If you are looking for a book review tonight unfortunately you have come to the wrong place. Being the name sake of this blog provides me the opportunity to have a public venting session when needed. So please if you all will, amuse me tonight and let me complain so that by tomorrow I will be in a better frame of mind and will return to what I normally do around here…….baseball books and all that go with it.
For those of you who haven’t heard, my wife and I are expecting our first child in August. To celebrate the event we were going to take an epic trip in May and visit six MLB stadiums in eight days along with one Minor League stop in there as well. Here is the link to the original story if you missed it. We had some good responses and ideas from a few of my readers to some things we should not miss at the places we were going. We also had some preliminary contact with a couple of the teams we were going to visit so it was looking like it was all going to come together nicely and be a fun trip. Until today, when my little black cloud, that seems to follow me almost everywhere, showed its ugly face once again and rained all over our trip. You may ask, what has happened that would be so crappy to ruin our epic trip……..here let me show you…………….
That is a wonderful x-ray of my spine. The same spine that now requires surgery and some sort of implant to fix and has essentially screwed us out of our trip. I will be out of commission for at least a month and that falls right during the month of May. So instead of following the Phillies from city to city, and eating an Egg Mcmuffin in Toledo at a baseball game, I will be sitting at home on the couch with my head buried in another baseball book.
My wife has brought up the proposition of doing this trip next summer with our new little bundle of joy in tow, but I haven’t 100% signed off that idea yet. I do think having the new addition along would be a great bonus to the trip, I am just not sure how easy that much travel would be with someone that little.
I would like to think there is some sort of reason this has happened now and that we are better off staying home. But more than likely, it is just my black cloud following me again. So all the above being said if anyone has some ideas for books I should check out during my several week recuperation let me know. I have a few weeks until my surgery date, but will still have several weeks at home to read.
So that’s the plan, we will make that my silver lining in all of this and hopefully get some new recommendations from my readers. I have lots of faith in the folks I talk to in baseball book land and have already read a few of your ideas. So I look forward to and also appreciate any ideas you all have.
Thanks for reading my rant, I appreciate you taking the time out of your day to listen to me whine and complain……………now back to your regular scheduled book reviews.
It is amazing how the game of baseball evolves right in front of our eyes. Players get stronger, equipment and playing conditions get better, fan experiences are more enhanced and the basic business model of a baseball team changes dramatically. These are all things that have happened through the last several decades that change the end product fans see out on the field. Today’s book takes a look at how one of the longest losing streaks in professional sports history was ended by evolving with the times and changing a teams basic business approach.
The Pittsburgh Pirates were a team that could not catch a break. The owners of bad team morale and essentially no end in sight to the losing streak no matter what moves they made. Baseball history is full of superstitions, so you could almost call them cursed. The Pittsburgh Pirates was desperate to break this cycle and decided a fundamental change was needed in their approach to the game to help end their misery.
Big Data Baseball walks the reader step by step through the Pirates plan. Showing how they saw the need for fundamental change and how they implemented it into their system. By following charts and data analysis they were able to play the numbers for batter tendencies and apply essential Sabermetric principles to their on the field game.
By implementing this new culture within the franchise, they started at the lowest level of the minors and installed in their up and coming players how these moves were beneficial to the team. By doing this they were able to establish some credibility to their new system that carried over to higher levels of play which essentially created a winning culture that spilled over to the field.
Travis Sawchik does a real nice job of showing the reader how the Pirates fostered the change in their system and how they have now built a consistent winner. While they are not steam rolling all of baseball this system is good enough for the second best record in all of baseball this season. It has ushered in the winds of change in Pittsburgh and breathed new life into that struggling franchise.
Even if you are not a fan of the Pirates or the new numbers game within baseball you will still like this book. It is a good story of how hard work and outside the box thinking leads to great results for an ailing franchise.
You can get this book from the nice folks at Flatiron Books
I have said it before and like a broken record I will say it again, knowledge is power for baseball fans. No matter who your team is, you need a strong knowledge of their history. That way you can have intelligent conversations or even arguments with other fans about who was the best on your team. Every fan needs some ammunition in these fights and this book may help you win your battles.
For Pirates fans this could prove to be invaluable. It answers for you the who, what, when, where and why of the Pittsburgh Pirates. It covers players, managers, general managers, the post season and some of the best era’s of Buccos history. It is a great source of team statistics as well as covering the All-Stars that called Pittsburgh home. The most controversial thing this book may produce is a list of the 10 best Pittsburgh Pirates. This list alone can give Pirates fans something to chew on for hours, days even weeks. The debate quite honestly may never come to an end, because with a history as rich as the Pirates, how can you only pick ten?
We live in the world where statistics are at our fingertips with the internet and certain baseball sites. I find it very comforting, being a guy who likes books, to be able to grab a book off the shelf and find exactly what I need right in front of my eyes printed in black and white. Even in the electronic world these team encyclopedia’s warrant a place on every fans bookshelf. Plus you never know when the power may be out for a few hours and you will need to have some information at your fingertips.
Pirates fans will really enjoy this, because it gives them a wealth of information in an easy to find format. It is both entertaining and educational and can help make anyone a stronger fan of the Pirates.
You can get this book from the nice folks at Sports Publishing
It’s the day after the 2015 All-Star Game and MLB has released the Franchise Four for each of the teams. Depending on your personal feelings you may agree or disagree with the results, but honestly how do you even measure such things? Anytime one compiles a list of the Greatest of anything, how much of it is really objective and how much of it is emotionally based. I know my Franchise Four votes all had some sort of emotional tie to them. So where does this fit in with Baseball books? There are hundreds of books out there that compile some sort of all-time greatest list. So how do you know when you are getting an objective view, instead of what that particular author thinks? I think I have found two that are good sources for the fans.
Both of the above books were written by Lew Freedman and released in 2015. If that name sounds familiar to veteran baseball readers, it is because Freeman has penned dozens of books about baseball in the past and these are two of his latest. Freedman is a veteran sportswriter that likes to delve into the obscure and often forgotten names of the game. Here he has compiled lists of the 50 greatest players to wear the respective team uniforms. I have read a few of Freedman’s works in the past and always found the books to be educational and historically honest. I expected no different from these titles.
I will start with the Pirates book. They have been in Pittsburgh for a very long time and had some very big names call the steel city home. So I thought it was going to be hard to limit the pick to just the 50 greatest. Some of the names were easy picks such as, Clemente, Stargell, Kiner, Wagner and Traynor. But then there were a few others that at first glance made me ask why, names such as Hebner, Giles, Kendall, Bonilla and Thomas. Each chapter in the book ranging from 3-8 pages is dedicated to each player. You get a career bio, personal bio and why that player was special to his team. Even though the chapters are brief it does give you just enough information to see why that player was a vital cog in the machine. It gives a nice quick, detailed and informative overview of some of the greatest names to ever wear the uniform.
The Tigers book follows the exact same format and allows the reader to see who has stopped in the Motor City throughout their storied history. Cobb, Kaline, Gehringer, Greenberg and Kell were all easy picks for this list for me. But names like Steve Kemp and Pat Mullin made me scratch my head and ask why. The value in these books is that the name might surprise you, but the facts help back up the pick. So there is knowledge to be gained for the reader if you are not very familiar with each specific team history.
These type of books also have another feature, beyond just being able to read them. If you ask 100 people to compile this list, you will get 100 different replies. If you and your friends enjoy talking about the history of the game, these books become both great conversation starters and reference guides. The format of the book being each player is his own chapter makes finding facts about that particular player a breeze. These books will be a valuable asset in a fans library if ever some fact checking needed to be done to win a bet.
Each of Lew Freedman’s books I have read in the past have all met a very high standard and these two new ones are no exception. Fans of the specific teams will love them and have the knowledge to agree or disagree with the picks in the books. If your knowledge of the specific team is not very strong these books are still valuable to the reader. It will allow you to strengthen your knowledge of some of the greats and not so greats in the game’s history, as well as decide whom you really think are the 50 greatest players of that team. In the end you may not agree with all 50 of the picks but it definitely gets you to start thinking.
You can get these books from the nice folks at Cardinal Publishing Group
I don’t normally like to do two books in the same review, but I felt this case was different. These two books are both new releases by the same author and the subject matter is related, so I figured it would be safe to do them together. Ronald T. Waldo has just released two Pittsburgh Pirates books that are from an era that sometimes gets forgotten. In our current world of everything, right now, it is important to remember our history. In baseball much of that history is incredible but some of it gets forgotten due to the passage of time. The people involved in those eras pass on and we lose some of the first hand memories. Thanks to Ronald’s books Pirates fans can now delve deep into their past.
Lets start with Honus Wagner and His Pittsburgh Pirates. I was expecting another basic biography about Honus Wagner. The like of which we have seen before, bu this was different. It was more of an anecdotal storytelling of Honus Wagner. It was giving you the details about the man himself, not just the on field personality. Enjoying life’s simple pleasures is not something you normally read in a baseball biography, but this one has it and it is a nice change of pace. You also see Wagner’s interactions with other players around the league and his feelings towards baseball in general.
This book is a nice change of pace from the normal everyday baseball biography in the fact that it gives you views of the player himself. It shows the human side of Honus Wagner that many of us could never before relate to. Being he played so long ago, that human aspect gets lost to time. Through Ronald Waldo’s hard work and research, he is able to make Honus Wagner come alive for new generations of baseball fans.
Waldo’s second book the 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates brings alive a team that I feel is also getting lost to the passage of time.
When you think about great baseball teams the 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates do not, at least for me, immediately come to mind. 1902 being the middle year of a three-year pennant run is widely considered the best of those three teams. Again through Waldo’s exhaustive research you get great detail about a team that I think would be very hard to come up with information on. Outside of Pittsburgh, I think you would be hard pressed to find many people who are well educated on this team.
This book shows the politics of baseball at the turn of the 20th century along with details of how the Pirates fortunes had changed for the better. It also gives a nice review of how the entire season progressed for the Pirates and how they overcame players jumping to the rival American League. It is a great glimpse into the past when baseball operated nothing like what we accept as the norm today.
These types of books have to be very hard to write since you are dealing with things that happened over 100 years ago. Ronald T. Waldo should be commended on his dedication to his subject and the effort he has put in to both of these books. It is authors like this that help keep the grand history of the game alive over a century later.
You can get both these books from the nice folks at McFarland
Some stars rise to the pinnacle of the game slowly and come back down at the same rate. Others reach the pinnacle and in one quick move come screaming back to earth at an alarming speed. Steve Blass unfortunately falls into that second category. Throughout his career, Blass was a superstar pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but then one day he lost it all. He basically lost all his pitching control and was unable to find home plate again. No reason was ever figured out for Blass’ loss of control but it became a career destroying problem. Today’s book takes a look at how perseverance and a positive attitude can help you make lemonade out of lemons in this game of life.
Steve Blass had a pretty good career. The only problem was it was cut short due to a baffling illness. He lost all his control and his career plummeted. Most players that would be the end of the story but luckily for baseball fans, that is not the end of his story. Steve Blass turned his damaged and essentially dead career into a lifetime of being a contributing member of the proud Pittsburgh Pirates family.
A Pirate for Life takes a look at Steve’s entire life. From his humble upbringings to his rise to stardom on the mound. You see his World Series triumphs as well as a few bumps along the way. You get an in-depth look at the ultimate demise of his career and the toll it takes on him personally. All that being said you see Steve Blass’ perseverance and strength come through. You see him embark on a new career and becoming his own institution in Pittsburgh as a member of the broadcast team. It shows the type of quality person Steve Blass is and how he overcame his obstacles to build a life and career he can be proud of.
Personal strength is an underlying theme in this book, and I think it unintentionally gives the reader the message that with confidence, dedication and whatever your own measure of strength is, you can attain anything you wish. It is a nice message that I feel is born out of the story and really not something you get in a baseball book that often.
All baseball fans will enjoy this. It is an interesting story both on and off the field, and its underlying message is one that will benefit everyone. Sometimes you life plan doesn’t work out as expected, but in the end result may be greater than you could have ever imagined.
You can get this book from the nice folks at Triumph Books
In the age of seven-figure salaries and endorsement deals, it becomes harder to find respect for the game itself on the field. Players do not care about the history of the game or the sacrifices other generations have made to allow the current group of players to reach for the stars. Todays book reveals the thoughts of a player you could consider to be a throwback to an age of respect for the game.
Just My Game
By:Jason Grilli – 2014 Mascot Books
Jason Grilli may never be a first ballot Hall of Famer. That is in no way a slight towards Jason, just very few players are. He has had many stops along the way during his career. Some have worked out better than others. Unfortunately injuries have reared their heads more than once and seemed to slow his career dominance. With all that has happened, Grilli has kept his head held high and persevered to try and achieve his career goals. It is that perseverance and his respect of the game that has made him a unique player in today’s game.
Grilli is a second generation baseball player, and it is that fact that seems to make him have a better appreciation for the game. He and his extended family understand the sacrifices that need to be made in order to become a major league player. It has been his aspiration from a young age to be that, and he has never wavered from that goal. His respect for the game makes me want to term him a throwback because it shows his appreciation for what he has attained. That respect for the game has also been behind his drive to recover from numerous injuries and become a better, stronger player and person.
Grilli does a nice job in this book reflecting on his journey to the majors. He is very honest with both his accomplishments and disappointments. He does not shy away from anything negative and you see how each experience has made him a better person. Grilli truly comes across as thankful for the opportunities he has been given, both in and out of baseball. He shows his appreciation for the history of the game and how he is part of something greater than just the individual player. He also talks about lessons he has learned from his rehabilitation experiences. He speaks about the ways they have made him more appreciative for what he has and what he has been able to accomplish.
This is to an extent an inspirational book in the fact that it shows anyone can overcome almost any obstacle in life. It is nice to see this kind of book from a player of the current generation. Most of the times current players come across as me, me ,me, but this is different. You now see there are still good guys out there on the field, living their dreams and realizing how lucky they really are to be there.
Baseball fans that want an honest, feel-good story will enjoy this book. He may not be a Hall of Fame player but he comes across as a Hall of Fame person.
You can get this book from the nice folks at Mascot Books
Before I read this book I had what I thought was a pretty accurate opinion of Al Oliver. As a player, I felt he was often overlooked in terms of the quality of his play and his final career numbers. As a person I felt he came off as a grumpy guy. The personality take was based on the very limited media exposure I saw of him when he played for the Phillies briefly near the end of his career in 1984. He just came off as a guy who wasn’t very friendly when interviewed. After reading todays book it looks like I was wrong about Ol’ Scoop.
This book pleasantly surprised me. Al Oliver really delivered with a pleasant account of his life, career and faith. He goes into great detail giving you the inside “scoop” on his childhood, friends and family life. You get an honest glimpse of the man himself outside of baseball. He is like any other human being on this earth with family issues. He does not hide from any of the issues (good or bad) and shows how his faith has made him a better person and guided him through these issues. As far as the man himself goes, this book has improved my personal perception of Al Oliver. He really wasn’t the grump that came across on the TV screen. He was just very intense and a somewhat private person.
On the career side of things I always knew Al Oliver was a good player. I just never realized how good. The book has several detailed pages of his hitting and fielding stats. Which leads me to my next question, why has he been overlooked so long for the Hall of Fame? With the types of numbers Oliver put up during his career, which are better than some of the others that have already made the Hall during his era, it makes me wonder why. Al Oliver also I think has the same questions in the book, but it is not a bitter former player asking why. He has said several times in the book if it is God’s will then it will be. Which is a great attitude and belief to have if you are in his position. It again shows his strength in his own faith.
Getting back to the question of why hasn’t Al Oliver made the Hall of Fame. I have no idea personally as to why. The man’s numbers speak for themself. With career numbers like this, he belongs in the Hall. Which now leads to another sticky topic of the Hall of Fame being a popularity contest with the writers. Perhaps several of the writers that would have voted for Al, got the same impression of him that I had previously. Perhaps some of those writers should read this book and get perspective on who the man actually is. Perhaps it would put some long-held grudges to rest.
Overall I enjoyed this book. It was a very quick read that I finished in an afternoon. The book is very heavy on pictures but gives you a comprehensive look in to his personal and professional life. Baseball fans that were around when Al played should really enjoy it. The book is being release on 9/30/14 and is available from two sources that I know of:
From the publisher at http://www.vippublishing,com
or direct from Al oliver at http://www.al-oliver.com where I think you can get a signed copy.