We’re grateful for all the response we’ve received – especially from authors – to books we were able to get to review between March and mid-June this year, as the COVID pandemic restrictions were loosening and things were getting back in many ways.
Like, L.A. traffic. So if you’re heading to bookstores, maybe shop online, including the independent sellers. It’s why we put multiple links with each review.
The first wave of baseball books has passed – and others dropped in unannounced – and we’re sorry we couldn’t get to them all. It’s been a challenging process to get these 30 done and whittled down in due time. The next sets will drop in the next few months. They’re also on our radar and are worth passing on for consideration:
“The Baseball 100,” by Joe Posnanski
(Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster, 848 pages, $33, to be released September 28, 2021)
The marketing people have called this “a magnum opus” and “instant classic) from the acclaimed Posnanski, who started his project at The Athletic in late 2019 and spread it out, announcing one player per day going forward.
Normally, a list of 100 anything is more of an easy marketing pitch to get people to read it, disagree, justify and move on. But this is no ordinary Joe pulling these essays together. Whether you agree with the ranking, you’re guaranteed to be informed and entertained. George Will writes in the forward: “Posnanski must already have lived more than two hundred years. How else could he have acquired such a stock of illuminating facts and entertaining stories about the rich history of this endlessly fascinating sport?”
This shouldn’t be a spoiler alert, but his top 20 are Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, then Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Oscar Charleston, Ted Williams, Walter Johnson, Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Satchel Paige, Mickey Mantle, Honus Wagner, Roger Clemens, Lou Gehrig, Josh Gibson, Alex Rodriguez, Rogers Hornsby, Tris Speaker and (a tie for No. 20) Mike Schmidt and Frank Robinson. More recognizable names later include Albert Pujols (No. 23), Mike Trout (No. 27, fittingly), Jackie Robinson (fittingly at No. 42), Nolan Ryan (No. 50), Sandy Koufax (No. 70), Clayton Kershaw (No. 78), Mike Piazza (No. 89) and Roy Campanella (No. 94).
“Remember Who You Are: What Pedro Gomez Showed Us About Baseball and Life,” essays edited by Steve Kettman, from the Pedro Gomez Foundation
(Wellstone Books, 440 pages, $26.95, due for release July 13, 2021)
The late ESPN baseball reporter, who died suddenly at age 58 last February, left his mark on many. As a return favor, essays have been written about his impact on their career and their lives. The contributors include Jack Curry, Tim Kurkjian, Peter Gammons, Ross Newhan, Tracy Ringolsby, Howard Bryant, Ken Rosenthal, Bob Ley, Jeremy Schaap and Keith Olbermann.
(Personal aside: An essay by Brian Murphy called “Always Grab the Corks” is particularly poignant for me. I had talked to Pedro off and on about stories he was doing for ESPN. When I covered the Dodgers’ NL West clincher down in the visiting locker room at Chase Field in Phoenix in late September of 2013 — the one when the players jumped into the right-field pool — I ran into Pedro as the champagne was flowing. He had already mentioned to me how fun it is to pick up a cork and give it to someone special, so they can feel they were part of the celebration. I did just that and can’t believe — but why not? — that this was a piece of advice Pedro apparently told many in the journalism field).
Profits from every purchase of this book will benefit the Pedro Gomez Foundation, which was created by Nikki Balich and Micah Kinsler for the Gomez family to honor Pedro’s legacy in sports journalism. Currently all donations are also being directed to undergraduate students completing a degree in Sports Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.
“COVID Curveball: An Inside View of the 2020 Los Angeles Dodgers World Championship Season,” by Tim Neverett
(Permuted Press/Simon and Schuster, 304 pages, $28, due for release Aug. 31, 2021)
The Dodgers’ backup TV and radio play-by-play man had to do games, like Joe Davis, in empty ballparks, off video monitors, not knowing what was coming day to day, and associated with a team that was awarded the 2020 championship while playing at a neutral site in Texas. Orel Hershiser does the forward. For what it’s worth, it can also be pointed out that “The Bronx Zoom: Inside the New York Yankees’ Most Bizarre Season,” by Bryan Hoch, the Yankees’ MLB.com beat reporter (forward by Gerrit Cole) from Triumph Books ($28, 240 pages) came out on June 8.
“Gathering Crowds: Catching Baseball Fever in the New Era of Free Agency,” by Paul Hensler
(Rowman & Littlefield, 360 pages, $40, released April 2021)
As we learned from a discussion Hensler had with Baseball By The Book podcaster Justin McGuire, the title comes from the instrumental theme song that many associate with the ending of the Mel Allen-narrated syndicated show, “This Week in Baseball,” which makes sense as you’re researching how the game reacted to this latest incarnation of the game between 1977 and ’89. The show started in ’77.
“Crowds did indeed gather, at the ballpark and in front of the television set, to watch and enjoy the national pastime as never before,” Hensler notes on page 233.
If owners predicted doom and gloom after the Andy Messersmith-led free-agency case, it seemed the opposite occurred, giving the sport more competition and parity. The Angels may have been one of the bigger spenders in this time as owner Gene Autry went out fishing for, among others, Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi, Bobby Grich, Don Baylor, Bruce Kison, Doug DeCinces, Ken Forsch and Bob Boone as he competed for attention in the Southern California market. But this was also a time when the Toronto Blue Jays were bolstering their farm system under Pat Gillick, as Hensler points out. There were many more competitive teams in this era. Marketing and cable TV was influential. There was little needed with expansion. It was a far more stable time. A surge of baseball card collecting and rotisseries leagues. Fantasy camps for older folks yearning for nostalgia. New ballparks were springing out of it as Janet Marie Smith, who the Dodgers recently elevated to EVP of Planning and Development after her recent facelift of Dodger Stadium, gets plenty of run here as well for her creativity put into the Orioles Park at Camden Yards as a game changer. “If Marvin Miller could be elected to the Hall of Fame in his role as the kind of baseball’s economic revolution, then the same honor is due for Janet Marie Smith, the queen of baseball’s architectural revolution who fronted the effort to construct Camden Yards. She would later take her discerning eye to other cities to apply a deft hand in construction and remodeling endeavors.” Hensler, who also did “The New Boys of Summer: Baseball’s Radical Transformation in the Late Sixities, points out that this period he covers now is when the game “grew, matured and prospered.” In the McGuire interview, Hensler also admits that he may be “showing my age … but the modern game doesn’t hold interest for me. I’m not sure what (commissioner Rob) Manfred can do. He’s tried some gimmicks, but it’s a radical turn from the game we grew up watching.”
“Hardball Architects: Evaluating Roster Construction and Team Performance Based On Player Acquisition Methods,” by Derek Bain
(Independently published, $19.99, 376 pages)
The two-volume set comes with the American League version released in July, 2020, and the National League version due later this year. Bain, involved in baseball analytics for more than 10 years, also includes a chapter focused on the evolution of the game’s general managers and a discussion with former Dodgers GM Fred Claire.
As we did with several authors along the way, we’ve connected with Derek for a quick Q&A on his work:
Q: Where did your love of baseball take you on this path of statistical analysis and interpretation?
A: As a baseball fan since the age of 10, I’ve always been interested in the statistical side of the game. I started collecting baseball cards in the mid-1980s and spent hours pouring over the numbers on the card backs. My interest evolved as new computer baseball simulations were released every year and I played MicroLeague, Earl Weaver, Tony La Russa and APBA Baseball (among others). In particular I enjoyed modifying the team rosters and creating All-Time Teams for each franchise. Roster construction and player development has always been top of mind for me during the writing process and in my overall fascination with the sport.
Q: What was your biggest takeaway talking to Fred Claire about the job of a modern day GM?
A: Growing up I always envisioned the General Manager as the “wheeler-dealer” type in the Frank Lane mold, making quick decisions based on their years of experience and relying on their gut instincts. While that may have been the case with certain individuals, Mr. Claire displayed a willingness to gather input from his scouts, trainers, physicians, managers, coaches and others in the organization before making critical decisions. He also relied on his scouting director to preside over the Amateur Draft and his farm director in relation to many decisions regarding minor league personnel. The second edition of Hardball Architects (Volume 2 – National League) includes interviews with former Angels GM Mike Port and current Reds GM Nick Krall along with Fred Claire’s interview. My hope is that those interviews serve as a link between the modern and not-so-distant past regarding front office strategies and the use of analytics.
Q: That’s an interesting cover you created to illustrate a connection to all those in the GM field who have had experience as an MLB player. Do you think those will be far and few between as the years go one?
A: The former player-turned-General Manager appears to be a dying breed but I wouldn’t completely rule it out in the future. I would imagine that an organization would not be opposed to bringing a former player up through the front office ranks and eventually promoting them to the Executive / General Manager level.
Q: What is the main thing you’d like readers to come away with after reading your book and all its research?
A: I want to engage the reader not only with the text but also interactively with the various charts and graphs to give them a better understanding of the ebbs and flows of each team’s roster along with how the standings correlate with transactions over different periods in a franchise’s history. Although I sometimes refer to crediting a GM with making certain moves or scouting directors with drafting a player, know that many of these transactions are consummated only after a thorough review of multiple scenarios with a variety of input from employees throughout an organization.
Q: As we listen sometimes to Dodgers games on the radio here, broadcasters Charley Steiner and Rick Monday will almost never recite statistical data/SABR-created analysis because they want to be “old-school guys” and not cross over into the non-traditional numbers. It seems as if they are doing the listeners a disservice. What do you think has to do be done to entice a reader into digging in about things that are statistical-based without having them roll their eyes and think they are going to be bored since they are married to their disposition that some numbers are just going too far out there?
A: Given the amount of statistical information that I include in my work, I’m sure it’s a limiting factor as far as the percentage of baseball fans who are willing to delve into the data and really dig into the content but that’s OK. I believe that baseball fans who are not interested in all of the analytics can still enjoy the information that I present.
Q: What can of nuggets can we expect from the look at the National League coming out soon?
A: Further evidence about the talent level of the 1960’s Giants despite the fact that they only reached the World Series in ’62. Cincinnati’s policy against free agency which lasted nearly two decades with the exception of the Dave Parker signing in ’83 .. and the aforementioned interviews with Mike Port and Nick Krall.
Q: What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?
A: The pros are that I control the content, scheduling, pricing – nearly every aspect of the book’s release except for the royalty rate 😊 … the cons are that I’m the only one promoting my work so I’ve had to reach out to customers through multiple venues with a limited budget.
“Is This Heaven? The Magic of the Field of Dreams,” by Brett Mandel
(Globe Pequot/Lyons Press/Rowman & Littlefield, 224 pages, $17.95, released Nov., 2020)
This updated paperback from the original hardback released in 2002 allows Philadelphia native Mandel to dust it off in time for the MLB “Field of Dreams” Yankees-White Sox game to come around on Aug. 12 of this year (after a postponement last year). It may also be worth going back to Mandel’s 1997 book, “Minor Players, Major Dreams” for Bison Books, where he convinced the Rookie League’s new Ogden Raptors in Utah to let him join the 1994 team and write about the experience.
“The Case for Barry Bonds in the Hall of Fame: The Untold and Forgotten Stories of Baseball’s Home Run King,” by K.P. Wee
(Riverdale Avenue Books, $16.99, 270 pages, released April 6, 2021)
An argument must be made — and fast — to get Bonds into the Hall after he’s been rejected his first eight years of eligibility for his link to steroid use. In the last vote, he received 61.8 percent (with 75 percent needed), a sizeable jump from the 36.2 percent he had in his first year of 2013. But Bonds has only one year left in the Baseball Writers Association of America voting.
The all-time career home run leader (762), the single-season home-run leader (73 in ’01), just short of 3,000 hits and 2,000 RBIs, 500-plus steals, two batting titles, 12 Silver Sluggers, eight Gold Gloves, and first overall in career WAR for position players (162.7) … The numbers are all there, of course.
“This book isn’t going to convince you of the author’s position if it’s different from yours,” Wee writes. “The purpose of this book is to share the lesser-known and lesser-remembered stories about Bonds, who simply wanted to be the greatest baseball player who ever lived. … Bonds, just like any professional athlete in any era, is a human being and has flaws just like you and me. …”
Sure, why not. We’ve always taken the stand that if what Bonds ever did was illegal, he would have been banned. They let him play. And this is what he accomplished. The numbers add up this Hall status, and then it becomes a talking point for dads to take their kids to Cooperstown and explain what the context of all this involves. Turn the other way, and you’re doing Bonds and the game a disservice.
“Picturing America’s Pastime: Historic Photography from the Baseball Hall of Fame Archives,” by the staff of the National Baseball Hall of Fame
(Forward by Randy Johnson, 320 pages, $34.95, released June 17, 2021)
It draws us back to the Sports Illustrated creation, “The Story of Baseball in 100 Photographs,” from 2018, where the emphasis was on those evocative and stunning. If that grabbed you, so should this one, although the first review we spied on Amazon.com said: “Cheap paper only adds to the disappointment of this uninspired collection of photographs, surprisingly few of which have not been reproduced elsewhere. Don’t waste your time or money on this book.” And if you’re a member of the Hall, there’s a nice discount awaiting.
“Dr. Strangeglove: The Live and Times of All-Star Slugger Dick Stuart,” by William J. Ryczek
(McFarland, 254 pages, $39.95, released May, 2021)
A full-press examination of the all-hit, no-field first baseman who once made both 1961 NL All Star teams (in a season of 35 homers and 117 RBIs), and led the AL in RBIs and errors by a first baseman in ’63. Dick Stuart still was, in Ryczek’s assessment, “a bottomless font of outrageous quotes. He was brash, he was boastful; he was funny, and nothing seemed to faze him.” In his acknowledgements, Ryczek, who has done many books for this publisher over the years, writes: “Works of this nature are never best-sellers; most casual baseball fans haven’t a clue who Dick Stuart was or why he might be an interesting biographical subject. I like exploring areas where few have gone and thankfully there are enough of you out there with an interest in baseball history to make it worthwhile for someone to publish those more obscure but fascinating stories.” By the way: Ryczek’s research indicated that his family never called him Dike, but Rich or Richard. For an appetizer, Stuart, who also had some local fame with the PCL’s Hollywood Stars and hit his final four MLB homers while playing for both the Dodgers (in ’66, and appearing in the World Series) and Angels (in ’69), has this writeup on the SABR Bio Project.
“Baseball Under the Lights: The Rise of the Night Game,” by Charlie Bevis
(McFarland, 239 pages, $38, released April, 2021)
Remember when they first started putting World Series games at night? It’s coming up on 40 years ago, Game 4 of the Pirates-Orioles 1971 World Series.
“All of us at NBC feel certain that a World Series game played at night bears witness to the increasing popularity of sports on nighttime television,” said Carl Lindemann Jr., vice president of NBC Sports.
Since Game 6 of the ’87 Series, all have been at night.
That ’71 game was about 35 years from the first night game in MLB history — at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field when the Reds faced the Phillies, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt threw a ceremonial switch at the White House in Washington for the lights to go on in Cincinnati. And that was five years after they pulled off the first official try at a night game —
Something that definitely sheds new light on why there was a push to play more games after the sun set to maximize attendance and profits as well as TV viewership. On that note, we also have a heads up for “Lightning Strikes Twice: Johnny Vander Meer and the Cincinnati Reds,” by Lew Freedman (McFarland, 203 pages, to be released in October, 2021). After he no-hit the Boston Bees on the Saturday afternoon of June 11, 1938 at Crosley Field, he came back four days later and – in the first night game at Ebbets Field – no hit the Brooklyn Dodgers. The 23-year-old in his first full season with the Reds still has a record many think can rarely be matched, let alone extended, with the back-to-back no hitters. In both games, he actually outhit the opponent (with a hit of his own). His SABR biography is here.
“The Iconic Jersey: Baseball x Fashion,” by Erin R. Corrales-Diaz
(Giles Publishing, 192 pages, $34.95, to be released June 29, 2021)
As an extension of an exhibit at the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, Mass., honoring the fashion history of the baseball-inspired uniform, the book highlights the cultural impact of the threads that are far more than representing one’s favorite team. Baseball jerseys as artwork combined aesthetics and athletics, nostalgia and modern garments.
On that note, we turn to the cover artwork of the new book, “That Lively Railroad Town: Waverly, New York and the Making of Modern Baseball, 1899-1901,” self-published by William H. Brewster (released December, 2020, 388 pages), about the town that was a small railroad crossing and took pride in native son Hughie Jennings promoting the Players League.
It’s also where Gary Cieradkowski explains how his artwork got to this point.
“The Reshaping of America’s Game: Major League Baseball after the Player’s Strike” and “America’s Game in the Wild-Card Era: From Strike to Pandemic,” by Bryan Soderholm-Difatte
(Both by Rowman & Littlefield, $45 each, released April 23, 2021)
These are the two follow-ups to Soderholm-Difatte’s previous three books, the 2015 “The Golden Era of Major League Baseball: A Time of Transition and Integration,” the 2018 “America’s Game: A History of Major League Baseball Through World War II” and the 2019 “Tumultuous Times in America’s Game: From Jackie Robinson’s Breakthrough to the War Over Free Agency.” There doesn’t seem to be a real demand for these works by the SABR member and contributor to “The Baseball Research Journal,” but they’re at our disposal regardless. The same could be said for another McFarland title, “Major League Turbulence: Baseball in the Era of Drug Use, Labor Strife and Black Power, 1968-1988,” by Douglas M. Branson (to be released in September, 2021), although it does have rather a wild cover art design.
“Before Brooklyn: The Unsung Heroes Who Helped Break Baseball’s Color Barrier,” by Ted Reinstein
(Lyons Press, 265 pages, $29.95, scheduled to come out Nov. 1, 2021)
As told by a Boston-based TV reporter, Reinstein seems interested in the story about how Boston City Councilman Izzy Muchnick persuaded the Red Sox to try out three black players in return for a favorable vote to allow the team to play on Sundays. The Red Sox got the councilman’s vote, but the tryout was a sham. Jackie Robinson was one of them. Who else fought segregation in baseball, from communist newspaper reporters to the Pullman car porters?
“The Sports Revolution: How Texas Changed the Culture of American Athletics,” by Frank Andrew Guridy
(University of Texas Press, 432 pages, $29.95, released March, 2021)
In his argument that the Lone Star State was the center of America’s expanding political, economic and emotional investment in sports teams, he covers the Washington Senators move to Arlington, Tex., to become the Rangers, and the birth of the Houston Colt .45s and their stupendous Eighth Wonder of the World that now sits abandoned. An author part of the Pandemic Baseball Book Club, Guridy explains more here:
From the SABR list of Winter/Spring books of 2021 as promoted by many of its members, we shall note:
“Detroit Tigers Gone Wild: Mischief, Crimes and Hard Times,” by George Hunter (History Press/Arcadia Publishing, $21.99): For the only Major League franchise to sign two star player out of prison — Gates Brown and Ron Leflore – it takes a veteran Detroit News cop reporter to go over all the times players from the organization found their way onto the police blotter.
“Historic Ballparks of the Twin Cities,” by Stew Thornley (History Press/Arcadia Publishing, $21.99): The official scorer at Twins home games and an historian of Minnesota baseball for decades, Thornley goes well beyond what we know of Target Field, the Metrodome and the old Metropolitan Stadium.
“Baseball and the House of David: The Legendary Barnstorming Teams, 1915-1956,” by P.J. Dragseth (McFarland, $39.95): The bearded outcasts on this traveling team formed for religious evangelization purposes occasionally picked up some big names along the way to play with them – Babe Ruth, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Satchel Paige. Meanwhile, Bill Nowlin writes about the time in 1932 when the House of David touring team faced the Boston Braves.
“Zack Wheat: The Life of the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Famer,” by Joe Niese (McFarland, $29.95, 206 pages, released in Nov., 2020): If you’re still looking for the background on who is still considered by many the organization’s greatest player (1909 through 1926), holder of several team career records (games played, hits, total bases, doubles, triples, runs created), and 1959 Hall of Fame inductee, maybe the most interesting stuff is what happened to him after his playing days were done.
“After Jackie: Fifteen Pioneers Who Helped Change the Face of Baseball,” by Jeffrey S. Copeland (Paragon House, $19.95, 320 pages, to be released January, 2022): The cover shows the 15 highlighted include Hank Thompson (the only player in Negro League history to integrate two MLB teams – St. Louis Browns and New York Giants), Ernie Banks, Larry Doby, Pumpsie Green, Sam Jethroe, Minnie Minoso, Monty Irvin and Curt Roberts.