It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Baseball
Spring training had gotten underway perhaps eight minutes previously when 1) The Baseball Non-troversy Du Jour reared its head (well, "heads") and 2) an email mentioned it in a PS to another matter entirely and wondered what I thought. And I'll tell you, I nearly teared up, not because I give a shit that Mussina may or may not have stopped juuuuust short of accusing Pavano of malingering (although I do — and I particularly savored the unusual-for-the-sports-section directness of Mussina's remarks, not to mention Torre all "well, I, er…you know what, yeah, I'm with Moose, dude needs to give us some innings or git gone"), but because baseball is back "on the wire."
When you live in a city, you get information "on the wire" sometimes, just standing in line at the post office, or at dinner when your table is cheek-by-jowl with the next one. Some guy sees a current event on the ticker on the floor of the stock exchange, hands it off to his girlfriend on her cell, you pass her coming out of the subway and overhear it, then you go to dinner and repeat it to your friends while you eat outside, someone walking by picks it up from you, goes into a bar, talks about it with the bartender — it's on the wire.
The wire rocks, because the wire lets you have conversations with people, feel friendly, take a moment and feel neighborhoody about the city. It's just a little thing, thirty seconds, while you wait to pay for a Diet Coke and a dude in coveralls is staring down at the back-page Post photo of A-Rod, disgusted, and he says, mostly to himself, that at least Graig Nettles could hit in the postseason, and you don't actually know if this is true or not, but that isn't the point — the point is that you get to say, "Hell, call him up, he's probably not doing anything and he's gotta be cheaper than that guy," and Coveralls Dude is like, "Heh, seriously," and you and Coveralls Dude go off in your separate directions thinking about Graig Nettles hobbling around the hot corner all "…kids today," and it's nice.
But from November to March, baseball is not on the wire in New York City. The wire is still active, I hear it humming, but I don't know anything about the Jets or the Knicks or what D Seton Hall is using, so I can't participate, and I miss it.
And it's back, ladies and gentlemen. I got a little zap last month when the guys at the corner diner took Randy Johnson's picture off their Yankee Wall (I commented on its absence while waiting on an egg and cheese on a roll, and the owner made this obscure, but clearly not G-rated, hand gesture and said, "Restaurant in Arizona can stick up for him now, you know"), but then! Couple days ago! Same diner, city workers in line ahead of me going back and forth about the Bernie-minor-league-contract thing, and I couldn't help myself; I just jumped in with a "They what now?" They fill me in, I made noises about how I had to put some crow on my egg and cheeses last year because I'd gotten on him to retire, but when the outfield had nothing else going on but the weather Bernie really stepped up, and then all of a sudden the corner booth is in on the act all, "Wait, so what'd they do to him?"
It's back on the wire. And I gotta get caught up on the Mets' transactions, because some diners, they have a Mets wall. Love it. Love it, love it, love it.
But the wire is still on low power for the next little while, so to help us pass the time, I thought I'd put together a Tomato Nation Baseball Library. It's for fans looking to fill the hours, but I hope it's also for folks just coming to the game who want some reading material that gets them up to speed. You'll have seen some of my comments before, in Vine letters about baseball and/or baseball reading, and possibly in my big list of books, but I'd like to get everything in one place. The idea here isn't that my opinion of various books is black-letter law, but if you've read Tomato Nation for a while, you'll have a sense of what I like, and proceeding from that, a sense of where your tastes and mine overlap and diverge, so you can use my recs accordingly.
[NB: This is just what I have in the house. The list of baseball books I've actually read is probably four times the length.]
The Annotated Baseball Stories of Ring Lardner: Ring Lardner writes…um, about…baseball.
Pros: Wonderful photos and illustrations. Lardner's writing is still celebrated today for a reason, and in addition to the baseball aspects, it's a series of portraits of who we were and what we cared about in America eighty, ninety, a hundred years ago. And the "annotated" part is key; readers who don't know who Harry Hooper is will have it explained to them in the margin notes.
Cons: If you found Mark Twain's use of dialect frustrating in Huck Finn, the "Friend Al" thing is probably going to drive you nuts. From a subject-matter standpoint, you may find the Lardner difficult to get into if you don't already have a solid grounding in the game's history — it's Fred Merkle and Johnny Evers and the 1917 World Series, that kind of thing. I'll explain my take on this in more depth in my note on the Fireside series, but here's the short form: historical perspective on the game is good, and can contribute to a deeper enjoyment of it as it's played today, but contemporary accounts can seem off-puttingly opaque to newer fans. May take more patience than you have time for it.
The Bad Guys Won: [Freakin' Endless Subtitle]: The 1986 World Champion Mets, warts and all.
Pros: A trip down memory lane for old-school Mets fans. This is the team I cut my teeth on, and although a lot of time has gone by and I don't follow the orange-and-blues like I used to, it's still nice to read about them and remember caring fiercely about them. (I actually put Pros vs. Joes on the DVR because Strawberry was going to be on it. And I have to say: disappointed. The show is lame, for starters, which is a problem, and you'd think Stromboli would have come up with some better trash talk after umpteen nights in a holding cell, and I mean to tell you, that man bugged me back in the day, not to mention his various personal and medical travails, and he's plumped up some, but with all that said, it's still a pleasure to watch him hit, still just fun. He's still got that snake-rattle of danger around him in the batter's box, with how tall he is and that iconic face. It's like a song you haven't heard in ages that you forgot you loved, seeing him. …Anyway.)
Cons: It's not good writing — clumsy and overwrought, most of the time, and as I've said elsewhere, I don't get the sense Pearlman's editor knew/cared enough about baseball to get him out of his own way there. This subject doesn't need any help; this team ate the rest of the division's lunch for seven months, had a soap opera of a postseason, won the whole shooting match, and acted like a bunch of feral dogs off the field, and yet somehow often the book is boring. I'd recommend it as plane reading for Mets/eighties baseball fans, but if you don't have a dog in that hunt, you may not have anything to offset the irritating prose.
Baseball: An Illustrated History: The companion volume to the Ken Burns miniseries. (Although I think we have to start referring to Burns's work as "maxiseries." Who's with me?)
Pros: Gorgeously illustrated, gorgeously written (a lot of it is straight from the voice-over), with materials you won't see in the film — essays, poems, pictures, and so on. The film is outstanding; I've watched it probably three dozen times from start to finish, but it's pricey, so this is a good substitute for that, but it's also good as ancillary material. Outstanding coverage of the Negro Leagues, at least for someone like myself who, prior to watching the film, didn't know much about them. Carefully and intelligently curated generalist approach. Very accessible for all kinds of fans.
Cons: Like the maxiseries (…huh?…right?), it came out in 1994, so some of the oh-woe prose surrounding the luckless Red Sox, among other things, will seem dated. Isn't a movie, obviously, and therefore does not have the live footage of stuff like Jackie Robinson stealing home or Bob Gibson's ThermoGlare 3000™, which you should really see in live action. Also does not have Buck O'Neil telling stories throughout, which is one of the great pleasures of baseball fandom. I mean, he's in there, but you really do have to hear the man speak and see how he smiles, remembering things for you.
Baseball Babylon: From the Black Sox to Pete Rose, the Real Stories Behind the Scandals That Rocked the Game: There you have it. And seriously, no scandal is overlooked.
Pros: Think you know the real story behind Babe Ruth "eating too many hot dogs," but want to double-check? Perfect book for you. The tone is briskly dry; it's structured helpfully, with chapters on gambling, sex, and drugs, plus an index; it's accessible for fans and non-fans alike, and if you want the dirt on a given scandal but don't want to read a whole book, Dan Gutman is there for you.
Cons: It came out in 1992, so bits of it haven't aged well (Pete Rose, Gooden). Its appeal to non-fans means that it's not heavy on actual baseball.
Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders: A Complete Guide to the Worst Decisions and Stupidest Moments in Baseball History: Yes, Grady Little is in it.
Pros: Blunders satisfies both the casual fan, who doesn't need to know a ton about baseball to get into it, and the super-fan, who can still learn something new. Neyer is an ESPN analyst and works with Bill James; his writing is clear and occasionally snarky, but very direct and unshowy — like James, it's as though he's talking with you. Some stats, which are skippable if you don't like that stuff. Tons of pictures and informative sidebars make it perfect for bathroom reading, but it's great to read straight through, too.
Cons: None, really. You might disagree with some of the blunders selected (or not selected), but beyond that, it's not really "not for" anyone. Unless you dislike paperbacks really strongly.
The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers: Horticulture how-to. …Just kidding! I could have ditched these summaries, I guess.
Pros: Very readable, as usual. The analytical approach is inventive; I wouldn't have known how to go about comparing and contrasting managers, since a lot of it seems like "intangibles," but the method James uses is commonsense and easy to follow. Backseat-pitching-coach fans like me will get a lot out of it.
Cons: James is usually a worthwhile read even if you don't know much about the guy he's talking about, but it's a bit different with managers, for some reason; if you don't know who Joe McCarthy and Gene Mauch are — the teams they ran, the handful of things history has handed down to us as typical of them — this book is more opaque than James's offerings generally are. Also, I always find various typos in James's stuff, which isn't usually bothersome, but this one seemed to have more, and to have gotten rushed into print. It's a bit sloppy in spots.
Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series: It's all there in the title.
Pros: The story of the Black Sox is integral to the game and its history; references to the scandal, and the events and people involved in it and proceeding from it, turn up in baseball coverage all the time, even today, and interestingly, a lot of misconceptions remain about what exactly happened, so Eight Men Out is an important book, and an exhaustive one — it provides a detailed day-by-day account that even non-fans or regular old history buffs can follow.
Cons: Said account is written really badly — key names misspelled, subject-verb agreements biffed, you name it. The level of detail here is necessary to a complete treatment of the subject, but because the prose is so poorly done, that detail presents as confusing and dull instead of giving the events texture. Baseball Babylon takes much of its version from this book, but rewrites it in better prose and elides unnecessary information. Even completists may wonder why they spent the time on the Asinof instead.
The Fireside Book(s) of Baseball: A three-volume compendium of contemporary writings, poems, songs, editorials, and cartoons about baseball.
Pros: For my money, indispensable for the sense of the game, pre-1965, that they impart, and for the wide range of material included. I first became a fan relatively late in a season, and then had months on end where I had no actual baseball to watch or study, so I worked my way through my father's entire shelf of books, and that included the Firesides — and I've often thanked God for that, because my recall of the specific pieces isn't great, but I know what "Tinker to Evers to Chance" means, and who Lefty Grove is, and why Christy Mathewson is such a towering figure, because of these books, and I don't know where else I would have gotten such a broad range of information. It's my feeling that you appreciate the game better if you have at least some historical perspective, some context to put everything in; part of that comes from watching baseball for a long time, and just in the past twenty-some years, I've seen significant changes to the game, good and bad and value undetermined. But when you look at A-Rod playing third base, for example, it's helpful to know who played that position before him for the Yankees — and it's also helpful to know how he stacks up against Mike Schmidt, and how Mike Schmidt compared to Brooks Robinson, and before that, how Brooks Robinson rewrote the book on the hot corner that Pie Traynor first published, and so on and so forth. To understand exactly how, well, Ruthian a figure Babe Ruth is, still, in the game, you don't have to know about Home Run Baker, but it makes a difference. To form an opinion on the present-day obsession with pitch counts, you don't have to know that guys like Waddell and the Big Train would pitch back-to-back doubleheaders in their time, but it shades your opinion if you do. And the Fireside books gave me that context, that perspective. The books also give you a little bullet on why a given piece is in the compendium, which is handy, and all the contemporary coverage of players like DiMaggio and Feller sort of adds water to the way you think about them, if that makes sense.
Cons: I would like to tell you that the treatment of Fred Merkle's boner (hee) is as titillating as the name suggests, but it happened in 1908, when "boner" still meant "mistake," so: not so much. Once the charm of the old-tyme expressions ("chucking the pill") and hyphenations ("the Baltimore base-ball club") wears off, it's sometimes a chore to get through the pieces, particularly in the first volume. Let me just give you a random sampling from the second book, here…okay, we've got a chapter from Frank Graham's history of the Yankees…a Zane Grey short story…a before-its-time New Journalism-type piece on Don Newcombe…a cartoon that isn't very funny…Gabby Hartnett talking about his "Homer in the Gloaming," which is…okay, of the most famous homers of all time, I bet it's the least famous, if that makes sense, so, yeah. …Anyway, it's that kind of thing. I read them at age 13, when I had insomnia and fuck-all else to do anyway, but while it's worth doing for people who adore the game and want to adore it more authoritatively, it's often homework-y, so if you have a life of any stripe, forcing yourself to read every piece is not suggested. Give it a few paragraphs, and if the prose is purpling all over your new shirt, move on — if you can even find the damn things, which is another issue. And can afford them when you find them.
Fair Ball: A Fan's Case for Baseball: Bob Costas addresses the challenges facing the game.
Pros: It's a passionate and eminently likeable book; you don't have to like Costas as a broadcaster to enjoy it. If you follow a small-market team, or dislike certain aspects of expansion-era play, you'll get a lot out of it, and it's a useful overview of the business of baseball. If nothing else, read it as an example of how to write about baseball without getting bogged down in The Poetry Of It All.
Cons: It's only five-odd years old, but the book seems a bit out of date now; I can't say with authority that he doesn't address steroids, but I don't recall it and I don't see it in the chapter headings, and that's going to feel strange to present-day readers. (As will various comments re: the Expos, which I guess you can just skim.) Fans who aren't interested in, or prefer to remain in denial about (and I feel that, at times), baseball economics can take a Pasadena.
The Last Best League: One Summer, One Season, One Dream: Author Jim Collins views the minor-league system, and the game as a whole, through the lens of a single season in the Cape Cod League.
Pros: Good insight into how young guys make their ways to the majors, and especially into what it's like for more modest talents. Collins is clearly knowledgeable and gets a lot of information into the narrative. Quite accessible to the newer fan.
Cons: Sometimes said information is shoehorned in somewhat clumsily. Collins has a tendency to overwrite, and to over-subscribe his subjects emotionally. Baseball by its very nature tends to incite writers to draw grand symbolic parallels; it can freight anything, no matter how quotidian, if you allow it to, and Collins allows it to a little too often.
The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract: Decade overviews of the game, plus the top hundred players at each position, with stat and prose analysis.
Pros: A must for all fans. Period. The decade snapshots will bring you up to speed on baseball eras you don't know much about, the player breakdowns feature some of the best writing going (and many cool facts with which to win bar bets), and the bite-sized presentation mean you can dip in and out, but you can also read straight through. Good for new and longtime fans, stat fans and literary fans alike. The one baseball book to own if you only own one. I love mine so hard that I wore out a copy and had to replace it. And I kept the worn-out copy. So that I can have one in each room. It's an illness.
Cons: Sometimes he doesn't focus on what you hope he will in a given player's entry, but this is a minor quibble. The book is also sizeable; ditto. The latest edition is from 2000; if there's a more recent one, please do let me know, but I would like to see a fresh one in the next couple of years, as the Barry Bonds entry could probably use a polish. Heh.
The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary: Exactly what it sounds like. It's more of a glossary than a dictionary, but why split hairs.
Pros: Glossary, dictionary, whatever — it's exhaustive. I opened it to a random page, and I see a bunch of box-score abbreviations, useful for a new fan; a couple of archaic terms, also useful for a new fan who might be reading older accounts; a couple newer terms (like "if you're waving at me, howdy" to describe a swinging strikeout — I can't say I've heard that one before, and I'll totally be using it from now on); and a couple of super-obvious definitions ("impact player"). Good for all levels of fan, especially those making the transition from just following a team to really getting into the game; strong citations, if you want to read more.
Cons: None, really. I mean, it requires a self-starting reader who actually wants to look stuff up, I guess; it won't teach you everything you need to know about baseball in a narrative fashion. But I don't know that any book can do that.
Nine Innings: Daniel Okrent explicates a single baseball game in 1982.
Pros: Okrent is a good writer who loves the game; he uses a pretty high level of diction, but not in an unwelcoming way. Hardcore fans will enjoy the inside-baseball stuff, and medium-strength fans can learn something. The game in question is between the Brewers and the Orioles, so it's especially entertaining for fans of those teams, or for anyone who followed baseball in the eighties. Other books have taken the same kind of approach — Pure Baseball and Three Nights in August, both discussed below — but I believe this book is the first of its breed.
Cons: The in-game analysis is not for everyone; this is play-by-play taken beyond a TWoP-recap-extreme level of detail, so if you're more of a macro fan who doesn't really care when the hit-and-run is called for, or why, this isn't the book for you. Likewise, more recent fans — i.e. those who didn't come up on eighties baseball — may not get as much out of it, because you won't recognize the names, and the game had a different feel 25 years ago.
Pure Baseball: Pitch by Pitch for the Advanced Fan: Mets broadcaster and former first baseman Keith "Ladies First" Hernandez breaks down two different games from the '93 season, one from each league.
Pros: Last season's ill-advised comments about women in the dugout notwithstanding, Hernandez is a smart guy, and together with his wingman/ghostwriter, Mike Bryan, he puts out really readable stuff; their other effort, If At First, is Hernandez's diary of his 1985 (and 1986) seasons with the Mets, and Hernandez is not the most likeable narrator in the world but I definitely suggest picking up a copy if you followed that team, or baseball at that time. This book is for advanced fans, as the subtitle says, but it's written in a colloquial style that isn't hard to follow at all, so while I wouldn't say that it's for newbies, it's not so heavy into theory that a relatively recent fan wouldn't enjoy it and pick things up from it. Hernandez knows what he knows and doesn't get into what he doesn't; where a journalist might feel obligated to digress into a discussion of a relevant topic because he thinks it's expected, Hernandez doesn't bother with that. Probably the only book of this ilk that I'd recommend even for people who don't ordinarily dig the in-game breakdown.
Cons: The in-game breakdown here is friendlier than Okrent's, in that it reads more naturally and comes from a former player's perspective, but…it's still an in-game breakdown. If you don't follow the Phillies, Braves, Tigers, or Yankees, you may not like it, plus it's games from '93, so here again, more recent fans might feel a bit at sea. Hernandez can come off as full of himself, though it's not as much in evidence here as elsewhere.
Roadside Baseball: Uncovering Hidden Treasures from Our National Pastime: Baseball sites and shrines, from Cooperstown to the obscure.
Pros: Rockin' bathroom book that's also handy, as the back cover suggests, for stashing in the glove box on road trips. Great for generating ideas for said road trips also (or day trips to stuff near you), and has a number of nifty factoids.
Cons: It's a specific resource that isn't really for reading so much as for looking things up. Heavy on the former sites of ballparks, which won't interest newer fans. (Or a lot of older fans. You get to the intersection where the park used to be, and it's…an intersection.)
This Time Let's Not Eat The Bones: Selections of Bill James's work with the stat analysis removed.
Pros: I understand sabermetrics; it's not that hard. It's just not why I follow the game, that stuff, so I always skipped that stuff in the Abstracts, growing up, but I still got a lot out of them because James's writing is so good. I mean, yes, he's the…whatever he is of sabermetrics. The Henry Ford, the Philo T. Farnsworth, whoever. The public face. But I would posit that he's the Henry Ford or the whoever because he's also one of the best baseball writers ever. Ever. I've read a metric ton of Angell; I don't say this lightly. James is the one I read over and over again, always finding something new, always admiring his ability to tell a story. He makes his statistics, their names, how he arrived at them and how he ran them to get his results, completely transparent, even to a reader like me who doesn't care and will give him exactly two sentences to get me there before I go on to something else; think back on your math teachers for a minute, and understand what a rare and valuable skill that is, to tell a story with numbers that someone who doesn't speak that language can still appreciate. Now, understand that he is just as good, if not better, with language language. Now and then, he drops in a pronouncement or a generalization that has a certain epic sweep to it, an aspiration to grandness, but it works, because usually, he's just telling you a story. Bones includes a novella-length piece, a memoir about Kansas-City-A fandom that segues into an account of the Royals' 1985 postseason, that is probably the best piece of baseball writing I have read. I have read it a dozen times; I read part of it before bed last night, again, the section where the horrible drunk Cards fan is terrorizing everyone around her. It has everything: a deeply sarcastic indictment of the media's favoritism of the Cardinals, Catskills set-ups and punchlines about the drunk lady, a sidebar on Kansas City's self-esteem, an explication of Danny Jackson's pitching and its variable predictability, you name it. It's the embodiment of the principle that writing becomes universal when it is about the personal. And I suspect that he just set out to put a few things down on paper, to remember them for himself as much as for his readers — his team, his opinions, what it was like to be there, what it was like to see. And because he probably doesn't think of himself as a writer except incidentally, he isn't tricksy, he doesn't overreach, he just says what he saw and what he thought, in plain English anyone can understand, and he's funny. Not everything in the book is James at the top of his game, and I don't mean to oversell him here, but plowing through those Abstracts back in the day is, in retrospect, a big part of what made me such a fan — here's this guy who talks to his readers about the game and the players the same way my dad and I talk to each other, the same way I think about it. "Takes it out of church," as they say.
Cons: Extremely hard to find; it took me months, and it's more than paid for itself but my copy cost a lot of money. Almost exclusively about eighties baseball; this is my wheelhouse, but some people won't care, although I think it's worthwhile for the writing alone. People who value James for the stats more than for the prose should probably pass on it.
Three Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak, and Joy (Inside the Mind of a Manager: The acclaimed author of Friday Night Lights follows Tony La Russa around and writes up a three-game series between the Cards and the Cubs.
Pros: Lots of behind-the-scenes, clubhouse stuff in here, and good in-game analysis, plus a new angle on it. La Russa is a good pick for this kind of focus, and it's a relatively recent book, so newer fans will know the names; I for one enjoyed reading J.D. Drew get ranked on for having an attitude problem. Smartly selected subject, good source material.
Cons: Baseball writing that takes itself too seriously is the worst, I'm sorry. I haven't read Bissinger's other stuff, but I've seen Kenny Lofton play, and this: "A single gold chain nestles neatly under the collar of his gray uniform. 'CHICAGO' wraps across his shirt in bright and muscular red. His hands, swathed in white gloves, heft a black bat. He gently taps it on the plate as if it's a divining rod in search of water — plentiful abundance around that plate if he can just find it." …"Swathed"? "Heft"? Really? Because I think it's exactly this kind of yearbooky overwriting that turns people off of baseball sometimes, this elevation of every little thing to the cinematic. You really have to watch out with that stuff, with the "muscular red" and the blah blah, because people do not read baseball books in order to admire an innovative description of the Cubs' away uniform. This is true of all writing, really, that it's often best to say what you mean to say as straightforwardly as you can manage and not pants around with a bunch of overblown metaphors, but the subject of baseball is a cliché-o-matic as it is, baseball is frequently cinematic, and you see it a lot in baseball writing, the inability to resist the grand flourish. Bringing it back to this specific case, the indulgent description serves no real illustrative purpose (my mental image of Lofton is the same as before, regardless of the dowser imagery — or, really, in spite of it), and in fact it gets in the way — just get the guy into the batter's box already, my man. See my comments on James; it is eminently possible to discuss baseball in a heartfelt way, and to describe it both precisely and with feeling, but still maintain a firmness of tone and pace. Bissinger is not good at this, not here; his editor should have chopped out three quarters of these overly precious comparisons and cutesy similes. The styling of the prose aside? It's not for the rawest of fans, but the writing, while occasionally humpy, is inclusive and friendly without talking down to the reader.
Total Baseball: A baseball encyclopedia.
Pros: Lays out the actual rules of the game, in all their variations going back to the Doubleday era; lists every player ever, with lifetime stats and birthdays and whatnot. This (or the Macmillan Encyclopedia) is a gold-standard resource, and an excellent doorstop.
Cons: …Doorstop. Every time you move, you will wonder why you own this behemoth when you have access to the internet, and I can't really give you an answer, because I like a brick-and-mortar book as much as the next gal — more, probably — but this isn't a book. It's a piece of furniture. If you want to use it to settle bets, you'll have to keep updating your editions; if you don't want to use it to settle bets, you just won't open it very often. (…Internet.) I don't have a recent edition, myself, but I suspect that it doesn't include the kinds of stats sabremetricians favor, which is a point against it in the twenty-first century.
Wait Till Next Year: Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin remembers "growing up in love with her family and baseball" — Dodger baseball.
Pros: Because it's a broader-ranging memoir than a straight-up baseball book, it relies more heavily on Goodwin's writing to sell it, and it does sell it. She's a very good writer, not show-offy, and you get a crystalline picture of what it was like to live in the New York suburbs and root, usually in vain, for the Dodgers of that era. Suitable for all kinds of fans, and in fact I'd recommend it as a good get-your-feet-wet book for the new or somewhat reluctant baseball follower; it has a lot of baseball in it, but is welcoming to those not in the know as well. A well-done time capsule.
Cons: See my previous sentence; it's not a history of the Dodgers. You have to take it for what it is, subjective and somewhat literary. Her renditions of some moments verge on twee at times — a little too on the nose, too perfect.
Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?: Bill James takes on some HoF controversies, suggests changes, breaks down the stats — the usz. Sometimes called The Politics of Glory (I think in the hardcover edition).
Pros: The usual stellar writing and analysis; the ongoing discussion of Rizzuto's election is particularly good. There is, I've found, some confusion as to how exactly the balloting works for the Hall; you could argue, and I would agree, that it doesn't "work," exactly, but I'm talking about how it gets done, effectiveness aside, and you get a good idea of that here, plus some smart alternatives. You don't have to be "up on" the people under the scope to enjoy the book, and in fact the overview chapters can help "medium" fans bone up on past players quite painlessly.
Cons: The Pete Rose section is still good, I think, probably because I agree with it, but alas, it, and some other parts of the book, are dated now. (Unless there's a newer edition I don't know about.) Comes with the territory, though, and it shouldn't discourage anyone from reading it, as the larger points still get made. If you're a Shoeless Joe apologist, you may take issue with a few things here. As always, it's stat-heavy, but I've been skipping most of the arithmetic in James for twenty years now; you can take it or leave it.
You're Missin' A Great Game: Legendary manager Whitey Herzog, sittin' around spitballin'.
Pros: Herzog is an old-school baseball man; he's got an opinion on everything because he's seen everything, and just about everyone, and he had a front-row seat to some of the biggest baseball stories of the seventies and eighties. His ghostwriter is good — it's a smooth, fast read (if somewhat folksy). Another memory-lane book for fans of late-seventies/early-eighties vintage. He gives the owners a ration of shit and makes good points in the process.
Cons: Given the dish he could have served up on some of the players he talks about, what gets plated is comparatively thin gruel; Herzog isn't coy, but if you want dirt you haven't heard before, you won't get it. His limitless contempt for Keith Hernandez is entertaining, but not exactly poorly documented by, well, anyone currently alive, and guys like Tim Raines and Strawberry get a recap of what we already know, followed by a fake "good luck to him, I hope he gets straightened out" kind of a thing, which…meh. Herzog is his own biggest fan, probably, and fans like myself who loathed him during his managing days will not enjoy that facet of him — or the praises heaped at boring length upon Casey Stengel, who is certainly worth reading up on for his own sake but isn't the guy anyone bought Herzog's book looking to learn about. Fans who don't remember Herzog or his teams can probably get along without it, too.
February 19, 2007