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.
Throughout its history baseball has seen many changes. From the way its played, the playing facilities, player and management relations as well as fan appreciation have all been subject to these changes. For me now in my fifth decade of being a baseball fan it is hard to imagine what it was like nearly a century ago on the diamond. So it always a learning experience for me to find a book about a player from that era and see how many changes have occurred over time. Todays book takes a look at one of those players from yesteryear that really does not get all the accolades he truly deserves.
I will admit I was not very familiar with Smoky Joe Wood until recently. I had read his interviews in other books, most recently Roger Angell’s Late Innings, but I never took the time to check out what his career was all about. What changed is I found out Wood is buried in the next town over from me, Shohola, Pa. Now that may not be a big deal to most, but when you realize I live in the mountains of Pennsylvania and baseball is the furthest thing from anyone’s mind around here, for a lonely baseball fan it becomes a big deal.
Gerald Wood takes the reader on a historical journey through Wood’s career. Looking at really good numbers and career events that make a strong case for considering Wood for the Baseball Hall of Fame. It draws comparisons to some of the game’s greats of that era and in my humble opinion Smoky Joe really can hold his own amongst the big name stars.
When you read about other players of this era they can sometimes come off stiff and dry. This book is a good representation of Wood’s personality and he comes off as a pretty interesting man who led a fascinating life. A book like this is more than a history lesson for fans of this era of baseball, it also brings to the forefront one of the personalities of the game that should not be forgotten.
When this book came out it received numerous awards and acclaim. It was all well deserved and I found it very hard to put this book down. It really gave a great feel of the times and brought forth a personality that is not as common or even main stream any longer. Smoky Joe’s legacy lives on in this book and really should be looked at by the Veterans committee members who are discussing his enshrinement in the Hall of Fame this year.
Those baseball fans who haven’t done so already should check this one out. It is more than a learning experience, it is a journey through a very interesting life backed by a strong and engaging personality.
You can get this book from the nice folks at the University of Nebraska Press