May 2014

Idiots Revisited

By Paul Hagen /

idiotsrevisitedAsk any baseball player who has just been part of a significant event — whether it’s a personal milestone or an important win for the team – about what it all means and his answer will almost always be the same. He’ll say that he hasn’t really had time to think about it, that it hasn’t sunk in, that he probably won’t fully appreciate the magnitude of what just happened until much later.

That’s because only time can add perspective to memories — not to mention that, after a decent interval, a certain now-it-can-be-told sensibility sets in. The statute of limitations runs out on stories that might once have been deemed better left inside the clubhouse.

Longtime Red Sox beat writer Ian Browne has deftly tapped into that reality with “Idiots Revisited: Catching Up with the Red Sox Who Won the 2004 World Series.” It is both an in-depth remembrance of the team that broke the franchise’s 86-year championship drought and a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most charismatic clubs in recent memory.

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By Paul Hagen /

1954-coverBaseball is justifiably proud of how the Brooklyn Dodgers’ signing of Jackie Robinson in 1947, breaking the unofficial color barrier, played an important role in promoting civil rights in this country.

Award-winning baseball writer Bill Madden makes a compelling case in “1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever” that the real impact of that historic event on the sport wasn’t actually felt until seven years later.

It’s true that by then, Robinson was well-established in the big leagues. When Spring Training began that season, he had won a National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949 and had made the NL All-Star team each of the previous five seasons. And it’s also true that the Dodgers had already added other African-American standouts such as Don Newcombe, Joe Black, Roy Campanella and Junior Gilliam.

But integration in the sport was still the exception more than the rule.

That was the year, for example, that Ernie Banks became a full-time player for the Cubs and when Hank Aaron made his Major League debut for the Milwaukee Braves. It was the year when, for the first time, both teams appearing in the World Series, the Indians and New York Giants, featured black players.

It was the year that Willie Mays returned from military service and blossomed into one of the most magnetic players in history. His outsized impact on his team’s success is duly chronicled. It was the year that the Dodgers started five blacks on July 17, the first time in history whites had been outnumbered in the lineup.

That was also the year that the Supreme Court ruled in “Brown vs. Board of Education” that segregation in public schools based solely on race was illegal. Still, at the beginning of the season, half the 16 teams that existed at the time had yet to use a black player.

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Turning the Black Sox White

By Paul Hagen /

hornbaker-comiskeyEverybody knows that one of the driving forces behind the 1919 Black Sox scandal was that the White Sox players were so upset with the penny-pinching ways of owner Charles Comiskey that they conspired with gamblers to throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.

But what if what everybody knows is wrong?

That’s the bold premise of Tim Hornbaker in “Turning the Black Sox White: The Misunderstood Legacy of Charles A. Comiskey.” And with the patience of a defense attorney, he builds a compelling case.

To say that point of view is contrarian is an understatement. The Old Roman, as he was known, has been consistently vilified in popular works such as Ken Burns’ acclaimed “Baseball” documentary and the book and movie “Eight Men Out” by Eliot Asinof.

Hornbaker documents numerous occasions when Comiskey went out of his way to show concern for the welfare of his players. As early as 1895, when he owned the St. Paul Saints of the Western League and organized a postseason barnstorming tour that went badly, he saw to it that the players weren’t stranded even though he lost money on the enterprise. On numerous occasions he bought players new clothes and handed out bonuses after big wins.

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Just Out of Reach

By Paul Hagen /

justoutofreachAs baseball’s most storied franchise, there has been enough written about the Yankees to fill a library. Every aspect of one of the world’s most recognizable sports team has been studied, examined, chronicled.

Well, almost every aspect.

Since Babe Ruth arrived in New York in 1920, the Yankees have won at least one World Series championship — actually, make that at least two — in every completed decade except one. After losing to the Dodgers in the 1981 Fall Classic, not only did the Bombers not win it all again until 1996, they spent the next 13 years in the baseball wilderness, not even appearing in the postseason, their longest post-Ruth absence ever.

It was the insight of Greg Prato to fill in those blanks by focusing on those largely unexplored chapters of the team’s history in “Just Out of Reach: The 1980s New York Yankees.”

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The Fight of Their Lives…A Highly Recommended Book

Postcards From Elysian Fields

fight-of-their-lives-cover-e1389888238627 So if you get a day off and have a three-hour flight to the West Coast, it means of course to bring along a good book.

A real book that is and not a Nook, and our house in Plano is overflowing with books read on the road over 26 years. At least you hope to read a good book, but you really never know until you open one and take the plunge, and there are still more than a few lying around that were never quite finished for one reason or another.

Just finished The Fight of Their Lives and it was terrific. Written by baseball historian John Rosengren, it is the story of Giants pitcher Juan Marichal and Dodgers catcher John Roseboro, and anybody who knows anything about baseball has heard of their famous 1965 fight in San Francisco. This fight stands out above all because Marichal used…

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