There is baseball. There is Iowa. There are corn fields. The parallels to the novel-turned-movie Field of Dreams are remarkable and unmistakable and acknowledged in the very first sentence of the foreword.
And yet, The Baseball Whisperer: A Small-Town Coach Who Shaped Big League Dreams by Michael Tackett expands on some of the themes in that classic work and explores others. And it is unmistakably a work of non-fiction.
Tackett, an editor in the Washington bureau of The New York Times, has written a book built around the singular life of Merl Eberly, who managed the summer college league Clarinda A’s for nearly 40 years. Its core lesson is how one man can have an outsized impact on the lives of others and, if that was all, there would be sufficient value in the project.
Time has only added to the mystique of Shoeless Joe Jackson. There have been movies, a Broadway play, books and documentaries featuring his role in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. There is a museum dedicated to his life in his hometown of Greenville, S.C.
Despite that, Jackson exists in most memories as a one-dimensional, almost cartoonish caricature. The unschooled farm boy who may or may not have been hoodwinked by crooked teammates and big-city gamblers to help throw the World Series.
“Fall from Grace: The Truth and Tragedy of Shoeless Joe Jackson” helps flesh out that portrait and add context to the actions of a player who was banned from baseball for life for his part in the scheme. Nearly a century later, there are periodic grassroots movements to reinstate the .356 lifetime hitter and make him eligible for the Hall of Fame.
For baseball fans who want an in-depth look at what makes the St. Louis Cardinals a successful franchise, a new book called, “The Cardinals Way” traces the team’s legacy from its humble beginnings a century ago to the impressive postseason runs of this era.
Journalist Howard Megdal joined Chairman and CEO of the Cardinals, Bill DeWitt and Senior Vice President and General Manager, John Mozeliak for a panel discussion at Cardinals Nation Restaurant and Bar in Ballpark Village. Cardinals broadcaster, Dan McLaughlin moderated the panel.
For the book’s author Howard Megdal, what stands out about the Cardinals organization is the legacy of Bill DeWitt.
Baseball was different during World War II. How different was it? Well, did you know that in 1943, the Phillies played a stunning 43 doubleheaders? And that eight of them were split gates, with one game at 10 a.m. and the other at 7 p.m. for the benefit of war workers on swing shifts?
That’s just one of the tidbits included in Larry Shenk‘s latest book, “The Fightin’ Phillies: 100 Years of Philadelphia Baseball from the Whiz Kids to the Misfits.” And nobody is better positioned to tell these tales than Shenk, who worked for the team for more than 50 years.
What he’s produced in his second compilation — “If These Walls Could Talk” came out in 2014 — is another relaxed stroll down memory lane, a smorgasbord of all things Phillies from an author who has had an inside look at so much of the franchise’s history.
Many tomes have been written about the origins of baseball, from apocryphal tales to the thorough research of scholars. Now, as another season dawns, a fresh perspective arrives with the new book “On the Origins of Sports” (Artisan Books), delving into the startup history and earliest rules of 21 sports you know and mostly love.
“The more we know about the origins of the games that obsess us, the more we enjoy them,” write the authors, Gary Belsky and Neil Fine, who begin aptly with baseball as chapter one and sprinkle further references throughout the book. For those of us who truly obsess over these matters, here are 10 fun facts you can learn:
During the 2014 Winter Meetings in San Diego, the Golden Era Committee met to consider a list of candidates for the Hall of Fame. When the results were announced, Dick Allen (and former Twins great Tony Oliva) had fallen one vote short.
That brought renewed attention to one of the most prodigious sluggers in history. Also one of the most complex, enigmatic and controversial.
“God Almighty Hisself: The Life and Legacy of Dick Allen” by Villanova law professor Mitchell Nathanson is the first biography of the 1964 National League Rookie of the Year Award winner and the 1972 American League Most Valuable Player Award winner. It’s also a work of impressive scholarship and gracious prose that attempts to untangle the myth from the reality and, even more ambitiously, to explain why such a magnificently talented player clashed repeatedly with front office personnel, managers, the media and fans throughout his career.
Timing is everything in sports. It can also be crucial in writing about sports.
When Greg Prato conceived “The Seventh Year Stretch: New York Mets 1977-83,” his latest oral history of a Big Apple franchise, the team was in the doldrums, suffering from both losing records on the field and an image of a team in the country’s largest market unwilling to spend what it took to compete.
As it was coming out, the Mets were coming on strong in the second half, creating drama with the addition of Yoenis Cespedes and the drama surrounding how many innings Matt Harvey would pitch, that culminated in a surprise trip to the World Series.
What’s interesting is that the author chose to feature another unsuccessful period in team history, a time frame during which the Mets had nothing but losing records. One reason is that it also was a time during which several moves were made that led to the 1984-90 epoch during which the club finished first or second every season and won the 1986 World Series.
Back in April, I reviewed Steve Kettmann’s biography of Sandy Alderson, “Baseball Maverick: How Sandy Alderson Revolutionized Baseball and Revived the Mets,” for The Wall Street Journal. The book was well-researched and well-written, but also struck me as strangely worshipful of Alderson — in a way that even Alderson would resist — occasionally dismissive of modern analytic baseball thinking and, more than anything else, a little presumptuous of just how great a job Alderson had done with the Mets. The first sentence of the review: “There is a chance the New York Mets will not be terrible this season.” The presumption was clear: Why write a book about this team?
So! Here we are, with Game 3 of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field Tuesday night, with the Mets two games away from their first World Series in 15 years. So perhaps it was in fact worthwhile to write a book about this team and this general manager after all. Kettmann, graciously (considering how I panned his tome), agreed to answer some of my questions about this year’s team and Alderson’s legacy.
As the title implies, the memoir by veteran broadcaster Dewayne Staats is more than an autobiographical collection of baseball memories and career highlights. It is positive and uplifting, even when he discusses topics that are anything but.
“Position to Win: A Look at Baseball and Life From the Best Seat in the House” chronicles everything from his Midwestern upbringing, to his nearly two decades of calling the action for the Rays, to everything in-between. And while there’s plenty to tell — he worked with Hall of Fame announcers Gene Elston and Harry Caray and for George Steinbrenner, after all — this formula is common enough in memoirs.
What sets this work apart is the unifying theme throughout. Staats relates the concept of positivity to his own career, to baseball and to the world at large.
Mention Gene Mauch to most fans, and one-dimensional portraits will likely emerge. A stern, cold, old-school manager. The manager who misused his rotation down the stretch in 1964 as the Phillies squandered a 6 1/2-game lead with 12 to play. Or the guy who managed the most years in the big leagues, 26, without taking his team to the World Series.
In “The Little General: A Baseball Life,” Mel Proctor introduces the more well-rounded human being who is widely considered to have possessed one of the best baseball minds of his era.
Proctor, who has done play-by-play for the Rangers, Orioles, Nationals and Padres, got to know Mauch in 2002 while working for a small television station in Palm Springs, Calif. Proctor reached out to the former skipper during the World Series — won in seven games by the Angels — to see if he’d be interested in working as a studio commentator before and after each game.
Proctor wouldn’t have been surprised, he wrote, to find a “bitter, old man.” Instead, Mauch was a delight.