March 14, 2008

Off-Season Reading: David's Guide To Recently Released (or Recently Read) Baseball Books: Part One

Usually, after the baseball season wraps up, I head right out to my local Borders’ and purchase 2-3 baseball books I haven’t read- trying to keep the spirit of the game alive, for me, during those long, cold winters in Los Angeles (it even hit below 40° here a few times- LOL). Last year, I didn’t want to look at anything baseball-related, for at least a month, after having our hearts broken by that horrible collapse- say no more! Therefore, I didn’t begin reading any of the books in the picture until late December, so I had a LOT of catching up to do! As I DO tend to read a lot of sports books each year (35-55, depending on what comes out that year that interests me), a lot of my friends and family (and readers) ask me which books I have really liked, and which ones to stay away from. Rather than discuss those that I wasn’t too fond of, I’d rather discuss those that I was fond of- and so starts my “second annual off-season baseball book review!” For additional info on each book, or to purchase them, head over to Amazon and order ‘til your hearts’ content! Finally, so as not to take up too much band-width, the only pictures I’ll use is the one on the right, shot on my office floor (I hope you can see each book relatively clearly.)

Crazy '08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History by Cait Murphy

Okay, this book came out in March of ’07, and I had been meaning to read it, but never got around to purchasing it. Sorry I waited so long, but it DID come out in paperback a few weeks ago, and it was worth waiting for, as Murphy’s in-depth recreation paints a vivid picture of the year 1908 and how it baseball changed via internal progression as well as being influenced by the world around us. Murphy presents baseball at the turn of the century as a brawling, corrupt and outright weird game, stocked with oddballs ranging from the Giants’ Fred Merkle to the Tigers Ty Cobb, with some Hal Chase thrown in for good measure. Merkle was famous for a base-running error that resulted in a tie-game, as well as being the one so-called “cigarette baseball card” that I actually owned; Cobb, of course, has always been painted as a loon, but Murphy casts light on Cobb’s violent behavior towards black people, while previewing the scummy behavior by Chase, which would, 11 years later, lead up to the famous “Black Sox Scandal.” Who knew that 1908 would be the last time the powerhouse Cubs would win the World Series? Everyone knows it now, but back then, the Cubs would fight the Giants every year for supremacy in the game – something all too familiar to Cubs fans everywhere! Although long (paperback came to 378 pages with index and new “author Q&A), Crazy ’08 is a great read and a must-read for all baseball historians.

Rating: (out of 5)

The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O'Neil's America
By Joe Posnanski

One of the worst oversights, in my opinion, that the voters’ for the Baseball Hall-of-Fame are responsible for is not inducting Negro League legend and Baseball Ambassador, Buck O’Neil, into its hallowed halls before O’Neil passed away. This is, for lack of a better term, a true “feel good” book, about both baseball and humanity! Author Posnanski was blessed to have been able to spend an entire year with Buck, who, even at the ripe-ole-age of 94, was spry enough, and sharp enough, to regale Posnanski with some amazing stories that, somehow or another, always ended up positive- in that uniquely Buck O’Neil way! We are regaled with stories of Satchell Paige, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson and Ernie Banks, as Posnanski catches not just O’Neil’s words, but his style and heart as well. It’s truly saddening that O’Neil was, at the end, when passed over yet again for his rightful place in the Hall, still as uplifting as ever, perhaps the greatest ambassador the game has ever, and will ever, know. Even if the Hall voters right this wrong, I will always hold it against them that they didn’t enshrine O’Neil while he was alive to see it, robbing one who gave so much to so many, an honor he truly deserved! A great read, and quite moving – please don’t just read this book, share your copy with another baseball fan, hopefully a younger one, and help keep Buck’s memory (and stories) alive!!!


I Was Right On Time
By Buck O’Neil
Yes, this book is 11 years old now, but after reading “The Soul of Baseball,” I had to go back and re-read this one, too, having given my copy away long ago. It was worth it, if only to have my memory re-freshed as to why Satchell Paige called his old friend “Nancy” – to find out, you’ll have to read the book! You wont’ be disappointed, as O’Neil’s stories about his Negro League days, both as a player and manager, are worth the price of the book and more! This is a true classic and a “must-read” for all baseball fans.


Yogi: The Life and Times on an American Original
By Carlo DeVito
I am partial to this book for two reasons; first, I absolutely love Yogi, always have, since I can remember, as he was the “Yoo Hoo” pitchman when I began watching baseball, in 1968, and that fondness only grew when he succeeded the late Gil Hodges as manager of the Mets, who lost the World Series to the Oakland A’s under Yogi; second, I have read a number of books about Yogi over the years, both written by him as well as others, but this is the first book that really paints an accurate portrait of Yogi and not just what he did say, but what he didn’t say but has been attributed to him over the years! Sadly, Yogi was subject to all kinds of ridicule, due to his physical looks and seemingly simple intelligence, yet Yogi, through hard work and determination earns 10 World Series rings (tops of all players), 3 MVPs and the designation as one of the 2 or 3 greatest catchers of all time! He was also a master at making money, as his numerous commercial ventures will attest, and ended up as the most successful former Yankee after his playing career was over, at least as far as remaining in the public eye and being paid for it! Yogi is a deeply principled man, and his refusal to return to Yankee Stadium after being treated poorly by owner George Steinbrenner was particularly interesting and poignant. Equally interesting was the portrayal of life-long friend, Joe Garagiola, and how he perpetuated many of the false statements attributed to his friend. Overall, this was one of the most entertaining and informative baseball bios I’ve read in a long time, right up there with Montville’s “The Big Bam.” Remember- “baseball is 90% mental – the other half is physical!”


We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
By Kadir Nelson
Phil Taylor of Sports Illustrated wrote a great review of this book on March 5th. Before I give you the link, one quick note- although this may have been intended to be a book for children, it works on many levels as the blending of Nelson’s amazing art alongside his insightful and thoughtful writing makes for a great combo and an excellent primer into the world of Negro League baseball. I hope that lithographs will be available of his art, as I’d love to purchase his Josh Gibson portrait. To read Taylor’s review, simply click here.


High and Inside: My Life In The Front Offices of Baseball
By Lou Gorman
Okay- I would rather be reading a book about Frank Cashen, mastermind of the Mets’ 1986 World Champions, as well as the great Baltimore Orioles teams of the 1960’s and 1970’s. However, since I have yet to come across such a book, I thought that Gorman’s book would suffice for now. First, it was very expensive for a soft cover book (workbook size) - $29.95. Second, while laden with interesting tidbits about Gorman’s career with the Mariners, Red Sox and Mets, the writing style is a bit clunky and took away from Gorman’s recollections of his career as the only baseball executive to be involved with two expansion teams – the Mariners and Royals. I still like and respect Gorman, but wish this book had been written by someone else who could have added a bit more “excitement” to the narrative.


Part Two: Sunday


perez for prez said...

great review...i've neever seen this before on your site

David Rubin & Jonathan Elfenbein said...

We did the first one last season- it was only, I believe, on my old Mets Trades site, before we combined Shea Nation and Mets Trades. You can still access it by going to (with no "www", just like this site!)