time.
As I said above, Bill Pennington did a really nice job with this book, save for the few minor details he doesn’t have quite right. If you haven’t inundated yourself with Billy Martin biographies in the past, then you will really enjoy this book. If you are like me and read all the other versions available, then you may have trouble finding some new information to keep your attention. I don’t want to discourage readers from checking out this book, I just want them to keep in mind it is a lot of the same stories that have been visited many times before.
You can get this book from the nice folks at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
There are certain players that have incredible careers, but somehow fall into the background. Perhaps they are overshadowed by a more popular teammate, or their personalities are the type that naturally keep them out of the limelight. When you think of the Chicago Cubs, most people automatically think of Ernie Banks. Mr.Cub as he was affectionately known, basically owned Chicago. He could do no wrong as far as Cubs fans are concerned and every teammate of that era was subject to living in Ernie’s shadow. The subject of todays book is one of those teammates that had a Hall of Fame career that was just as good as Mr. Cubs, but is not always at the forefront of the conversation when you talk about the stars of Wrigley.
From his roots in the Negro Leagues to his final destination in Cooperstown, Billy Williams had a very nice career. He crossed paths with some of the games immortals as well as etching his own name among them. If Williams had played for almost any other team in baseball during his era except maybe the Yankees, he would have been the toast of that town. He played almost his entire career behind Ernie Banks who had Chicago wrapped around his finger, so Billy sometimes becomes an afterthought. That fact alone is hard to comprehend because he put up career numbers that easily gained him acceptance to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Billy Williams book is a nice light reader that walks you through his career. From his early start in the Negro Leagues as well as the Minor Leagues you see the personal and professional obstacles he had to overcome to reach his goal. Many of the struggles were socially accepted at the time but were still a lot for any individual to handle. He also shows the reader the steps needed to make it and stay in the majors for any young player at that time wanting to be a Cub.
A majority of the book is obviously spent covering his time as a Chicago Cub. While the team had trouble finding any sort of success on the field, it still comes across as a great time to be a Cub player or fan during a great era of baseball. The book also covers his brief stay with the Oakland A’s and the bizarre dealings with Charlie Finley. Finally it finishes up with his induction to Cooperstown and his life with his family after baseball.
If you are looking for sordid behind the scenes details of the life of a baseball player, this is not the book for you. If you are looking for nice, light and easy reading about a sometimes forgotten but nonetheless loved superstar of the Chicago Cubs, then you should take a look at this one. I learned a few things about Billy Williams on both the personal and professional level in this one and in the end think better of him as both a player and a man. All baseball fans will enjoy this book, even those outside of the Windy City.
You can get this book from the nice folks at Triumph Books
It is hard to deny that the Athletics baseball team have a pretty incredible history. Having called three separate cities home over the course of their existence, they have reached the pinnacle of the game several times over, along with finding the depths of despair. Some people think of the A’s as three separate teams at each of their locations, but now you can get a book that covers them as one entity.
David M. Jordan has taken on the task of covering the entire history of the Athletics franchise. Each location the A’s have called home are covered in this book. It is easier to find a book that covers one location, but it is I think, harder to find one book to cover their full history. Jordan covers the history in Philadelphia, Kansas City and Oakland with great detail. He shows the mainstay personalities that helped create their storied history in each city. He also covers the championships that have come their way throughout the years.
Books like this are usually for the hard-core fans of that team and this one is no exception. It gives a lot of detail of certain memorable seasons and glances over the not so memorable ones. They have a long history that is very hard to cover in a single book, especially when you are trying to cover the time from Connie Mack to Charlie Finley and then on to Billy Ball. Nonetheless, David M. Jordan does a thorough job and gives the reader a real feel for this teams history. If you are not very familiar with the A’s complete history, this gives you a good taste of what you have been missing.
If you are a hard-core fan, this is a good book for you. The reader gets some obscure facts that those type of fans will appreciate. I think if you are a casual fan and looking for a light easy read, this may not be for you. This book gives a detailed history lesson of the A’s that is hard to beat. No matter what city that you were a fan of the A’s in, it is worth checking out.
You can get this book from the nice folks at McFarland Publishing
In Baseball you always have to stay one step ahead of the competition. Both on the field and behind the scenes that same principle applies. You need to find the edge to beat your competitors because even if you keep the status quo, in reality you are falling behind. Sabermetrics and the Moneyball theory have turned baseball on its head and changed the way teams address their needs. So who really started that revolution and is it really a good thing after all?
Sandy Alderson is the current General Manager of the New York Mets and the man in charge of reviving that struggling franchise. While all has not been golden in the Mets re-birth, he has done a commendable job in restoring some dignity to the franchise. But is Sandy Alderson really the baseball genius everyone says he is, or is it just sometimes thinking outside the box that gets him some acclaim. That is what Baseball Maverick tries to figure out for the reader.
The book starts with Alderson’s upbringing and distinguished military career. It paints a nice picture of a man with courage and dedication. Two traits that come in very handy in the baseball world. You follow his professional career starting with the Oakland Athletics where he mentored current GM Billy Beane. It shows how Alderson got his reputation for thinking outside the box in regards to evaluating his team. Many of these ideas were born of necessity due to ownership and money constraints. It is during this stop in his career that Billy Beane gained most of the knowledge that he uses running the Oakland A’s.
The next stop for Alderson was San Diego where he again got the team back to respectability, but was unable to pull of a World Series triumph. After the Padres he put down roots with the New York Mets. Hi current home of Citi Field shows the reader in-depth how he has attempted to turn that franchise back into a winner. Attempting to overcome the Madoff scandal that has handcuffed the team financially has been an obstacle he has had to figure out how to overcome along with some bad player deals of the past. The 2015 season has brought them hopefully the start of lasting success, along with players they have developed finally reaching their expected potential.
After all this is Sandy Alderson the Baseball Maverick the book suggests he is? My thought is no. While he is a very talented General Manager, he is not the reason that Oakland has been able to compete on a shoe string budget. Billy Beane has been able to work with some of Alderson’s fundamental ideas and make them his own. That is what has made Oakland a success. Alderson may have planted the seed, but Beane made it grow. San Diego has been up and down so many times since the start of Alderson’s tenure there, that they should be a roller coaster not a baseball team. Finally the Mets were a train wreck when Alderson signed on, and it has to his own admission taken much longer for that team to make a substantial turn around than even he anticipated.
The book tries to make it seem that Alderson is responsible for the birth of Moneyball theories and I just don’t see that connection to just him. I see pieces of it in the way he has operated at certain stops, but it is a far cry from him being the one that designed it for the world to use. That being said, this is a very well written and entertaining book. It keeps the reader’s interest but it is very Mets heavy in subject matter.
Sandy Alderson is almost a mystery man in the baseball world. He has always worked behind the scenes and low-key, so this book gives you some insight on his personality. Again, I don’t agree with the Maverick term in the title, but he has made some substantial contributions to his teams and the game as a whole. Mets fans will love this book, and general baseball fans will like it. It gives us a glimpse of the man behind the curtain once and for all.
You can get this book from the nice folks at Atlantic Monthly Press
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