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A New Lineup of Baseball Books
by Ron Kaplan
A team that hopes to be successful needs a reliable starting nine. Each spot in the batting order comes with certain skill set, requiring a traditional set of fundamentals. With that in mind, a number of small and university press have put together a solid lineup of titles.
1. No matter how mild the winter has been, the middle of February means one thing for baseball fans: “pitchers and catchers,” the harbingers of spring training, which in turn means that the languid summer days are just weeks away. Charles Fountain, a journalism instructor at Northeastern University, chronicles the history of this annual rite in Under the March Sun: The Story of Spring Training (Oxford University Press, 978-0-19537203-8). The “first season” has been going on almost as long as the game itself. Ball clubs realized the need to bring their players along gradually after a winter’s hibernation (especially during the years when athletes had winter jobs and didn’t work out yearround), refresh themselves on the fundamentals of the game, greet new teammates, and prepare for the rigors ahead.
The other man’s grass is always greener.
Except for those on the bubble of making the team or being sent down to the minors (or worse, released), most find this a relatively relaxed time. But even paradise can wear thin after a while, Fountain notes. “The writers who wax most rhapsodic about the spiritual and rejuvenating powers of spring training are the columnists and magazine writers who come in for a week or so at a time…. The beat writers, who are in that sun every day for a month and half, have no such illusions. They x out the days on the calendar like a prisoner awaiting parole.” The other man’s grass is always greener.
The second batter is usually a player known for his hard work and willingness to sacrifice for the good of the team. HighFlying Birds: The 1942 St. Louis Cardinals by Jerome M. Mileur (University of Missouri Press, 978-0-8262-1834-6) is the perfect personification of such a philosophy. Based in mid-America—they were the westernmost team until the Boston Braves relocated to Milwaukee in 1953—the Cardinals were a blue-collar bunch and in many ways more popular than the eastern Yankees, the very name of which rankled southern fans. The “Redbirds” were unique in that most were “home grown,” developed through the franchise’s minor league system. They got off to a slow start in 1942, while the whole country was immersed in the War. But they slowly fought their way back, finishing the regular season by winning fortythree of fifty-one games to eke past the Brooklyn Dodgers by two games. The drama of the pennant race made their World Series victory over the Yankees in five games almost anti-climactic. Mileur has ample qualifications for producing a scholarly baseball book: he was the owner of a minor league baseball club from 1982 to 1995 and is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
M ay /J une 2009
Unlike colleagues who fumble over their words. 6. 3. including candid shots with the players at ease. to the hilarious (batters with at least ten-letter last names who hit thirty homers in a season. Curt Smith. Babe Ruth batted third in a powerful Yankees’ lineup. Newman has assembled rare and glorious archival shots of the Yankees of the Mickey Mantle era. so here we have Home Run’s Most Chang. Scully is one of a handful of on-air personalities that could make a listener smile simply by reading from the telephone book. who has made it his mission to chronicle the great broadcasters (Voices of the Game. rather than fifty years ago. where he eventually became one of the high profile wordsmiths of the booth. Photos & Memorabilia (Stewart Tabori & For most of his career. So it’s only fitting that the honor is passed down to a book by Ruth’s daughter Julia Ruth Stevens. tickets. did it au natural. and the Milwaukee Braves in the 1957–58 Fall Classics. In fact. and offer incredulous and inane stories. and The Storytellers. does it again with Pull Up a Chair: The Vin Scully Story (Potomac.forewordmagazine. and Everything Long Ball by David Vincent (Potomac. With the current focus these days on players who use pharmaceuticals to enhance their performance on the field. it’s hard to believe that someone like Ruth. There are plenty of behind-the-scenes pictures. “In an inning. in this case Yankee Colors: The Glory Years of the Mantle Era. Wanted: The Top 10 Monumental Dingers. as well as images from the 1950s with the Brooklyn Dodgers of Jackie Robinson and company. especially in double-page spreads. mispronounce names. voice recedes). Fans will tell you that a soothing. 978-1-58479-697-8) is part biography. whose career ended more than seventy years ago. has put together lists from the mundane (most single-season home runs by a fielding position. Vincent.BASEBALL With the current focus these days on players who use pharmaceuticals to enhance their performance on the field. and Ruth’s contract. The fifth batter is also a long-ball hitter. among others). 59797-192-8). The “memorabilia” includes reproductions of fun items like World Series programs. whether lounging around in the locker room or clowning around in street clothes away from the field. it’s hard to believe that someone like Ruth. the pitchers who surrendered the most home runs) to the improbable (players who homered in the AllStar Game and World Series in the same season). and a foreword by Yogi Berra (Abrams. whose career ended more than seventy years ago. 978-1- 4. did it au natural. One can almost see Stevens looking over the snapshots and falling into the nostalgia. the ball club put numbers on the uniforms as a way of identifying their lineup. Prodigious Swingers. home runs lost to a batter’s mistake). among other things. The presentations are dramatic. The clean-up spot traditionally goes to with photos by Marvin Newman. Somehow they seem as if they were taken yesterday. 978-1-59797-424-0). Ruth: Remembering the Bambino in Stories. Especially noteworthy is his work covering their five consecutive World Series from 1960 to ’64.” 24 ForeWord www. For more than fifty years. no one has done it better than the Dodgers’ Vin Scully. the team’s heavy hitter. knowing voice can enhance the game experience. It’s those little touches that make this one stand out from the dozens of pervious titles on the Sultan of Swat. He began his career when the team was still in Brooklyn and made the transcontinental move with them. The wise reader would do well to commit some of these to memory for bar bets (in fact. Vincent must have had a lot of fun—and a wicked search filter—to put this edition together. part family photo album. Babe 5. Vin could turn from phrase (‘a terrier [fielder] nipped at an elephant’s heels’) via simile (pitching ‘like a tailor: a little off here. a little off there and you’re done’) to resolution (crowd roars. a longtime member of the Society for American Baseball Research. 978-0-8109-9638-0). As a contributing photographer for Sports Illustrated during the Bronx Bombers’ heyday.com M ay /J une 2009 . The Voice. there’s a separate chapter for that). text by Al Silverman.
He has enlisted players—both Yankees and opponents—as well as bat boys. which considers all forms of media about the national pastime. Take Me Out to the Ball Game: to an unlikely player: Chasing Moonlight: The True Story of Field of Dreams’ Doc Graham. M ay /J une 2009 www. wordpress. Lancaster doesn’t want sympathy for his failed diamond career. Ron Kaplan is the sports and features editor for the New Jersey Jewish News.rksbaseballbookshelf. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe. the man who caught Roger Maris’ 61st home run). His youthful doppelganger. He hosts Ron Kaplan’s Baseball Bookshelf (www. might be the modern-day “Moonlight”. perhaps an old veteran on the verge of retirement. Here. who led Chicago fans in the song during the seventh-inning break. is a unlikely tribute 8. fans (including Sal Durante. got that chance to bat in a game of ghosts.forewordmagazine. In the seventh spot. Burt Lancaster. McGuiggan’s book reads like a mystery as she tries to decide when and where the piece made its debut: “As is the case with baseball’s beginnings. several books were published to cash in on the wave of nostalgia. played the elderly (actually. Blair. Frommer is a veteran author. Graham appeared in one game as a defensive replacement but never had a chance to bat. the bigger pity. Although he came up to bat —unlike Graham—the record books don’t count it as an official trip to the plate. would have been if he had only been a doctor for a brief time. In 2008. team officials. probably impossible. 978-0-89587-369-9). This handsome coffee table edition is the perfect format to present the Yankees in “larger-than-life” words and pictures. played by Frank Whaley. Remembering Yankee Stadium: An Oral and Narrative History of “The House That Ruth Built” by Harvey Frommer (Stewart.335 during his nineyear minor league career. ex-player who went on to become a beloved small-town doctor. 978-08032-1891-8) is more a culture history of the entertainment world in the early twentieth century than a baseball history.7.P. Even non-fans might remember him from Field of Dreams. 978-1-58479-716-6). and others to share the memories of the good and bad times. The Story of the Sensational Baseball Song by Amy Whorf McGuiggan more appropriate than a book about the unofficial national anthem sung during the seventh inning stretch? Strictly speaking. but digs deep into the wealth of information about each decade. it goes to by Brett Friedlander and Robert Reising (John F. retiring after the 1908 season to pursue his medical career. deceased). to pin down. In Field of Dreams. the film version of W. he said. This spot is usually reserved for a weak-hitter. some details about ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ are difficult.” The author also tries to put into perspective the song’s popularity thanks to the late broadcaster Harry Caray. a rookie with the Chicago Cubs. (Adam Greenberg. He does not resort to the same old photos and anecdotes. what could be (University of Nebraska Press. with forty sports titles. even though none of them actually included any information about the final season). Tabori & Chang. including eight on the Yankees alone.com). in his last feature film role. 9. Graham never groused about the way things turned out. Finally. She reminds readers that Jack Norworth and Albert von Tilzer had little experience with the game but were highly regarded in their Tin Pan Alley world. he was hit in the head with a pitch in 2005 and hasn’t been in a major league game since. batting ninth.com ForeWord 25 .) Graham batted as high as .
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