Friday, May 26, 2006

(1st) Annual Baseball Book Reviews

From February to May, we to catch up on our baseball reading, as a plethora of books come out during the off-season and beginning of the season, running the gamut from historical perspectives to statistical references, and everything in between. Therefore, without further ado, here are our 1st annual offseason book reviews (we will add to this in a few weeks- after all, there's only so many baseball books even WE can read):

John Schuerholz: Built To Win
Jonathan: It's hard for me to give anyone with the Braves organization anything less than an "F"; however, my appreciation for Schuerholz's abilities as a GM, from a purely baseball perspective, as well as the fact that he seems to be an excellent person, has caused me to wrestle with my decision. Great insight to both his career and what it takes to be a baseball GM. However, until he retires, this book gets my THUMBS DOWN (with the rating to change once he retires!) Interesting footnote: Schuerholz discusses his departure from the Royals, noting that owner Ewing Kauffman was very sad to see him go and only wanted what was best for him. However, after reading Rob Neyer's book (see below) we learn that Kauffman had decided to let Schuerholz go either way, coming on the disasterous signings of both Storm and Mark Davis, pitchers who were supposed to help the Royals and ended up draining millions in payroll for no return on the investment.
David: I have appreciated Schuerholz as a GM since his days with KC, and in spite of the fact that he runs the hated Braves, I was excited about the release of this book. The writing is a bit cumbersome at times, but I love the fact that we see into the decision-making process of one of baseball's greatest executives of all time. And his decision to piss off (unintentionally) Tom Glavine makes this a THUMBS UP for me.
Adam Rubin: Pedro, Carlos & Omar
Jonathan: We both read Rubin's column regularly, and no one, save Omar, had a better view to see the unfolding of the re-birth of the Mets last year then Rubin did. I think if we hadn't read all of his articles during the year, the book would have been even better, because the majority of Rubin's insights were already known. Well written, great subject matter that merited a book. THUMBS UP!
David: Well, great last name aside, Adam Rubin is one of my 2 favorite Mets's writers, and he does not disappoint in this well-written tome recapping the crazy first year of Omar Minayan's tenure as Mets GM. I agree with Jonathan that there wasn't much new info revealed, but the chronological recounting as well as the depth of info make this required reading for all Mets fans, and fans of what it takes to put together an organization in today's game. THUMBS UP!
Leigh Montville: The Big Bam
Jonathan: Not yet read (I received this for my birthday last week from my daughter, Julia- give me some time, as it's a very long book!)
David: I have read so many baseball books over the years, and sports books for that matter, that it's really rare that one of them truly moves me. This book is perhaps the best biography I have ever read, and I am a big bio fan. Montville's prior look at Ted Williams was exceptional, to say the least, and painted an amazingly insightful and poignant portrait of the Splendid Splinter; The Big Bam is all that and more! Babe Ruth is still a mysterious figure, remaining larger then life more than a half century after his death while at the same time having led a life shrouded in mysteries (or as Montville refers to it, fog). Montville does a great job in compressing info from all of the (many) previous books about the Babe, but offers insights not discussed before and sheds light, once and for all, on such things as the "called shot" and whether or not Frazee sold the Babe to finance his Broadway show ventures (I won't offer the answers here, as I couldn't do justice to Montville's answers to both). I will say that it was fascinating to learn that Luis Tiant, father of El Tiante that we knew, Luis Tiant II, pitched to the Babe as a member of the Cuban Giants of the Negro Leagues. That is merely one small anecdote Montville offers in this impressive tome! Buy it if you love baseball, are interested in the Babe, or simply love a great biography! BIG THUMBS UP!!!

Tom Adelman: Black and Blue
David: Jonathan is still waiting for me to send this book to him- sorry- so you'll have to do with just my review. I picked this book up at Costco for only $15, mostly because I loved Sandy Koufax and Frank Robinson, and this book features both. However, more than just a recounting of the 1966 World Series and the end of Koufax's career, this book paints a portrait of the mid-1060's as a time of great change and upheaval, utilizing these baseball legends to emphasize how America was changing, and not always for the better. Some of the major storylines in the book include Robinson's determination to prove the Reds wrong for trading him for Milt Pappas; Sandy Koufax's courage in fighting on in spite of a pre-game set of rituals that should make a grown man cry; the racial changes and landscapes of two vastly different cities, Baltimore and Los Angeles; and, finally, the effect that a World Series victory can have on a town, both uniting and dividing at the same time. Adelman, another great baseball writer, hits a homer! THUMBS UP!

David Maraniss: Clemente
Jonathan & David: Roberto Clemente is a very important person to us, not just because of his amazing skill as a ballplayer or his incredible depth of humanity, but mostly because our best friend, Seth, grew up the biggest Clemente lover we have ever known. Maraniss's portrait of Clemente the man shows us how much bigger and better a human being he was then the immortal ballplayer he also became. He lost his life tragically while bringing much-needed supplies to earthquake-torn Nicaragua, and the world lost one of the great ones. As a side note, Pirates catcher Manny Sanguillen was supposed to accompany Clemente on his flight, but his wife wouldn't let him fly and the world didn't lose yet another great player/person. To watch Clemente throw a ball home from the outfield was to witness a cannonball shot out of a cannon, except the cannon was a human arm and the cannonball merely a small sphere. Maraniss shows us that the heart behind the cannon was bigger than any of his on-field accomplishments could ever hope to be, and his tragic loss is a bit easier to live with after Maraniss brings him back to life in his amazing biography. Please, if you ever watched Clemente play, read this book; if you didn't, you have an even greater need to learn about this baseaball legend who, in many ways, was a groundbreaker on a scale almost as large as the immortal Jackie Robinson. BIG THUMS UP!

Mark Fainaru-Wada, Lance Williams: Game of Shadows
David: It's sad that in the same list of reviews that include a great one about the Babe also includes one about the steroid scandal that Bay-Area Barry has found himself a part of. The authors have a very unenviable job in both educating the readers on the inner-workings of the sports supplement business while trying to paint a compelling story about some true scoundrels. We've all read about Conte, BALCO, et al, and most people understand the salient points of the story. However, Williams and Fainaru-Wada bring more truths to light, not in an effort to sensationalize this tragic story but to accurately portray the horrible depths that the tendrils of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs have wrapped themselves around our beloved sports. I wanted to give this book a thumbs down simply because of my disdain for Bonds and the blight performance-enhancing drugs have infected this game I love so much, but the authors do a good job in painting a picture that is hard to swallow. THUMBS IN THE MIDDLE

Rob Neyer: The Big Book of Baseball Blunders
Jonathan: Neyer is one of's gems, in spite of his seeming disdain for our beloved Mets. My main complaint with books or articles that point out bad trades is that this is only one side of the coin- if someone makes/made a bad trade, someone else must have made a great trade. The Milt Pappas for Frank Robinson trade is a great example of this rule, as while the Reds seemingly made a bad trade, at the time they thought that they had made a good one, getting 2 needed starters and a young, fleet-footed outfielder. Neyer points out that the trade could have gone differently if Pappas had lived up to his potential, and statistically the deal had a far greater effect in helping the Orioles then it did in hurting the Reds. Neyer also analyzes moves that were questionable when they happened (Ken Harrelson as GM of the White Sox), which remain more questionable in hindsight. Neyer's use of statistics is more than cutting edge- it's understandable and teachable, making Neyer not a new breed of baseball journalist but, rather, an old school one who not only understands the game, both in historical and modern content, but is someone who has learned to utilize stats as a suppliment to, not in place of, logical thought and actually watching enough baseball to truly undertand what he is talking about (and more). THUMBS UP!
Footnote: The only knock against Neyer comes on his evaluation of Gil Hodges. It is rumored that the Angels would have taken either Gary Gentry OR Nolan Ryan in the deal for Jim Fregosi. With Gil not around to defend himself, we have to assume that the deal went the way it did because Gentry seemed to be a solid young starter, willing and able to respond to development, unlike, it seemed, Ryan, who just could not corale his wildness. If Fregosi hadn't become such a bust, the trade wouldn't have looked as bad as it was, especially since the Angels didn't win any World Series with Ryan and he went on to have dramatic success with the Astros and Rangers. Neyer also blames Hodges, at least partially, for allowing and encouraging the Amos Otis for Joe Foy trade. This feels like kicking a puppy when it's down, as Otis was not going to knock Agee or Jones, in the midst of career years, off of their perches, and the Mets desperately needed a third baseman more then they needed an outfielder. Foy had over 70 RBI's with KC the year before, so again, who knew that his fall-out would have been so great? Maybe his drug supplier (as discussed in the book), but that's about all...ironic that the Mets lost a Hall of Famer and a long-tim star in their quest for a third baseman that really wasn't solved until almost 40 years later with the coming of David Wright - and for THAT reason alone, Wright becomes the single most important position player we have ever developed!

Lawrence D. Hogan: Shades of Glory
David: One of my unrealized dreams is to make a visit to the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas and learn even more about the many amazing players who were held back from participating in the "big leagues" of the national past-time, simply because of the color of their skin. My dad saw many of these players perform in the 30's and 40's, living in Brooklyn and hungering to watch any game of baseball in person. I grew up with a healthy knowledge and respect for the many greats who never got to perform on the stage they so deserved, particulary Josh Gibson who, like me, was a catcher (although I'd never profess to put my name in any sentence where big Josh was referred to, other then to say we both physically inhabited the space in front of the home plate umpire, behind home plate, catching whatever was thrown to us by the guy on the mound- the comparisons are over right there!!!!) "Only The Ball Was White" is one of my all-time favorite baseball books, and before "Shades of Glory" it was the best accounting of the players and the times of segregated baseball. "Shades of Glory" takes it one step further, offering an even deeper portrait of both the players of the Negro Leagues as well as the circumstances they played under. It was amazing to learn that the Negro Leaguers who played against the barn-stormers of the NL and AL won more then 60% of their games- and the barn-stormers included the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig! If you were to own only one book about the Negro Leagues, THIS is the one to own!! THUMBS UP!
All of these books can be found at, or in a local Borders or Barnes & Noble. Borders has a free membership program, and we received a number of 25% and 30% off coupons that helped in the purchasing of the many baseball books we buy. Also, check out your local Costco, because they have The Big Bam on sale for only $15.99! We hope you'll read some of these books, as our short reviews don't really do them justice, as this was one of the better "crops" of off-season baseaball books yet!

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