Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Book Review: Parables From The Diamond

Monday, September 20th, 2010

The complete title of this book is “Parables From The Diamond – Meditations for Men on Baseball & Life”. The authors are Phil Christopher and Glenn Dromgoole. This book was published in 2009, and came to me as part of a group of books shipped to me by Joe Aiello.

Phil Christopher is described as “a preacher with a passion for baseball, played baseball in college and coached Little League. Bats right. Throws left. Writes left.”

Glenn Dromgoole is described as “an author, journalist, and lifetime baseball fan. Bats right. Throws right. Writes left.”

We are further informed that the authors live in Abilene, Texas.

When I was a little shaver, I remember being told that a parable is “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning”. So I was on alert regarding the possibility of the authors reading too much into the game of baseball.

The inside front jacket cover gives us the following introduction: “Parables From The Diamond is a collection of fifty short meditations for men, using baseball as a theme….Parables From The Diamond covers such life lessons as:
– Nobody’s Perfect.
– Don’t go for the bad pitch.
– We all go through slumps.
– On a team, every position is important.
– Bad hops happen to good people.
Each piece begins with a quotation that relates both to baseball and to life, and ends with a thought-provoking question – such as “What have you learned from failure that made you stronger?” or “Do we place too much emphasis on winning in all areas of our lives?”

The top testimonial on the back cover states: “Parables From The Diamond is practical without being preachy….”

That’s kind of ironic because just before I read that, I was thinking: “Wow, this book is kind of preachy; kind of like the Church Lady on SNL.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
– “No one likes to finish last. But there are worse things in life than that.”

– “And yet, there is something to be said for the attitude expressed by Ernie Banks. If we cannot find satisfaction and take delight in what we do for a living, perhaps we are in the wrong line of work, or maybe we have let our jobs become routine.”

– “Fundamentals are the most valuable tools a player can possess. Bunt the ball into the ground. Hit the cutoff man. Take the extra base. Learn the fundamentals.” Dick Williams

– “Do not alibi on bad hops. Anybody can field the good ones.” Tommy LaSorda

– “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Albert Einstein

The quote about “Fundamentals” (above) made me seek out and listen to “The Fundamental Things” by Bonnie Raitt from her “Fundamental” CD. “Let’s get back to the fundamental things” she sings.

This whole book, although well intentioned and well written, was a little too deep for me. At least at this time.

But I passed it along to my wife to read. She seems to be getting into heavy stuff like this lately. I’ll let you know what she says if she ever gets around to reading it.

I recommend “Parables From The Diamond” to anyone looking for “heavenly meaning” in stories about baseball.

I want to thank bright sky press of Houston, Texas, for providing me a copy of “Parables From The Diamond” to read and review.

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Book Review: We Might As Well Win!

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

The complete title of this book is: “We Might As Well Win”. It was published in 2009. It was written by Johan Bruyneel (with Bill Strickland), and includes a foreword by Lance Armstrong.

I say “it was written by Johan Bruyneel with Bill Strickland” because that’s what the cover says. But Bill Strickland says he wrote it, “with Johan Bruyneel”. In any event, it’s a very good book and I’m glad I read it.

Here is an excerpt from Johan’s bio on the back cover of the book:

– “Johan Bruyneel is a former professional cyclist and was the team director, from 1999 to 2007, of the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team, which later became the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team. He has guided his teams to a record twelve Grand Tour victories, making him the winningest team director in the history of the sport.”

Bill Strickland’s complete bio (also from the back cover of the book) reads as follows:

– “Bill Strickland is the executive editor of “Bicycling”, and the author of several books.”

What the title refers to, and what the book is about, is quoted on the back cover of the book: “In 1998, (Johan Bruyneel) looked Lance Armstrong in the eye and said, ‘Look, if we’re going to ride the Tour, we might as well win’.”

Lance Armstrong describes his relationship with Johan in the following quote, also from the back cover: “The first thing he did for me, the one thing that made everything else possible, was the simplest and at the same time probably the most difficult: he believed in me.”

The author sets the tone in the first chapter of the book (ie., the “Prologue”), with the observation that in the USA: “the general public considers the bicycle more of a child’s toy than a high-tech marvel of sport gear.”

Johan describes briefly his career as a bicycle racer, and segues into how he came to be the Director Sportiff of the teams on which Lance Armstrong would ride into the record books.

In the chapter about recruiting talent, Johan gives his three reasons to sign “this guy” vs. “that guy”:
1. “…signing the best riders made us strong on the road….”
2. “…signing top riders to our team meant that they would be racing for us rather than against us….”, and
3. “…I knew someday the team would have to find a way to win without Lance. Though no one could ever fill those legendary shoes, I was committed to auditioning people for the role.”

In the chapter titled “Trust People – Not Products” Johan describes the development of a million dollar bike which Lance, ultimately, didn’t ride.

One big aspect of this book is Johan’s philosophy of tempering both victory and defeat.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

– “The Tour de France is like life. It’s not a game, or a series of games. It’s a two-thousand-mile, month long odyssey that creates and breaks heroes, elevates some while diminishing others.

– “The Tour de France is the only sporting event, someone once said, so long that you have to get your hair cut in the middle of it.”

– “I’ve always had this idea that if you’re going to try something, if you’re going to expend that first big block of effort and energy to participate – whether it’s riding the Tour de France or applying for a new job or coaching your daughter’s soccer team – you might as well go ahead and give whatever else it takes to win, I mean, I’m going to be there no matter what, right? Why not go ahead and get the victory?”

– “For my part, I’d always found his brash, aggressive style entertaining rather than off-putting.”

– “The point of a bike race isn’t to get to the finish and have all the other team directors gather around and tell you how polite and considerate you are as a driver. The point isn’t to make sure my passenger- whether it’s a team mechanic, or the visiting CEO of our current sponsor, or even Lance – feels safe.”

– “From its beginning, the Tour has been a showcase for dishonesty, chaos, and cheating right alongside virtues such as nobility, bravery, sacrifice, and triumph.”

– “My heart was willing. But my legs told me no.”

– “The difference with Lance was that I always knew that something would have to go horribly wrong for him not to stand atop the podium in July; in contrast, for us to get up there now, everything would have to go right.”

– “I understood that not only is it not the victor’s duty to apologize for a win, it is not even his right. A win is a win and you cannot excuse yourself from it because of circumstance. Your opponent’s condition is not your fault, nor are their strategies. Rain, heat, the good luck to not get a flat tire, a dog running across the road – none of the infinite and unpredictable conditions of competition are yours to feel bad about. To do so dishonors those you defeated.”

– “…winning – true victory – is about how you go about winning more so than the win itself.”

– “You can achieve a victory in a race, in a game, at work, at home, and still be a loser in life.”

– “No one wins alone, at least not in cycling, or life.”

I truly enjoyed reading “We Might As Well Win”, and I recommend it highly to anyone at all, but particularly to those with an interest in athletic competition.

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Rob Neyer’s Big Book Of Baseball Blunders

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

The complete title of this book is: “Rob Neyer’s Big Book Of Baseball Blunders – A Complete Guide To The Worst Decisions And Stupidest Moments In Baseball History”. That‘s a long title. The author is Rob Neyer (ESPN Baseball Analyst and author of “Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Lineups”). It was published in 2006.

So, what’s the definition of a blunder? For the purposes of this book, there are three requirements:
1. The blunder must be premeditated. Someone must have actually thought: “Hey THIS would be a good idea.”
2. A reasonable person might, AT THE TIME, have made a reasonable case for doing something else, and,
3. Ideally, the blunder must have led to some reasonably ill outcome.

There we have it: Premeditation. Contemporary questionability. Ill effects.

The author further explains: “…many of the blunders within were committed by GOOD teams and GOOD managers and GOOD general managers.”

This book is arranged chronologically, with the oldest stories first (1917), and the most recent stories last (2003).

In discussing the 1919 Black Sox aftermath, Neyer states: “…shortly after the Series ended in Cincinnati’s favor, Gandil was seen ‘with a new automobile, diamonds, and other marks of sudden affluence’.”

And I ask: These days, what professional athlete DOESN’T display that bling?

The further along I got in reading this book, the more I came to appreciate Rob Neyer’s knowledge and insight. Even allowing for 20/20 hindsight, and keeping in mind that many of the names mentioned in the book were, to me, only of the “I think I’ve heard that name somewhere before” degree of familiarity, I enjoyed reading the stories.

It’s amazing how little I followed baseball from 1969 until 2008.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

– “I’ve never seen morale so low on any club I’ve ever been on – majors or minors.”

– “It seems like a lot of ballplayers end their careers as Cubs.”

– “If there’s one rule by which every baseball executive should live, it’s this: ‘Don’t pay any attention to the wild-eyed advice offered by your local sports columnist’.”

– “Phil Wrigley wasn’t a great baseball man. But he did have some good ideas.”

– “A chief is a man who assumes responsibility. He says, ‘I was beaten.’ He does not say, ‘My men were beaten.’ Thus speaks a real man.”

– “The truth is that Lane didn’t know what the hell he was doing. He just wanted to do SOMETHING. Had to do something.”

– “…today most teams draft for ‘talent’ rather than ‘need’.”

– “There are any number of lessons that may be learned from studying the draft, and one of the most important is: ‘Don’t base draft decisions on the current state of your major-league roster’.”

– “Even if your draft pick doesn’t work out, you’ll often be able to find a trading partner who places a high value on the potential that you once saw.”

– “It’s not smart to sign long-term contracts.”

– “The only thing that kept this organization from being recognized as one of the finest in baseball is wins and losses at the major league level.”

There is another book begging to be written by Rob Neyer. The title of this one would be: “The Chicago Cubs in the New Millennium (2000-2010)”. Would that constitute an entire decade of blunders? I don’t know. But I’d like to read Mr. Neyer’s analysis.

Maybe the Cubs should hire Rob Neyer to help with their current “reinvention” efforts. It would be similar to the Red Sox enlisting the help of Bill James to provide guidance on their new course. The Cubs could do a lot worse than Rob Neyer.

I enjoyed reading Rob Neyer’s Big Book Of Baseball Blunders. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in baseball or in big business.

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Book Review: Watching Baseball Smarter

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

The full title of this one is “Watching Baseball Smarter – A Professional Fan’s Guide for Beginners, Semi-experts, and Deeply Serious Geeks”. The author is Zack Hample. It was published in 2007.

Since I’ve been watching a lot of baseball lately, I thought it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to watch it smarter. This book has helped me to accomplish that.

The author’s back cover bio describes Zack Hample as “an obsessed fan who regularly writes about minor league baseball. He’s collected nearly 3,000 baseballs from major league games and has appeared on dozens of TV and radio shows. His first book, ‘How to Snag Major League Baseballs’, was published in 1999.”

A back cover testimonial from Kevin Baker, author of “Sometimes You See It Coming”, opines: “Will definitely improve your baseball I.Q. Neophytes and old pros alike will find plenty here they didn’t know.”

I have to agree with the assessment of Mr. Baker. Beginners and semi-experts will find plenty here to digest. Serious geeks, (aka “Mr. Experts on Everything”) will also find things here which they either didn’t know or haven’t thought of lately. Although they might not admit it.

And for the one fan in a million who actually does already know everything in this book, that person can appreciate the writing style of Mr. Hample.

The author describes himself as a former college third baseman, so I gotta believe that the first chapter, about the major league draft, the road to the major leagues, etc. comes from personal experience.

The author also describes himself as a “four-time student at Bucky Dent’s Baseball School”. I don’t want to call him a slow learner, but along the way he obviously learned a lot about: Pitchers & Catchers, Hitting, Baserunning, Fielding, Stadiums, Umpires, Statistics, Random Stuff To Know, Random Stuff To Notice, and Baseball Slang.

The book includes “The Fair Ball Quiz”, 11 questions on which, I have to admit, I did pretty good.

In the chapter on Statistics, Mr. Hample introduces a list of stats related to relief pitching thusly: “Now, here are the stats of Ryan Dempster, a reliever whom many people – especially in Chicago – would like to forget:” Did I mention that Zack Hample is a native of New York City? No surprise there.

There is a section about keeping score and reading a box score which is very clearly stated and easy to follow.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book include:

– “Of his ‘62 Mets, who finished 40-120 and remain the worst team since 1900, Stengel said, ‘They have shown me ways to lose I never knew existed’.”

– “Longtime Orioles manager Earl Weaver said, ‘The job of arguing with the umpire belongs to the manager because it won’t hurt the team if he gets thrown out of the game’.”

– “Joe Torre…as an infielder with the Mets…bounced into four double plays in one game, each time wiping out Felix Millan, who batted in front of him and went 4-for-4. ‘What’s everyone blaming me for?’ Torre complained afterward. ‘Blame Felix. I wouldn’t have hit into the double plays if he hadn’t hit singles’.”

– “Bo Belinsky, a pitcher in the 1960s, once said, ‘How can a guy win a game if you don’t give him any runs?’ It was an excellent point (except for the fact that he’d just lost, 15-0).”

– “There’s one word that describes baseball: ‘You never know’.” – Joaquin Andujar, former major league pitcher

– “I remember one time going out to the mound to talk with Bob Gibson. He told me to get back behind the batter, that the only thing I knew about pitching was that it was hard to hit.” – Tim McCarver, former major league catcher

– “If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there are men on base.” – Dave Barry, humorist

– “Ninety feet between bases is perhaps as close as man has ever come to perfection.” – Red Smith, Hall-of Fame writer

For those who are really into statistics, there is even a section at the back of the book (“Appendix A: More Statistics”) which contains way more information about hitting, pitching and fielding statistics. Lotta acronyms back here, too.

I enjoyed reading “Watching Baseball Smarter”, and I might have even learned a few things. I recommend it to everyone, including (as the title states) Beginners, Semi-experts, and Deeply Serious Geeks.

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The Bill James Guide To Baseball Managers

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

The complete title of this book is: “The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers from 1870 to Today”. Bill James is the author. This book was published in 1997.

I was reading a book titled “How Bill James Changed Our View of Baseball”, and there was a quote to the effect that if Bill James wrote a book about peanut butter, he (the speaker) would buy it.

That statement prompted me to seek out books written by Bill James, which led me to this one. And now I can say: Bill James has written a book about Baseball Managers and we all should read it!

As Dan Gutman of Newsday is quoted on the back cover: ”He’s proven that he knows more about baseball than anybody in the whole world”.

Also on the back cover is this observation (from the book) by Dick Young about Leo Durocher: “You and Durocher are on a raft. A wave comes and knocks him into the ocean. You dive in and save his life. A shark comes and takes your leg. Next day, you and Leo start out even.”

Bill James’ bio on the inside back jacket cover includes the following items: “From 1977 through 1988 James wrote and edited ‘The Baseball Abstract’; from 1990 to 1992, ‘The Baseball Book’. His other books include ‘This Time Let’s Not Eat the Bones’, ‘Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame’, and the ‘Historical Baseball Abstract’, winner of the Casey Award as the best baseball book of 1986.”

In introducing this book Mr. James observes: “A manager is not someone who excels; a manager is someone who copes. I’ll manage somehow.”

His introduction continues: “There is one indispensable quality of a baseball manager: the manager must be able to command the respect of his players. This is absolute; everything else is negotiable.”

The introduction also includes: “Managers are fascinating people. Of the twenty-five greatest managers of all time, at least eighteen were alcoholics. Is this a coincidence, or is there a reason for it? Should we, in looking to hire a manager, make sure he has Betty Ford on his resume?”

The chapters of this Guide to Managers are arranged decade by decade. Here are a few of the decades and the managers profiled within:
– 1930s: Stengel and Southworth
– 1940s: Leo Durocher, Jolly Cholly Grimm
– 1950s: Casey Stengel, Paul Richards, Al Lopez, Fred Haney
– 1960s: Walter Alston, Bill Adair, Joe Adcock
– 1970s: Sparky Anderson, Earl Weaver
– 1980s: Whitey Herzog, Tommy Lasorda
– 1990s: Bobby Cox, Lou Piniella, Tony LaRussa

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

– “The most important question that a manager asks is ‘What needs to be changed around here?’ Any manager, over time, loses the ability to see what needs to be changed.”

– “Almost any manager, when a pitcher gives him a big season, will make a commitment to that pitcher. If he has a couple of bad starts, the manager will say ‘It’s just a couple of bad starts; he’ll get it turned around.’ If he has another bad start, the manager will say, ‘Well, we need him to pitch well if we’re going to contend.’ Then he’ll have a good start or two, and the first thing you know, he’s 5-13, and you’re out of the race.”

– “Stengel didn’t do that. With Stengel, unless you were Vic Raschi or Whitey Ford, you were only as good as your last start. And that was a large part of why he was able to stay on top, year after year, in a way that few other managers ever have. It’s not that he wasn’t ‘loyal’ to his players, but his idea of loyalty wasn’t ‘Joe helped me win the pennant last year, so I owe it to him to let him work through his problems.’ It was ‘These boys are trying to win. I owe it to them to do everything possible to help them win’.”

– “A famous Stengel quote occurred when Casey was asked by a reporter why he had used three pinch hitters in the first three innings of one game. ‘Whaddaya want me to do,’ he asked. ‘Sit there and lose?’”

– “Both Richards and Lopez were ‘defense first’ managers. Lopez once said that all a team really needed was pitching and defense, because if you didn’t allow the other team to score, eventually they would give you a run, and you’d win the game. Richards was less extreme in this regard.”

– “As anyone who has been around athletes ought to know, the most difficult years of an athlete’s life are the years when he is coming to grips with the fact that his skills have gotten away from him. By loading his roster with players at that stage of their careers, Haney virtually guaranteed an unhappy clubhouse.”

– “We know this already, but it is worth noting: In hiring a manager, look for someone who is ‘secure’ and ‘positive’.”

– “He looked for an attitude, a willingness to get it done. When a player lost that edge, that fearlessness, that love of risk, he lost his value, and then his manager had a problem. If the manager faced that problem head-on, there would be conflict. If he didn’t, there would be mediocrity.”

– “What do you put on the back of a manager’s baseball card?”

The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers contains a lot of discussion about topics I wasn’t expecting to see here, including “the definitive history of the sacrifice bunt”, and “fundamental analyses of the several billion options available to a manager setting a batting order”, among other things.

I enjoyed reading this book. It was both entertaining and informative. I do believe that Bill James could make a book about peanut butter be fun and educational, yet somehow relevant to baseball.

I recommend “The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers from 1870 to Today” to anyone with an interest in baseball &/or good writing. It’s too bad that the analyses only go up to the mid 1990s. But after reading about the earlier decades the reader can supply his own ending.

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Book Review: Coach

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

The complete title of this book is: “Coach – Lessons on the Game of Life”. The author is Michael Lewis. It was published in 2005.

Michael Lewis, you may remember, is the author of “Moneyball” and “The Blind Side” among other titles.

I have to admit, I have not, as yet, read the book. Instead I listened to the audiobook version, “Read by the Author”.

As Mr. Lewis explains it in this book he, as a 43 year old, looks back at a man who changed his life. That man, Billy Fitzgerald (aka “Coach Fitz”), was his baseball coach back when he, the author, was a 14 year old boy “who could pass for 12 years old”.

The action in “Coach” takes place in New Orleans, where Michael Lewis went to school, and where a somewhat unusual situation is occurring. Former students (and their parents) think the world of Coach Fitz. But many parents of current students want Coach Fitz fired.

The collective memory of students seems to be: “Fitz changed my life”.

On the back cover of the CD jewel case are printed these words:
– “The coach’s message was not simply about winning, but about self-respect, sacrifice, courage, and endurance. In some ways, and even now, thirty years later, Lewis still finds himself trying to measure up to what Coach Fitz expected of him.”

Names with which you may be familiar, who are mentioned, quoted, or referenced in this book include:
– Sean Tuohy
– “Pistol Pete” Maravich
– Rusty Staub
– Lou Piniella
– Rollie Fingers
– Catfish Hunter
– Peyton Manning
– Archie Manning
– Aesop
– Mark Twain

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

– “There were the written rules, and there were the rules.”

– “Success, to Fitz, was a process.”

– “Privilege Corrupts”

– “All this is about a false sense of self-esteem.”

– “What’s fun to you is death to me.”

– “He was teaching us how to cope with the two greatest enemies of a well-lived life: fear and failure.”

– “You never give up on a team, just like you never give up on a kid.”

There are some names in my life who had an effect on me similar to that of Coach Fitz in the life of Michael Lewis. Each deserves a story all his own, but for now I’ll simply list the names here in chronological order of their appearance in my life:

– Mr. Terrance Willison

– Coach Sam Brunswick

– Coach “Crazy Ed” Mitchell

– “Coach” Dobrath

– Coach Herb Hassenburg

– Coach Jack Rapper

– Sensei Shojiro Sugiyama

Listening to the audiobook was very easy and I recommend it to everyone. It consists on one (1) CD, one hour in length. Because the audiobook is so short, I was able to listen to it a number of times.

Nowhere on the CD cover does the word “unabridged” appear, so it is possible that the audiobook leaves out some segments of the printed version. On the other hand, the audiobook is read by Mr. Michael Lewis himself, so that adds its own cachet.

I recommend the book “Coach” by Michael Lewis very highly to anyone and everyone. I enjoyed listening to it. I’m sure that either the audio or printed version will prove to be worth your while.

This recommendation does not apply only to boys, nor does it apply only to jocks.

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Book Review: Forever Blue

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

There has been a lot of speculation lately concerning the Ricketts family: they should do this and they shouldn’t do that; they should have done this and they shouldn’t have done that; they better do this and they better not do that; etc. What follows is my review of a book dealing with the ownership of a Major League Baseball Franchise, in this case the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. Many of the challenges which confronted Walter O’Malley parallel those which the Ricketts family now face.
The complete title of this book is “Forever Blue – The True Story of Walter O’Malley, Baseball’s Most Controversial Owner, and the Dodgers of Brooklyn and Los Angeles”. It was published in 2009. The author is Michael D’Antonio. Among his awards is the Pulitzer Prize, which he shared with a team of reporters for Newsday.

The thing about this book, is that it is definitely about one man, Walter O’Malley, but it is also about the game of baseball, American history over the past 100 years or so, and about baseball as a business. As such, there are many parallels between the Dodgers and other Major League Baseball teams, and other businesses in general. There are also parallels between Mr. O’Malley and other baseball owners.
The author describes how the Dodgers went from being one of the absolutely worst baseball teams in the world, to being one of the best. There is also a step by step description of the events leading up to the movement of baseball teams from the original Northeastern locations to the current situation of teams being fanned out across the United States (and Canada). Specifically, Mr. D’Antonio details the movement of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles, and to a lesser degree, he details the simultaneous move of the NY Giants to
San Francisco.

The author points out that “In a country with no national church, baseball had become a secular religion”. Professional baseball has long enjoyed a special status, as evidenced by the rhetoric of the groundbreaking ceremony at Ebbets Field: “Borough president Alfred E. Steers talked about the great players of the past – in this case the 1870s – as if they were gods and elevated the team from its status as an athletic squad and business to make it an emblem of the community’s identity and aspirations.”

The love of Brooklyn for its team is shown in this observation regarding a champion heckler called Abie the Milkman: “…while Abie had the right to criticize, because he obviously loved the team, cracks from outsiders were not tolerated.”

We learn that Brooklyn in 1939 boasted the largest population of NY City’s boroughs, 2.8 million, and “would have been the second-largest city in America, were it still independent”. Also, “The streets of Brooklyn stitched together what once was a region of twenty-five villages, each with its churches and shops, and remained a collection of communities with strong identities”.

An interesting story involves the description of Walter O’Malley’s purchase of Branch Rickey’s 1/3 ownership of the Brooklyn Dodgers for $1,000,000 (with a $50,000 “convenience fee” also paid to Mr. Rickey). Afterwards, Mr. O’Malley described the ramifications of this buyout to a reporter: “You may be sure that for the next seven or eight years Mr. Rickey will be credited with the victories of the Brooklyn ball club and that its losses will be charged to somebody else.”

A grim reality which confronted Walter O’Malley as he took over the Dodgers is described thusly: “Victory had done a strange thing to the Dodgers and Brooklyn. O’Malley sensed it in the stands and saw it at the admissions gate. In 1950 the team had almost won the pennant for the second time in a row, but home attendance plummeted by almost 350,000. And it wasn’t just the numbers that were down. Some of the love seemed to be missing too. ‘Now they’re on us when we lose,’ said O’Malley. ‘There isn’t that same deep affection.’ Winning had taken away a bit of the mystique that made the players beloved when they were Bums.”

Mr. D’Antonio describes the Dodgers’ Spring training site (“Dodgertown”) at Vero Beach, Florida, in 1951, and the new rules (“O’Malley Rules”) which the franchise was now operating under.

We are introduced to an elaborate sign stealing system which the NY Giants had used to their advantage.

There is a description of negotiations between O’Malley and Philip K. Wrigley leading up to the Dodgers’ move to Los Angeles. One-year contracts were O’Malley’s standard, and we learn some of the advantages and disadvantages of that strategy.

Furthermore, “O’Malley’s other negotiating standard evolved slowly and was more a matter of temperament than stated policy. As those who challenged him would discover, he didn’t like to be pressured. He would call a bluff every time.” The esteem which the powerful Robert Moses held for Brooklyn is hinted at in the following observation: “Robert Moses would…declare that the borough was a ‘strange’ place that lacked adequate leaders and depended on a baseball team for its sense of well-being.”

The different social statures occupied by the Yankees and Dodgers is touched upon: “Yes, the Yankees played in the Bronx, but they really represented Manhattan and all its intimidating power and sophistication. The Dodgers stood for everyone else.”

At one point in the book, the Cincinnati baseball team is called “The Redlegs” (vs. “The Reds”). I have noticed that there are very few references to “The Redlegs” these days, although that was their name when I was growing up. What happened? Did I miss a memo on that?

As the dominoes fell leading up to the Dodgers move from Brooklyn, O’Malley pushed hard for the creation of the Sports Center Authority, he shifted the team to New Jersey for some games, and: “Finally, to demonstrate his seriousness, he sold his property in Montreal and openly offered Ebbets Field for sale.”

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
– “And whether it made sense or not, thousands if not millions of people experienced personal highs and lows as if what happened on the field were actually happening to them in real life.”
– “Only half the lies they tell about the Irish are true.”
– “But in fact Steinbrenner studied the Dodgers operation intently and regarded O’Malley as ‘the recognized master’.”

I enjoyed reading “Forever Blue” very much. The lessons included herein carryover to other teams and other circumstances. I recommend Michael D’Antonio’s “Forever Blue”, particularly to anyone with an interest in the business end of the game of baseball.

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Book Review: Chicago- Baseball In The City

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

My dad (“The World’s Greatest Living Cubs Fan”) spent the Fourth of July with me at my home. Watching the Cubs game was a red letter item on the day’s agenda. My dad dozed off a couple of times during the game. Afterwords, my brother-in-law observed: “Now I know how you can stand to watch the Cubs every day – you sleep through most of it!”

Later, I told my dad that I was sorry his Cubbies didn’t win the game (they lost 14-3). He laughed and said “Oh heck – I don’t let it get me down. As soon as the game ends, I forget about it.” Words to live by, from The World’s Greatest Living Cubs Fan. And now, on to the book review.

The complete title of this book is: “Chicago: Baseball in the City”. It is written by Derek Gentile, with foreword by Studs Terkel. It was published in 2006. This, is a coffee table book. It is oversized and it contains many large photographs.

When I saw the cover (which, by the way, features the Cubs colors of red, white and blue), I thought this book was going to be about the Cubs and Sox. As it turns out, it is about those 2 teams, but it’s about a whole lot more, too.

The foreword is by the late Studs Terkel, who came to Chicago from NYC and who was a White Sox fan. As the late Mr. Terkel explains it: “I was a Giants fan as a kid, so I couldn’t be a Cubs fan…” That is an explanation which I can understand.

The book is arranged into three sections:
– The Leagues and The Teams;
– The Places; and
– The People.

Following the Foreword and a short Introduction, the body of the book itself opens with a decade by decade review of the Chicago Cubs, followed by a similar review of the Chicago White Sox. This stuff is required reading for everyone interested in the history of professional baseball in Chicago.

“The Leagues and The Teams” section continues with essays on:
– Little League in Chicago (in which I once participated),
– The Federal League and The Chicago Whales (which resulted in the construction of what is now known as Wrigley Field),
– The Negro Leagues (very informative) , and
– The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (immortalized in the movie ”A League of Their Own”).

Section 2, titled “The Places”, contains photos and text about
– the Home of the Chicago Cubs (Wrigley Field) and about
– the Homes of the White Sox, (Comiskey Park I and II, and US Cellular Field).

Inexplicably, Section 2 (The Places) also contains:
– “The Top 10 Most Dramatic Moments in Chicago Baseball History “, and
– “The Top 10 Most Disappointing Moments in Chicago Baseball History”.

Section 3, (The People) begins with a presentation of All-Time All-Stars, position by position, of the Cubs, and then of the White Sox. These listings, like the opening decade by decade team reviews, are required reading for anyone interested in the history of Major League baseball in Chicago.

Next up are 2 compilations titled “Hometown Heroes”, which are about ballplayers who were originally from Chicago. The first group are Minor League players from Chicago, and the second grouping are the more familiar Major Leaguers from Chicago.

The last 2 chapters of the book are about “The Broadcasters” and ”The Fans”.
– “The Broadcasters” contains familiar names and faces. Familiar to locals, that is.
– And as the book says about “The Fans”: “For more than a hundred years, Chicago fans have had a simple choice: Cubs or Sox. You don’t get to pick both. There are no diplomats in foxholes.”

There are many, many large historical photographs included in this book, most of which I had not seen before.
I enjoyed looking through and reading “Chicago – Baseball in the City”. It really is a kind of a family photo album, with detailed explanations. Being a fourth generation Chicagoan, this illustrated look back through time was particularly pleasing to me.

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Book Review: The Complete Game

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

The title of this book is: “The Complete Game : Reflections on Baseball, Pitching, and Life on the Mound”. It was written by Ron Darling (with Daniel Paisner), and was published in 2009. If I had known that Ron Darling spent most of his career with the Mets, I probably
wouldn’t have even picked up this book. It’s a good book, and I’m glad I read it, but I know next to nothing about the Mets and their players, and I like it that way.

Ron Darling was born in Honolulu, Hawaii (my second home), and was another “Ivy League student-athlete” (having attended Yale University). Daniel Paisner has collaborated with dozens of athletes, actors, politicians, and business leaders on their autobiographies and memoirs. The inside front jacket cover states: “Darling takes us inside the pitcher’s mind, illuminating the subtler aspects of the game and providing a deeper appreciation of what happens on the field”. And that is exactly what this book is about. What went on inside
Mr. Darling’s head at various points in his pitching career. The author describes his relationship with Al Jackson, his pitching coach at Tidewater, who “got me to recognize that baseball might have been a game before, but now it was also my job”. Mr. Darling also credits Al Jackson with changing him “from a fun-loving kid thinking, ‘Great, I’m making money, playing pro ball, traveling around’, to a professional athlete….He’d say, ‘What the hell do you have to be content about? You haven’t done anything. You haven’t struggled.’”
He continues: “One of the most important things Al taught me was to think about each outing as having a beginning and an end. There’s no starting slow, or ending slow. There’s only starting out at full force and finishing strong.” In the chapter titled “Getting Started”, the author states: “All my life, I’d been a baseball fan, but I hadn’t really followed major league baseball since I’d started college….I knew
my baseball history, but I fell short on my baseball present.” In describing pitching coach Dave Duncan’s way with pitchers, Ron Darling says: “As a former catcher, he was cut a little differently than most pitching coaches. He knew his stuff, but he wasn’t quite a brother-in-arms. He was more like a cousin. He could empathize with his pitchers, but he wouldn’t sympathize. He was one of the best at trying to lighten a dark mood….”

In that same chapter, titled “Dealing with Adversity”, Mr. Darling describes manager Davey Johnson’s approach, including “the gentle, fatherly tone of his voice”. Then he adds: “I nodded, hoping Davey was nearly through, but he had one more point he wanted to make….’I suggest you start getting some outs so you don’t ruin the back of your baseball card’.” Immediately the author conducts us on a journey through his thoughts: “I set it up in my head like the most meaningful inning of my baseball life…. At this level, every inning was the most meaningful inning. Every batter. Every pitch. That’s what makes us professionals.”

Later in the book Mr. Darling returns to the subject of pitching coach Dave Duncan’s approach towards pitchers in general and towards himself, Ron Darling, in particular: “…you can’t go at it like you used to and think you’re going to get people out…. We don’t want you to get twenty-seven outs a game. We don’t want you to get twenty-four outs a game. But we’re gonna get you to where you can get us eighteen or twenty-one outs and put us in a position to win.”

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

  • “Joe Torre says he judges his relievers by their ability to retire the first batter they face.”
  • “You throw balls over the plate early so you never have to throw the ball over the plate again in the at-bat. That’s the idea.”
  • “Major league baseball players don’t pussyfoot around. If you’re stinking up the joint, your teammates will tell you…”
  • “… it’s tough to win when you’re expecting to lose.”
  • “Back then, there were usually only two relievers on most staffs who could pitch worth a damn.”
  • “Relief pitchers are asked to do less, but at the same time, what they’re being asked to do matters more.”
  • “… someone must have thought it might be helpful to have another veteran arm on the staff – even if it hung from the shoulder of a guy who could no longer get major league hitters out with anything resembling consistency.”
  • “Listen to me…. As a human being, I care. But as your manager, you’ve got to start winning some f**king games. This is ridiculous.”

In “The Complete Game”, Ron Darling conveys his thoughts and feelings, at each stage of his career, very clearly. His descriptions of those innermost feelings and thoughts, particularly towards the end of his playing career, resonated with me. I’ve been there. I enjoyed reading this book. The author is “a smart guy” (a line he always hated hearing), and he has written an intelligent and coherent book. I recommend it highly.

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