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November 2009



Jerome Holtzman Baseball Reader

Written by , Posted in Reviews

The title is: “The Jerome Holtzman Baseball Reader”, a compilation of Jerome Holtzman’s “favorite offerings from five decades of chronicling our national pastime”.

Before I read this book, although I had heard of Mr. Holtzman, I didn’t really know very much about him. Here’s some background:

He was born in Chicago (in 1926) and grew up in an orphanage on the West Side (the Marks Nation Jewish Orphan Home). He spent two years in the marines.

He wrote for Chicago newspapers for over 50 years. Jerome began covering baseball in 1957, following both the Cubs and White Sox. He created the save statistic in 1959, which was adopted as an official statistic for the 1969 season. The save was the first new official statistic in MLB since the RBI was introduced in 1920.

Following his retirement as a newspaper writer in 1999, Mr. Holtzman served as the official historian for Major League Baseball until his death on July 19, 2008.

Here are some excerpts from the book:

– “I contend that any pitcher, win or lose, who pitches nine innings of shutout ball should be given credit for a winning performance.”

In 1946 Bob Feller “led the majors with a one-season record 368 strikeouts. He struck out every regular American League position player with one exception”.

This is all the more remarkable because Mr. Feller spent the previous four years on active duty in the Navy (during WW2). As a matter of fact, Bob Feller spent 34 months aboard the USS Alabama prior to his discharge in August, 1945.

I want to tell you, I’ve been aboard the USS Alabama. (She is a floating museum in Mobile Bay.) It was noisy, hot and uncomfortable. And that was welded to the pier with no one shooting at us.

As an aside, “the Alabama never lost a man in an enemy action, then or later. It was known as the ‘Lucky A’.”

The author quotes Bob Feller: “Every time I went out to pitch I thought about how lucky I was to serve my country and come back with all my limbs,” Feller said. “I did what I thought I should. You’ll never hear me cry about it.”

– “The rules of the game say that the strike zone is between the batter’s armpits and the top of his knees ‘when he assumes his natural stance’.”

The author quotes Ted Williams speaking about Luis Aparicio: “…he was the greatest shortstop of my time….Joe Cronin was a better hitter, and so was Luke Appling. But in that spot, you take a fielder over a hitter.”

On the same subject (Luis Aparicio), the author quotes Lew Fonseca: “There were a lot of good ones, but defensively, Aparicio was the best. And shortstop is a defensive position.”

Speaking about Bill Veeck, who “lost most of his right leg at Bougainville, when he was in the marine corps during World War II”, the author observes: “The only time I recall him mentioning his peg leg, the right leg, was early one morning while he was soaking the stump. It was a daily two hour ritual. Typically, he only saw the benefits, the upside. Because he had to sit, he explained, he had more time to read.”

Speaking further about Bill Veeck, Mr. Holtzman says: “This may be hard for some of the current owners to believe but it was Bill Veeck who came up with the idea that ballplayers should be ‘depreciated’, just like oil wells.”

In a column about Marge Schott, Jerry makes the point: “…I, too, have been fighting the good fight, beginning with two years in the U. S. Marine Corps during the big war: gung-ho for the pursuit of liberty and the freedom of speech, including offensive speech.”

– “Still, the attempt to discipline someone for speech, not conduct, would seem to be a significant danger. Schott didn’t demonstrate and throw eggs or rocks at the police. She did not inflict bodily harm. Nor is she guilty of theft or general dishonesty.”

– “Understand, this isn’t so much a defense of Schott and her privilege of alleged ignorance. Of considerably more importance is the necessity to honor and protect the Bill of Rights against the evils of Big Brother and thought control.”

As you can see from the above examples, this book includes stories about Chicago baseball, and about baseball in general. I’m glad I read it. I recommend it highly.

  • Doc Raker

    So who was the guy Feller didn’t strike out? Ted Williams or Joe Dimaggio maybe?

    Mr Holtzman was ahead of his time in recognizing the encroachment of big governement and political correctness on our freedoms and liberties.