I asked this question on another post recently and received a litany of great answers. I am well aware that there really is no criteria to who gets a book, but each of us has their own criteria of what really merits a book. I for one am not here to pass along my thoughts on the subject because each of us has different views and it becomes a personal choice more than anything else. I found two books recently that come from two ends of the spectrum on the field, but give the reader a very similar product in the end.
Ralph Mauriello and Ron Fairly have several things in common. Most notably they are both Dodgers Alumni, and I have noticed the feeling of once a Dodger, always a Dodger. But their careers took very different paths throughout the years. While Mauriello had a short stint with the Major League team, he spent the majority of his playing years toiling in the minors, while Fairly put a couple of decades at the big league level with a few different stops around the league. Now with such different playing careers and reaching different levels of success you would thing the end resulting books of their lives would be wildly different. I am glad to say that could not be further from the truth.
Now that is not to say that both books are mirror images, but there are certain important qualities that shine through. They both share their life and career experiences for the reader which helps give a well-rounded view of what they offered on the field. This comes in especially helpful those readers that may not have been around during their playing days, it paints a picture in your mind of what baseball was like for each author as they made their way along their unique journey. Both books also illustrate what great men both players were, the humility they had, both on and off the field and the honor it was for both of them to be part of the game they loved. Family is also an important factor in both men’s lives and it is showcased very clearly in both books. Finally, both books show what life is like after you are off the field. While both men have taken very different paths in life you can see the underlying love of the game and the immense pride they both had to be on that field.
When I asked the who deserves a book question previously I thought I had a better handle on the answer . Today I realize if you have a story to tell, no matter what their contribution to the game was, it’s a story worth telling. It’s up to the readers to decide which stories that they want to read and what they find worthy of their time. If it is a 20 year veteran or a cup of coffe player, they still have a lot to offer the readers. For my money these both books make the cut.
If you like the Dodgers and the early years of California baseball, along with a spattering of stories about celebrities and baseball royalty then these books would be for you. They both tell great stories throughout flow very nicely and you get two different views of the Once a Dodger Always a Dodger tag.
You can get these great books at the following links:
This weekend will be a momentous occasion for my fairly new little family. We have decided to take my Daughter Aubrey to her first Phillies game this Sunday. Now for some families this might not be a big deal, I mean come on she will never have any recollection of this game except for any pictures that get taken, but for us this is a big deal. It is the start of hopefully a life long love of going to the ballpark, smelling the grass and taking in the sights and sounds. It is also a milestone in our return to the Philly area because this is one of the things we missed doing the most. So I decided it was a good time to check out today’s book, because no better time than now to make it a full Philadelphia Phillies weekend.
William Kashatus is no stranger to authoring books about the Phillies. His previous book showcases a great era in team history and has been featured on here previously. I thought this books’ timing was a little odd since it is the 24th anniversary of the team……..not the 25th and there was no real notable events surrounding team members other than Curt Shilling still can’t shut his mouth. But I can once again Kashatus has thrown this avid Phillies fan another walk back through time to revisit the glory days of a team whose successes at that time were few and far between.
This team was a bunch of freaks and cast offs from other teams to put it nicely. Assembled as an attempt to right a sinking ship in Philadelphia, they endeared themselves through rugged play and in the end easily became one of the most beloved teams in the history of the Phillies. This book takes a look at these personalities and shows what they were like both on and off the field. Pulling no punches, it brings up the question of who was using PED’s on that team, but this book does show once again that unfortunately we as fans may never get a definitive answer on the subject.
The book also highlights some of the more monumental events of that magical season and the effect it had on the city of brotherly love. As a first hand witness of this team and its effect on the city, the author does a great job of portraying the team, its players, its attitude and general overall demeanor. They were a bunch of guys that everyone in the city wanted to hang out at the bar with. For no other team would fans sit through a twi-night double header that stated at 5:30 p.m., endured multiple rain delays and ended at 4:41 a.m.. It is still my most favorite game that I have ever been to, one reason being once the bars closed at 2 a.m. everyone was coming to the ballpark. There were more people there at 4 a.m. then when the game started. All because everyone loved these guys.
If you were not able to witness the team first hand, this book gives fans a great feel of what they were all about. Almost 25 years later Macho Row holds a special place in fan’s hearts. They may be a little older now, but it hasn’t slowed any of them down, they still get in fist fights amongst themselves when the make appearances in the area and quite honestly the true Phillies fans don’t expect any less from most of them.
All baseball fans should check this out because it is a vivid contrast against the super teams of today’s baseball. The were a bottom feeding, scrapper team that made it to the top on strictly grit and determination. Make the effort to check this one out from the University of Nebraska Press, it is definitely worth the time.
It’s really no secret that I like baseball books. Up until recently I spent all my waking moments reading them while not working. The key part of that last sentence is “up until recently”. Something has gotten in the way of my reading and writing time and significantly made me cut down on my posts. Now I am realistic in the fact that probably no one other than a few publishers have noticed that I have not written much in the past two months and I realize there is not a single person out there thinking “Gosh, I miss Gregg’s amazing baseball book posts”. But this being a project I enjoy doing, I figured I would offer some explanation of whats going on. If you have followed this site over the last year, you have read about the forthcoming life changes, surgery and a trip that in the end was aborted for numerous reasons. Several weeks back the biggest life change arrived and since that very moment nothing has been the same in any way, shape or form.
This little munchkin is the reason for all the mayhem. She arrived on August 18th (yes, I was reading Fastball John waiting for the delivery) and has disrupted our flow of life in so many wonderful ways. She has cut into my reading time and destroyed anything resembling a good nights sleep, but my Wife Brina and I are loving it in so many amazing ways.
I have been working on her baseball book collection a few months before she arrived and thanks to Facebook friend Debby Brown, she received her first official Phillies book today. So her book collection is starting to come along very nicely. She doesn’t know it yet but she is a Phillies fan. Good or bad, that’s how this house rolls. We have had lots of early morning feedings with the baseball game replaying on the TV in the dark and that manicured green grass gets her attention every time. So I think we will have no problem raising another fan.
So how does this all tie into baseball books? Well, I am glad you asked that very important question. I have several review copies waiting for me on my desk, and to all, I just ask that you be patient. I will not forget anyone, it may just take me longer than I had hoped to get some books done. I did not realize how life changing, in a great way mind you, this addition to our family was really going to be. Because quite honestly every time I try and read, this is the look I get……………
……….so it does slow me down a bit. But I promise everyone who sent me a book, your time will come. For those of you that have enjoyed this blog over the last two years I appreciate the support and look forward to many more books together. Its my love of baseball books that brought me to do this blog and I have been lucky enough to make some great new friends along the way as well.
I have about 30 books on tap to get us through the Winter together, and hopefully Aubrey allows me a little more time to get them read. Either that, or she learns how to read sooner rather than later so she can help me out on the reviews.
Wish me luck in figuring out parenthood. The only thing I know for sure is she can not date until at least age 35! Everything other than that is a work in progress ;).
Gregg………and Aubrey too!
Some baseball books have a real knack for portraying the true feelings of their authors. These types of books allow the reader to get a good feel of what their personality is like and at what level they appreciated their talents. I have noticed and with good reason, the brighter the star, the less appreciation for the talent. Now there are some Superstars that do not fall into that generalization, but through the years I have read enough baseball books to back it up. I always find it enjoyable when a lesser known star publishes a book and their appreciation for the game and their experiences overflow from the pages. Today’s book qualifies for that category and allows the reader to hear some new stories along the way.
When sure fire Hall of Famers come up in conversation, Ransom Jackson is not in the mix. The owner of some respectable career numbers, he would never been confused with stars such as Mantle or Mays. Making stops in several Major League cities, Jackson has compiled some incredible stories that have lasted him a lifetime and now is sharing with the world.
Ransom starts with the telling about his childhood and his upbringing in a totally different period in American culture. It gives a nice glimpse of all the changes that have happened in our country over the last century. He also shows his readers the struggles he faced in making it to professional baseball and the sacrifices he and those around him made to get him there.
Next Ransom dazzles the readers with some great stories from his various stops around the league. Being part of that great era in baseball, he was able to rub elbows with some of the games great names from a few different eras. Shining through in all of this is the fact that Ransom is very appreciative of the experiences he has had. He realizes how lucky and blessed he really was to do what he did for so many years. Finally the book wraps up nicely in showing the reader Ransom’s life after baseball.
I always enjoy books of the lesser known players. As stated above, their appreciation of their experiences and accomplishments in the game are much stronger and better explained through the pages of their books. I also do not use the term lesser known player as any sort of insult. There are so many of us that would be proud and thrilled to have one days worth of these lesser known players careers.
If you are not familiar with Ransom Jackson take the time to read this book, it is a great glimpse of what you can accomplish if you put in the effort and a good look at what baseball was like 60 years ago. If you are one of the lucky ones who are familiar with Jackson’s career, you will not be disappointed, his stories are vivid and very entertaining.
You can get this book from the nice folks at Rowman & Littlefield
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.
No matter who you are, if you are a baseball fan, you have opinions on how to make the game better. It could be ways to speed up the game, a way to play the game more effectively or even personnel decisions that would alter the complexion of your team. Regardless of what your ideas are, more than likely they will fall on deaf ears. Now if you are a baseball lifer like today’s author, you automatically gain some credence to your ideas just because of the experience and respect you have attained during your career.
Buck Martinez has been a solid baseball lifer. Spending a career as an on field back up Catcher, he had the opportunity to study the game during his three team stop in the major leagues. His final stop in Toronto seemed to provide him the best education and allow him to find as permanent a home as one can find in baseball. His post retirement career as both field manager and television analyst have continued his baseball education and allowed him to become one of the most respected minds in baseball.
This book has almost a Frankenstein feel to it. It really could have been several different stand alone books all by the same author, but here it is rolled all in to one product. The first part of the book that Buck gives the reader, is his childhood and playing career. You see his love of the game from his youth and how he worked himself hard to become a major leaguer. He was for most of his time in the major leagues a back up or fringe player which allowed him to study the game. All three teams, The Royals, Brewers and Blue Jays, were all fairly bad teams that were attempting to build a quality product on the field and Buck was part of the construction of all three. It was those three stops that Buck learned what it took to be a winner and how to build success.
After his playing days were over Buck found a home as an analyst for the Blue Jays and has made himself a vital part of the Jays TV crew and a respected voice from the booth. His analyst career was interrupted by a brief and not so successful stint as Blue Jays manager. It was a wrong place, wrong time career move, that if it was under a different set of circumstances, may have turned out much different.
The third part of this book conglomeration is Buck’s opinions of what works and does not work within today’s game. He cites examples of who he thinks is playing and respecting the game at the correct level. He also presents some ideas that he thinks would improve the game. He has some decent ideas that someone within the game and the powers that be, may want to stop and take a look at. They are not way out ideas and would help enhance the game as we know it today.
When you think of Buck Martinez you don’t think of a Hall of Fame player. While he had an average career, he has made himself a spectacular student of the game and makes educated and well thought out suggestions to improve the game. If you are looking for an educated view of the current game this may be a book you would want to check out. He presents his ideas in ways that would improve the game without disrupting its natural flow. The book showed a whole new side of Buck Martinez to me and allowed me to gain a whole new respect for him.
You can get this book from the nice folks at HarperCollins
Baseball likes to portray itself as the upholder of all that is right with the game. The keeper of standards and arrow straight morals, and they want to remain steadfast in that regard through all time. The most recent example of the high moral standard within Major League Baseball has been Pete Rose. For the integrity of the game they think they should keep old Pete on the outside looking in to atone for his sins. This has not been a new approach for Major League Baseball. For about the past 100 years or so in an effort to clean up the game and install some confidence with the general public they decided to clean house. It all started with the Black Sox scandal and the 1919 World Series, but what about all the other problem children in the game before the Black Sox? Today’s book takes a look at one of the larger than life problem athletes in the game at the time, who oh by the way was one of the best players in baseball history.
This book is a re-issue of the volume originally released in 2004. Hal Chase was one of the darlings of the diamond during his playing career. A man who was friendly with gamblers and gangsters, regularly bet on games and was not a stranger to throwing a game or two. One big thing to take note of is that Hal Chase was the scape-goat for bigger names than his who’s hands were much dirtier when the crap hit the fan. You always hear about Shoeless Joe taking the fall for gambling but not so much about Hal Chase.
This book takes a very good luck at Chase’s life and gives the reader a real good feel of what baseball was really like at that time. It shows in great detail that most if not all of the games had some shadow of not being on the level and that so many peoples hands were dirty it is not even funny.The book also does not miss the opportunity to showcase Hal Chase’s on the field skills. Easily one of the best players to swing a bat and grab a glove up to that point. Rated by Babe Ruth as one of the all-time greatest players, that is some serious praise to live up to.
This is a great book to get a real good feel of what baseball was like during this era. It leaves no stone un-turned in showing the reader what Chase was really like and gives an honest look at what Ragtime baseball was all about.
Fans of this era will love this book. If you are unfamiliar with the Ragtime era take the time to check it out because it is a great history lesson. Finally, if you want to get another view of crooked baseball, other than the Black Sox scandal, this paints a pretty good picture of what was going on at that time.
You can get this book from the nice folks at the University of Nebraska Press
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.
As you go through life, even if you don’t want to admit it, luck plays a big part. As the old saying goes I would rather be lucky than good any day of the week. For some people timing and opportunity is everything. It allows them to reach beyond their God-given talents and cross paths with the people who possess incredible talent and skills. Such is the case with today’s book, proving that timing is everything.
Ask any baseball fan who their personal Hall of Fame members are and I bet you would be hard pressed to find Charlie O’Brien’s name on any of those rosters. A journeyman catcher that spent 15 years in the Major Leagues that included eight various stops around the league. Charlie was a part-time player at best appearing in 800 games over those 15 years, that averages out to about 53 games played per year, and a career .221 batting average. Now these stats are nothing to be ashamed of because Charlie got to play the game we all love for a decade and a half at the highest level. What makes his story most interesting is the pitchers Charlie was able to work with during his 15 years on the field. Charlie O’Brien was able to say that he was the catcher to no less than 13 Cy Young Award winners during his career, which is the premise for his new book.
Charlie along with co-author Doug Wedge walk the reader through the his experiences working with these pitchers. Showing how each pitcher liked to work on the mound and how Charlie would adapt to each of their styles and how he helped to motivate each one in troubled times on the field. From his start in 1985, to the end of his career, he was able to work with essentially four decades worth of various Cy Young Award winners. It is a great story of perseverance and even though it may not be a Hall of Fame career, you still can have a pretty cool experience.
Unfortunately there were some down sides to this story. You get a lot of on field stories but not too much about Charlie himself. I always like to get the personal side of a player in an autobiography. Secondly, the entire book is based around the Cy Young premise. Which is all well and good, but Charlie never played with any of these pitchers when the were winning the award, it was always before or after the fact. So basically, it is a star crossing with a Cy Young winner, but never at the right time. That being the fact, it makes the premise of the book a little bit of a stretch, but honestly it is a good tie in to grab readers.
This is in no way a bad book. It is well written and tells a very entertaining story about what it was like to work with some players that we don’t often find much written about. Charlie O’Brien should be very proud of his work on the field with these Cy Young pitchers and even though his personal statistics may not reflect the great standards of the game, his own career as well. Baseball fans should pick this up, if you can get past the lack of continuity with the Cy Young premise, you should really enjoy it.
You can get this book from the nice folks at Texas A&M University Press
Canada has always in my opinion, been an overlooked area when we read about baseball. I realize it really only came into play in the last 45 years or so, but I never thought it got the attention it deserved. In reality over the last 50 years it has created two strong teams, introduced Canadian fans to the game and to some degree cut into the Hockey monopoly in Canada. With talk of the Rays possibly packing up and moving to Montreal, I thought now would be a good time to see what books are available for the teams north of the border.
The Expos in Their Prime 1977-84
By Alain Usereau – McFarland & Co. 2013
To me it feels like the Expos didn’t exist. Maybe its a matter of nobody remembers that they were even there or that nobody wants to remember. But whatever the case may be they did exist at one point. During that existence they had a span of years where they were always at the top of the standings fighting for the division crown. The years from 1977-84 were really the defining years of the franchise. They had a steady parade of Hall of Famers on the roster but could never quite get over the hump to glory. When you have names like Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Pete Rose, Tony Perez and countless other stars like Rusty Staub, Ellis Valentine and Warren Cromartie, you would think they would be able to pull it off a few times during those years.
Obviously they did not, but Alain Usereau has taken a deep, hard look at the Expos during their glory years. You get some behind the scenes look at the way the team operated on and off the field, both as a group and individually. You see the mind-set of the front office and why they made some of the moves they did during those years. The reader also gets a look at what the team meant to the fans of Montreal. This book proved to me that Montreal is still today, a viable option for a MLB team as the fans would support it there. Perhaps it was the poor product on the field in the final years of the Expos that contributed to poor fan support. It seems that in Montreal if you build it, they will come……if it’s a decent product.
This book gives a lot of insight to an often forgotten team with limited success. It’s overall a good book, that most baseball fans should enjoy. I only mention this next thing because it is a pet-peeve of mine. It would have benefitted from a little better copy editing because their were to many grammatical errors for my liking in a finished book. But as I said its a good book that most fans will enjoy.
You can get this book from the nice folks at McFarland & Co Publishing, http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com
Lets look at the other side of the coin in Canada, the Toronto Blue Jays. Since their inception they have had good fan support and produced some serious thrills for their fans. A few division titles, and oh yeah, two World Series Championships, which make for a happy fan base. While the Blue Jays had their growing pains in the beginning, they seemed to stumble upon a better plan for on-field success that the Expos could never quite attain. But what happens in Toronto when the team and the fans have huge expectations and it blows up in their faces?
Great Expectations, The Lost Toronto Blue Jays Season
By Shi Davidi and John Lott – 2013 ECW Press
For all intents and purposes, 2013 was supposed to be the Toronto Blue Jays year. Much like the Chicago Cubs have done this off-season, the Blue Jays blew up the roster and started over. The looked at weaknesses at every position and went out and brought in some of the best names in the game to fix their problems. On paper the Blue Jays looked like the team to beat and at the start of the 2013 season other teams noticed. But as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the 2013 was a flat-out train wreck. Injuries, career declines and pretty much the fact that anything that could go wrong……did go wrong, the Blue Jays had a dismal year.
Davidi and Lott take the reader on a journey through the 2013 season. They look at the blockbuster trades that were made in the off-season, free agent signings, spring training and of course the season. They give a nice look at the operations side of the Toronto front office and how the fans had embraced the new hope in Toronto. It also shows the mindset of the GM and what management felt they were accomplishing by assembling this team on the field. The book gives a detailed look at how the season in Toronto, and in the end the fans turned on the team and the front office. It is a great look at how the Blue Jays and its fan base operate and feed off of each other.
The 2014 season was a little better than 2013, and probably the residue of this 2013 team will achieve the initial success they expected eventually. But I think much like the Expos, the Blue Jays are often an afterthought to fans outside of Toronto. But it is nice to see that books are coming forth that show the Canadian pride in their teams and most of the time they are just as good if not better than the other teams out there. Just because most of the country is hockey crazy does not mean that they have forgotten how to love baseball.