The first 21+ baseball books over 17+ days in the 2022 lineup

Here is our progress to date:

Day 17: “Swing And A Hit: Nine Innings of What Baseball Taught Me,” by Paul O’Neill with Jack Curry, for Grand Central Publishing. “So, back up: Paul O’Neill wrote a book. Sure, OK. He did one before, something about him and his dad maybe 20 years ago. Now we’re supposed to, what, buy this one, read it and ponder the wisdom it imparts? Because … ? Because, he’ll forever be known as a Yankee Great, with a capital ‘Why’ and an understated ‘Gee.’ … And you’re still in the media of NY spotlight, so you’re entitled to impart whatever you can be paid for.”

Day 16: “The Real Hank Aaron: An Intimate Look at the Life and Legacy of the Home Run King,” by Terence Moore for Triumph Books. “In a lineup of books already done by and about Aaron, documenting all that happened from various angles and perspectives, we embrace as well Moore’s Hall of Fame-worthy contribution adding another layer of introspection. It’s a personal touchstone we’re grateful he decided to share and it brings a warm smile and a bit of tears all this time later, thinking about that poster, and all that happened behind it.”

Day 15: “Grassroots Baseball: Route 66,” photos by Jean Fruth, with Jeff Idelson, Mike Veeck, Johnny Bench, Jim Thome, George Brett and more. “A photo spread that executes and excites, having a narrative fleshed out by the photographer who experiences the trip and conveys it with visual artistry. It makes it personal, professional and prolific. Get your kicks with this picture-perfect portfolio that captures more than the essence of the game and its long and winding journey. Bring your best baseball friend, and don’t forget Winona.”

Day 14: “Remarkable Ballparks” by Dan Mansfield for Pavilion Books. “(With 67 ballparks included), there are only 24 of the 30 MLB parks … That leaves more stunning vistas of ballparks we often don’t get to see in Japan or South Korea (three each), Mexico and Cubs (two each) and one in Germany, the Dominican Republic, Taiwan and China. For those, the book serves a heartwarming and globally significant purpose.

Day 13: “Stumbling Around the Bases: The American League’s Mismanagement in the Expansion Eras” by Andy McCue for University of Nebraska Press, and “A Brand New Ballgame: Branch Rickey, Bill Veeck, Walter O’Malley and the Transformation of Baseball, 1945-1962” by G. Scott Thomas for McFarland.

If we adjust our compass for more encompassing MLB movement in the future, will it learn from its past? For those who love to reconstruct baseball history, wonder what would have happened if some things fell differently, and why franchises ended up here, there and everywhere except when logic came in play, here are two more viable entries to pour through and try to reconnect the dippin’ dots of days gone by. Bill Veeck, enjoyably, is all over it in both editions.

Day 12: “Classic Baseball: Timeless Tales, Immortal Moments” by John Rosengren for Rowman & Littlefield. It’s logical to seek out Rosengren’s new collection of baseball-related pieces he has written over the years for a worthy Father’s Day gift this June But may we also suggest it’s a nice thing for mom to settle in with on Mother’s Day and enjoy it all, too. So here’s to you, mom. And, yes, dad can read it too. But you first.

Day 11: “I Am Not A Baseball Bozo: Honoring Good Players who Played on Terrible Teams: 1920 to 1999,” by Chris Williams for Sunbury Press. Love the concept, appreciate the fun cover and all the research that was put into it, enjoy the random asides and comic relief from this member of the Central Pennsylvania chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research. … But at some point, this runs out of steam, and substance, and we can’t put our finger on just why. …

Day 10: “The Science of Baseball: The Math, Technology and Data Behind the Great America Pastime” by Will Carroll for Skyhorse Publishing. Carroll may not only know what a slide rule is for, but he’ll cut to the chase as to the benefits of the revised “Utley Slide Rule” when it comes to protecting the game’s stars from a change of further injuring themselves. Stay healthy, everyone.

Day 9: “Stolen Dreams: The 1955 Cannon Street All-Stars And Little League Baseball’s Civil War” by Chris Lamb for University of Nebraska Press. A big-league reminder about how the game reflects and can magnify a cultural wound. One of the few authors best positioned to do this book is Lamb.

Day 8: “Baseball Rebels: The Players, People and Social Movements That Shook up The Game and Changed America” and “Major League Rebels: Baseball Battles Over Workers’ Rights and American Empire,” both by Pete Dreier and Robert Elias, for University of Nebraska Press and Rowman & Littlefield.

Is there irony in how, rather than an act of rebellion, we see one of conformity and convenience to find two publishers willing to carry their material on overlapping topics and expecting someone to pay $80 for the complete set? Any way to get a coupon toward 50 percent off the purchase of the second one once you prove purchase of the first?

Day 7: “Is This Heaven? The Magic of the Field of Dreams” by Brett H. Mandel for Globe Pequot/Lyons Press/Rowman & Littlefield. Where else on the planet would you rather be this Earth Day? Does Dyersville, Iowa sound too cornball? Someone had to dig up some dirt about how this whole Field of Dreams thing went from Hollywood movie set to stand-alone tourist attraction.

Day 6: “The Saga of Sudden Sam: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of Sam McDowell” by Sam McDowell with Martin Gitlin for Rowman & Littlefield. They call these things cautionary tales. They are better reads when you sense there will be a positive outcome. As this appears to be.

Day 5: “Whispers of the Gods: Tales from Baseball’s Golden Age, Told by the Men Who Played It” by Peter Golenbock for Rowman & Littlefield. Two chapters alone on Jim Bouton? We’re in. If only we could hear the audio instead of just read the stenography. And talk it up now with your dad to make sure he’s good for this as his upcoming Father’s Day gift, lest there be any doubts he fits the demographics of this.

Day 4: “Valentine’s Way: My Adventurous Life and Times” by Bobby Valentine with Peter Golenbock for Permuted Press. It not be an accident that a publishing company that touts itself as one that has pushed out “hundreds of works as an industry-leading independent publisher of sci-fi, fantasy, post-apocalyptic and horror fiction, as well as pop-culture and historical non-fiction” has taken this one on. The official list of genres on their website also include coloring books, military non-fiction, supernatural, paranormal romance, zombie, thriller, humor, reference books and dystopian. Valentine’s tome surely permeates many permutations as well as checks a lot of boxes for them.

Day 3: “Red Barber: The Life and Legacy of A Broadcasting Legend” by James Walker and Judith Hiltner for University of Nebraska Press. To someday tell the story of Vin Scully, we need first know Barber’s. Barber, like Scully, made his baseball listening audience more intelligent. So does this book. Forever we are thankful for both, as this monumental effort makes us feel even more enlightened. Still, Barber valued the concise nature of telling a story. It’s an awful huge ask to get a reader to commit to this dense, expansive documentation of his life, no matter how much information can be excavated by today’s modern methods.

Day 2: “How to Beat a Broken Game: The Rise of the Dodgers in a League on the Brink” by Pedro Moura for Public Affairs Publishing. You may not find a more important explanation about how the game got here and where it could be going next, based on how the Dodgers want to set an example. It can be something one will reference back to years from now when trying to explain why most have lost any sense of loyalty. A typical “three outcome” AB now a days ends up with either a walk, strike out or home run. Moura’s book adds that rare consequence when someone hits a pitch off the opposing team’s “opener” into the exaggerated shift and finds wild success simply by putting the ball truthfully into play and benefiting from the consequences.

Day 1: “True: The Four Seasons of Jackie Robinson” by Kostya Kennedy for St. Martin’s Press. On Jackie Robinson Day, one can’t ignore this 75th anniversary, and another opportunity to open up the lens for scholarly interpretations, public reflection and, of course, some shared profits along the way. Thankfully, it is with a regal prose and elegance storytelling that Kennedy comes up with a new framework for interpreting Robinson’s impact and legacy.

Also: “Not an Easy Tale to Tell: Jackie Robinson on the Page, Stage and Screen,” edited by Ralph Carhart for Society of American Baseball Research.

And, for openers: What got us through the winter pandemic of ’22: “The Baseball 100,” by Joe Posnanski. An 880-page volume released last September that took what he once posted on The Athletic. Longer than Homer’s “The Odyssey” but no where near JRR Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” it made it into book form and Spitball Magazine, the literary baseball publication, gave this its CASEY Award for top baseball book of 2021. It has more than 900 five-star ratings on Amazon for good reason.

Day 17 of 2022 baseball books: Leading off the Yankees’ annual murderous row of literature … the YES/no man

“Swing And A Hit: Nine Innings of What
Baseball Taught Me”

The author:
Paul O’Neill
with Jack Curry

The publishing info:
Grand Central Publishing
272 pages
$29
Released May 24, 2022

The links:
The publishers website
At Bookshop.org
At Indiebound.org
At Powells.com
At Vromans.com
At TheLastBookStoreLA
At PagesABookstore.com
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com


The review in 90 feet or less

Any time you manage to cram the word “kerfulffle” into a website headline of questionable credibility, more word power to you.

As in: “Paul O’Neill’s strange broadcast season continues with WFAN kerfuffle,” on an aggregation-powered website called ESNY, which stands for Elite Sports NY, with the assumption you know what “NY” stands for.

Here’s the gist of it:

== O’Neill is 18 seasons in as an analyst on the Yankees’ YES Network, which is one more year than his entire MLB career that ran from 1985 to 2001.

From April 2022: Paul O’Neill, right, from his home in Ohio as part of the Yankees-Blue Jays broadcast with David Cone and Michael Kay, left and center, who were at Yankee Stadium. (New York Post screengrab via YES Network)

Is he actually doing games these days in the YES broadcast booth? No. He remains unvaccinated. In 2020, he did games from the basement of his home in Ohio, which they refer to as “Studio 21.” O’Neill is back there this season. Per company policy.

(Also note: This sadly seems to not be all that unusual. Al Leiter and John Smoltz ares no longer on MLB Network after a vaccination policy took effect last fall. Smoltz remains Fox Sports’ No. 1 analyst with new partner Joe Davis, but Davis is already used to this new protocol of where Smoltz is allowed to be in the broadcast booth, but not go into the restricted areas, which means he will have to converse with players, managers and coaches over Zoom. The same applies to Orel Hershiser on SportsNet LA home broadcasts).

Monday, the Yankees’ radio flagship station, WFAN, was going to have O’Neill join Brandon Tierney and Tiki Barber on their mid-day show to promote his new book – this one here – but also talk about the recent toxic news surrounding Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson and Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson.

O’Neill, perhaps wisely, didn’t want any part of that discussion. So he wasn’t brought on the air. Tierney told the listening audience exactly why that happened.

Writer James Kratch finishes the story:

“Tierney is absolutely correct. He cannot let O’Neill hawk his book without asking him about the biggest story around the team. O’Neill (and his PR handlers) should know better as well. He was going to get maybe two questions on the matter. Answer them and move on.
“As for the YES broadcasts: If O’Neill doesn’t want to get vaccinated, that’s his call. But let’s not forget all the bellyaching there was last year about the Yankees broadcast teams not being at road games. And rightfully so. Audacy and YES deserved to get raked over the coals for their cheapness. This isn’t a minor league team in Topeka; these are the New York Yankees.
“That is why it is baffling how it’s suddenly acceptable for O’Neill to call the games from his basement. It’s not like YES is hurting for bodies to put into the booth. And while O’Neill is a good broadcaster, he’s not Vin Scully here.”

Again, any time you manage to deftly insert the name “Vin Scully” into a copy block, even more word power to you.

So, back up: Paul O’Neill wrote a book. Sure, OK. He did one before, something about him and his dad maybe 20 years ago. Now we’re supposed to, what, buy this one, read it and ponder the wisdom it imparts? Because … ?

Because, he’ll forever be known as a Yankee Great, with a capital “Why” and an understated “Gee.”

Nine of his 17 seasons as an MLB right fielder/DH came with the Yankees, and you’d be incorrect to assume that, in 1992, he willingly left his hometown Cincinnati Reds to see a huge free-agent deal with New York, because he was actually part of a non-blockbuster trade (with a minor league teammate thrown in) to the Yankees in exchange for Roberto Kelly.

From the Paul O’Neill SABR.com bio

So 1,426 of his 2,105 total hits came in New York, as did 185 of his 281 home runs and 858 of his 1,269 RBIs. So did four of his five All-Star game selections, and five of his six World Series appearances (a combined .261 batting average, 0 HRs, 7 RBIs in 27 games and 109 at bats). All that somehow earned him a place in the Yankees’ Monument Park, with his nickname “The Warrior” emblazoned at the top, recognizing his intensity and leadership, and “his relentless pursuit of perfection.” Is also notes his 1994 batting title, without the asterisk that his .359 post came in 103 games and just 443 at bats during the strike-shortened season, but … it still counts, two points higher than Cleveland’s Albert Belle.

O’Neill’s 162-game season average would pencil out as a reliable 22 homer, 100 RBI season with a .288 average. His JAWS for a right fielder is 65th in MLB history at 33.2. Compare him to Bernie Williams, Matt Holliday, Bobby Bonilla or Shawn Green – except playing in New York on all those playoff teams makes your resume look far more glossier.

His YES broadcasting bio also notes: From July 23, 1995 until May 7, 1997, O’Neill played 235 games in right field without making an error. In 1997, he led the American League in hitting with men on base with a .429 average. On Aug. 25, 2001, O’Neill became the oldest major leaguer to steal 20 bases and hit 20 home runs in the same season. He was inducted into the New York State Baseball Hall of Fame in November 2017. In 2008, O’Neill was named “Father of the Year” by The National Father’s Day Council at its 67th Annual Father of the Year awards dinner in New York.

So, listen up: He’s a winner, not a wiener. And you’re still in the media of NY spotlight, so you’re entitled to impart whatever you can be paid for.

Which brings us to the book highlights:

Continue reading “Day 17 of 2022 baseball books: Leading off the Yankees’ annual murderous row of literature … the YES/no man”

Day 16 of 2022 baseball books: Oh, Henry … and Moore of it

“The Real Hank Aaron: An Intimate Look at the Life
and Legacy of the Home Run King”

The author:
Terence Moore

The forward:
Dusty Baker
The publishing info:
Triumph Books
272 pages, $28
Released May 17, 2022
The links:
The publishers website
At Bookshop.org
At Indiebound.org
At Powells.com
At Vromans.com
At TheLastBookStoreLA
At PagesABookstore.com
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com

The review in 90 feet or less

This was the poster of Hank Aaron that hung on my bedroom wall almost 50 years ago — and considering how there wasn’t a lot of wall space to divvy up with two younger brothers sharing this less-than 200-square foot area, that’s a monument commitment we all agreed upon was worth allocating. (But since I was oldest, I think I had any tie-breaking vote).

I saw this every morning before riding my bike off to middle school. I saw it again every night after baseball practice and my paper route, then huddling with the transistor radio to listen to Vin Scully calling another Dodgers game.

Dodgers team historian Mark Langill confirms this was given away to fans at the May 17, 1974 “Hank Aaron Poster Day” at Dodger Stadium — a Friday night, the first trip the Atlanta Braves came to L.A. that season, about a month after Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s all-time career home run mark against the Dodgers’ Al Downing in Atlanta. Downing actually started this game and went the first eight innings in a 5-4 loss to the Braves in 11 innings (where Aaron went 0-for-3 against Downing). A scan of the poster is on display in the pavilion area along with the left field pavilion plaque from his last homer and a photo of Vin Scully interviewing Aaron in the dugout.

The beauty of this poster is that it was a chart so kids could document Aaron’s home runs in 1974 — and we dutifully logged in the information. We participated. We were invested in recording history.

When Terence Moore was 12, he says he also kept a treasured poster of Aaron. It was one Aaron would autograph years later: “Best wishes to Terry.” Simple and sweet.

Moore, who spent nearly 25 years as a sports writer at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from late 1984 through the spring 2009, is also now in his 60s, a 1978 graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he continues to teach as well as contribute to Forbes, CNN and MSNBC.

He was, as he says, “The Hank Aaron Whisperer.”

When Aaron died in January of 2021, Terence Moore became an honorary pall bearer at the funeral. He also helped Aaron’s wife, Billye, write the obituary for the program.

They were that close, because through Moore’s journey as a sportswriter in the deep South, he experienced first hand some of the same racism and ignorance Aaron had gone though. Aaron admired what Moore endured, and vice versa.

Tribute publications that popped up for Aaron in the months after his death, as the 2021 pandemic-cloaked season was ramping up, included a special one from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, pulling together stories, columns and photos from its rich archive, a 128-page publication through Triumph Books. In stories spanned from 1974 to 2021, highlighting the works of writers such as Furman Bisher, Steve Hummer, Dave Kindred, Thomas Stinson, Jeff Nesmith, Wayne Mishew, Tim Tucker, Mark Bradley and sports editor Jesse Outlar.

But nothing from Moore.

If that was an oversight, Moore has more to offer with his own tribute, more than double the size, but also enlisting Triumph to house his collections of interviews, insights and interactions.

Topps 1975 No. 1 card

As Moore explains in the introduction, he had proposed a book idea with Aaron in late 2020, but Aaron’s lawyer had promised someone else exclusive conversations with Aaron that would lead to a publication in 2024, the 50th anniversary of his home-run record. Moore understood, but it also sparked him to take a new approach, starting his own excavation of their conversations about their mutual admiration for Jackie Robinson and the lessons they took with them over the years, about their mixed emotions watching another scorned Black man in his home-run record-breaking journey in 2006.

Topps 1974 No. 1 card

“I had enough material to make the real Hank Aaron shine more than whatever came before or whatever would come in the future,” Moore writes, noting their last on-the-record interview was in October, 2020 for a Baseball Hall of Fame publication story. “I had four decades of those Hank conversations — many of them recorded — and all of my other exclusive dealings with Henry Louis Aaron.”

Topps 1973 No. 1 card

Washington Post columnist David Von Drehle wrote in 2021 in a piece headlined “Henry Aaron did as much as anyone to redeem the South” that “I’m going to call him Henry in this column because that was the name he preferred, as opposed to ‘Hank,’ a nickname attached to him by a PR man who thought White fans might find it friendlier.”

Moore hammers home that distinction as well, separating the public Hank from the private Henry. Because of Moore’s access, he has examples of Aaron’s humor, wisdom and foreshadowing expertise on history. He can be miffed, angry, numb and reflective. He saved hate mail not so much as a motivational mechanism, but as something historians could use to judge just how much present day isn’t that much different from the past when it comes to how some choose to display personal fear and insecurities.

Moore can also speak more about how in 2014, Aaron’s slip-and-fall on an icy patch of driveway led to a hip replacement and a life-threatening moment many weren’t fully aware about — as the two were doing a CNN special on the 40th anniversary of the 715th homer, which Moore uses as a thread to tie together his 10 chapters, seeing him in a wheelchair, ailing, and wondering if this might be it.

“Hank was so much more than 715, his final home run total of 755, or anything else involving what he liked to call ‘the game of baseball’,” Moore writes. “Even so, his grade under pressure while catching and passing The Great Bambino showed the essence of Henry Louis Aaron to everyone as much as anything else.”

Continue reading “Day 16 of 2022 baseball books: Oh, Henry … and Moore of it”

Day 15 of 2022 baseball books: The ultimate romantic rounders road trip on the ‘vehicle of dreams’ from Chicago to L.A., with The Mick in between

“Grassroots Baseball: Route 66”

The photographer: Jean Fruth
The preface: Jeff Idelson. The forward: Mike Veeck. The introduction: Johnny Bench. The afterward: Jim Thome. The essays: Thome, Bench, Adam LaRoche, Paul Matney, Billy Hatcher, Ryan Howard, Alex Bregman, George Brett
The publishing info: Sports Publishing LLC/Skyhorse, 256 pages, $70, to be released May 24, 2022
The links: The publishers website, the organization’s website, the photographer’s website, at Bookshop.org, at Indiebound.org, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at TheLastBookStoreLA.com, at PagesABookstore.com, at Amazon.com, at BarnesAndNoble.com

The review in 90 feet or less

In August of 2017, my good pal Chuck and I prayed to our Heavenly Mother and hit the Mother Road. Potholes be damned.

He shipped his convertible to a cousin’s house in a Chicago suburb and we flew in shortly thereafter. We could have floated the next 2,000-plus miles back home. Instead, we found the most beat-up versions of Route 66 to retrace. Much of it is replaced by superhighways now. The original heart and soul started in the 1930s is buried in asphalt and gravel somewhere in there.

Progress.

We had a rough idea how it could be tamed, but the key was flexibility, creativity, patience, an ability to live off gas-station food, no advanced hotel planning, a AAA map, a phone app, sun screen, and an appetite for adventure.

We know in general if Route 66 could be framed as a baseball road trip, it begins at Wrigley Field, ends at Dodger Stadium, blows past Busch Stadium, can happen upon minor league teams in Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, San Bernadino … Y’know, Phoenix isn’t that far south from Flagstaff if you want to catch a Dodgers-Dbacks game during a pennant race …

The drive, as well as the game, is meant to breathe as a living organism, more calming and cathartic as a car ride as long as you’re not speeding toward an end point.

If you stay alert, there can be magic moments. Like winding out of Missouri, chipping off that corner of Kansas, and pointing toward Oklahoma. The mileage marker mentions an approach into a place called Commerce.

Ah, so this is where “The Commerce Comet” came from?

Short detour time.

The barn next to the boyhood home of Mickey Mantle in Commerce, Okla.
A sign on the Mantle home needs some restoration. (And please, no apostrophe between “1950” and the “s”)

Mickey Mantle’s birthplace in the Cherokee Nation-adjacent Spavinaw, Olka., and his home in Commerce aren’t usually a point of reference in Route 66 guidebooks. Just just gotta sorta know and show up with appropriate attire.

The Will Rogers Turnpike (Route 44) that overlays much of the original 66 requires finding E. 50 Road merging into 560 Road South, past the L&M Convenience Store, and the statue of Mantle outside Commerce High School. Finding his simple white childhood home is a side trip up some narrow roads to 319 South Quincy Street. A recent New York Times story about the city explains that while the town has pride in the Mantle name, even painting the base of the water tower with Yankee pinstripes and a No. 7, there is a depressed area that needs some attention and economic support.
Ironic, sure, for a town still called Commerce.

We became very in tune with the baseball part of this trip very quickly, and the hundreds of photographs with our iPhone had a good percentage related to things about the game.

It started with attending a Cubs-Nationals contest on a Friday chilly afternoon, planted in the center-field bleachers under the scoreboard at Wrigley Field (Washington wins 4-2 behind two homers from Daniel Murphy).

There was a must-stop at the original Ted Drewes Frozen Custard in St. Louis — our “Terramizzou” came in a red Cardinals’ helmet, which helped as it quickly melted upon an attempt to eat it in the hot sun — and a trip over to see the newest Busch Stadium.

In between, the Dodgers’ Triple A affiliate in Oklahoma City comfortably rests at Chicksaw Bricktown Park, where there is a statue of local hero Johnny Bench, born in OKC but prepped in a tiny offshoot 60 miles west called Binger, Okla. Conveniently, the Dodgers’ Double-A team in Tulsa, Okla., known as the Drillers and playing in the art deco designed park known as Oneok Field, are just 100 miles East of OKC, also on the route.

So, too, the Albuquerque Isotopes, part of the Colorado Rockies’ family now after it was a former Dodgers’ breeding ground (note the Joc Pederson reference in this pix). It’s a must-visit for fans of “The Simpsons,” right next to the University of New Mexico sports facilities even on a non-game day.

Eventually, you land at the feet of the Inland Empire 66ers’ home diamond near the Wigwam Motel in San Berdo.

They’re called the 66ers for a reason, right? Not far from the original McDonald’s site, the stadium entrance has an arched sign featuring a character of car mechanic swinging a giant wrench like a baseball bat. The team logo is like a Route 66 highway sign. They’ve only been the 66ers since 2003, a team previously known as the Stampede and Spirit until the current ownership team decided to pay homage to the famous strip that often isn’t even marked on road maps any longer.

There are many sports-related sites to acknowledge on the 66 trip, from Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., to Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia. But pump the breaks.

But there is also something called “The Field of Dreams” baseball park, near a tiny three-square mile town called Baxter Springs, Kansas, which locals insist is the “First Cow Town in Kansas” (there’s a specific Cow Town Mural on the corner of 11th and Military Ave., to mark the proper ID). It does sit in the middle of a cornfield, but on the Kansas state tourism board website, there is a simple post about it: “This baseball/softball complex on ‘Old Route 66’ was the dream of a local high school teacher and coach. Community support allowed the dream to become reality.”

Now picture this: Boys and girls playing the game in cities and places these days that almost look forgotten in Rand McNally’s atlas. On fields full of weeds, near junk yards and abandoned gas stations. Places where those who once traveled Route 66 as a major highway really were needed, but now can be forgotten.

Photographer Jean Fruth, former Baseball Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson and a host of others attached to the 501c3 known as Grassroots Baseball won’t let the game, or this path, be lost to history.

Extending on a project that first came to light in 2019 with “Grassroots Baseball: Where Legends Begin” — where San Francisco bay-area based Fruth published more than 250 photographs of her journey from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Cuba, Japan and several U.S. events (and we gave a shout-out in the L.A. Times at the time) – the focus this time is on the left side of America, the Mother Road that built in the 1920s allowed easier, measured and accommodating migrating travel from Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas out to New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Back in ’19, the Grassroots Baseball pilled in an RV, loaded up with baseballs, gloves and Big League Chew, and made stop after stop, putting on clinics in under-served areas, sometimes bringing the game to kids for the first time.

It’s called mothering in some cultures. Nurturing in others.

The cover sets the scene: A 1968 Chevy pickup in El Reno, Okla., with three players from the Binger High Bobcats riding in the back.

Remember, Johnny Bench … Binger, Okla., headquarters of Caddo Nation with has a population of 672 by the last census, down from its peak of 849 in 1930. There is a Route 66 Diner on the main street.

Opposite the title page, there’s four kids playing a pickup game amidst rusted farm equipment in Claude, Tex., just east of Amarillo  (population: 1,196).

Baseball in Claude, Tex., captured by Jean Fruth.

The photos of baseball interchange with whatever Fruth finds of historical context on Route 66 – Wigwam Hotels, statues on the corner of Winslow, Ariz., and wild burros in Oatman, Ariz., are as prevalent in the narrative as an AIA state playoff game in Flagstaff, Ariz., or U-16 game in River Valley High.

By the time we make it to California, places such as Edward Vincent Junior Park in Inglewood, Los Amigos Park in Santa Monica and Santa Monica beach at dusk just north of the pier are featured landmarks where kids are doing their bat and ball stuff.

Former SI writer Steve Wulf helps shape the MLB-related essays delivered on a state-by-state basis, starting with Jim Thome in Illinois, through George Brett in California, and including Bench in Oklahoma.

Brett’s essay on page 223 includes the line: “Just like Hollywood actors, baseball players get discovered. My showscase game was the 1971 state high school championship game at the Big A in Anaheim – our El Segundo Eagles beat the Lompoc Braves and their ace, Roy Thomas, 5-2. Thomas was taken in the first round of the draft by the Phillies, and I was taken in the second round by the Royals. Two years later, I was in the majors and three years after that I made my first of 13-straight All-Star teams.”

Thomas? Here is a great fork in the road.

He went 20-13, 3.82 ERA, 419 IP and 289 Ks. That’s over an eight-year career, not one season. Once untouchable in the Phillies’ farm system, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox (in a deal that included Jim Kaat coming to Philadelphia), taken by the Mariners in the 1976 expansion draft, traded to Houston, converted to a reliever, taken off waivers by the Cardinals (a Route 66 team), went back to a starting role, hit Ellis Valentine in the face with a pitch to shatter his cheekbone, was picked by the A’s in a Rule 5 draft, traded back to the Mariners, had a sore elbow and was released, came back as a non-roster invitee, had a run of seven straight wins for the ’85 M’s, hit with more tendinitis, down to the minors, one more trip to the bigs with the M’s in ’87 and won one more game, then pitched for the St. Lucie Legends and Sun City Rays of the Senior Professional Baseball Association from ’89-’90 until the league folded. He went on to be a middle-school math teacher in the state of Washington, the moved to Las Vegas.

Some players end up on the well-paved road to Cooperstown. Others get stuck in the muck of the Cadillac Ranch, take the road more traveled, and hopefully enjoy the scenery. From Lake Michigan to the Santa Monica pier, you can do it, too. Bring a bat and ball. The sand is nice.

How it goes in the scorebook

Get your kicks with this picture-perfect portfolio that captures more than the essence of the game and its long and winding journey. Bring your best baseball friend. And don’t forget Winona.

Reflecting back on our recent review of “Remarkable Ballparks,” this is an example of a photo spread that executes and excites, having a narrative fleshed out by the photographer who experiences the trip and conveys it with visual artistry. It makes it personal, professional and prolific.

You can look it up: More to ponder

== A beauty of a Q&A with Fruth for BrianSmith.com, photography blogger includes:
Q: Most readers are probably jealous of your access to major league baseball – yet any of them could easily cover a little league game in their hometown, do grassroots games give you allow you to shoot from vantage points you could never get access to at a major league game?
A: I am spending more time teaching sports photography these days and I can’t stress enough that it’s the “what” not the “who” that makes great pictures. When you let go of “the who” and just focus on your angles, light and creativity, you can make something great. In professional sports, so much of the time we are making the same picture. I prepare just as much for a little league game as I do for a professional game. I shoot my subjects as if they are professional players, but with so much more ability to be creative.


== If you’re so moved, click the donate button and make a tax-deductible donation to support the mission to promote and celebrate the amateur game around the globe. A $100 donation gets you this book, signed, and the extra $30 goes toward the cause.

== Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com, there is an incredible data-sifting interactive map of Route 66 that allows users to pinpoint any of the 1,065 players it has determined were born within 50 miles of this stretch of road and whose last year was 1926 — the year Route 66 was commissioned and then fully paved by the late 1930s. The list is lead (by those with a career WAR of 100 or better) by Barry Bonds (Riverside), Rickey Henderson (Chicago) and Mickey Mantle (Spavinaw, Okla.)

The pull-down menu of cities are an easier way to make connections. Take, for example, Fullerton. The 10 names that show up (in order of career WAR) are led by Jim Edmonds, Phil Nevin, C.J. Cron and Austin Barns. So, what about Walter “Big Train” Johnson?

The Fullerton High graduate who pitched 21 seasons for the Washington Senators starting in 1907 as a 19 year old (417-279, 2.17 ERA, 110 shutouts) was actually born in Humbolt, Kansas in 1887. From our mapping, that’s about 93 miles from the closets point on Route 66 in that area – Galena, Kansas, which is about the only major outpost in the state that Route 66 cuts through between Missouri and Oklahoma. Johnson’s family moved from Kansas to Orange County when he was 14 in 1902. He was discovered by the Senators while living and pitching in the Idaho State League.

The same confusion might come from tracking George Brett. The only player on the Baseball-Reference menu pull down from El Segundo, Calif., is Lars Nootbaar, the current outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals. Brett was born in far-off Glen Dale, West Virginia, and his family moved to El Segundo when he was starting elementary school, graduating from El Segundo High in ’71 behind his three older brothers (who were born in Brooklyn). Robin Yount, who played at Taft High in Woodland Hills, was another who was born elsewhere – Danville, Ill., about 130 miles south of Chicago – before moving in the Route 66 “50 mile radius” when he was infant.

From Los Angeles, there are 150 position players and 75 pitchers listed, including Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn, Eddie Murray, Duke Snider, Joe Gordon and Bobby Doerr, plus Darryl Strawberry, Bob Watson, Brett Butler, Eric Davis, Ken Landreau, Hubie Brooks, Bob Ojeda, Bill Singer and Dock Ellis.

== The booktour and signings by Fruth and others started May 14 in her hometown of Healdsburg, Cal, and will reach L.A. at Dodger Stadium on June 4 (with Alan Trammell, the Detroit Tigers’ Hall of Fame shortstop born in Garden Grove). Other stops include Cooperstown, N.Y. on Hall of Fame induction weekend (July 22), Williamsport, Pa., in time for the Little League World Series (Aug. 20) and a gallery exhibit in Chicago from Sept. 8-30.

Fruth’s pinned tweet on Twitter:

Day 14 of 2022 baseball books: Ballpark beauty isn’t only in the eye of the seat holder

“Remarkable Ballparks”

The author: Dan Mansfield
The publishing info: Pavilion Books, 224 pages, $40, released May 17, 2022
The links: The publishers website; at Bookshop.org; at Indiebound.org; at Powells.com; at Vromans.com; at TheLastBookStoreLA; at PagesABookstore.com; at Amazon.com; at BarnesAndNoble.com

The review in 90 feet or less

The most remarkable baseball park you’ve ever stepped foot into? Onto? Seen out the window from an airplane?

It probably depends on who you were with, when and where it happened, what was involved in the backstory and, more interestingly, how you might define something that is stunning, astonishing, exceptional, impressive, or even too miraculous for words.

As many times as we’ve entered Dodger Stadiu during its 60 seasons, from various gates and levels and dugout tunnels, from ages 6 to 60, we’ve always found ourselves needing a moment to pause and take it all in. To this day, our most remarkable viewpoint is from being on the field itself, gazing up at the tiers of sections built into the hillside and thinking of how Vin Scully has described it as “like a wedding cake.”

Dodger Stadium, from page 54 of “Remarkable Ballparks,” credit: Tyler Nix/Unsplash.com

More surreal is participating in a game on the field – as media members are occasionally allowed during the season after a Sunday game. Looking at those color-coded levels, one on top of the other, rising nine stories tall, a pop fly to the shortstop can get distracting. There’s no sky as a backdrop.

Roaming around in center field, there is so much area to sprint toward the wall, then back toward the infield, while misjudging another fly ball. In the batter’s box, a very lonely experience, changes when you rope one down the third base line, realize you now need to run around the bases and end up sliding head first into third with a triple, only to swallow a cheek-full of sunflower seeds. It can happen. Too miraculous for words while catching one’s breath.

Remarkable implies something far beyond the norm, uncommon. A ballpark’s commonality is strict adherence to 60-feet, 6-inches here, 90-feet there, 330-feet out that a way, giving it structure and form and fairness. Everything else around it seems to be open for creativity and interpretation, even to a point of distraction, but often a place to appreciate beautiful scenery and landscape.

Kinda like Modern Woodman Park in Davenport, Iowa, home of the Single-A Quad Cities River Bandits, about 90 miles south of Dyersville’s Field of Dreams.

Both places have a prominent place in this oversized, visually-stimulating collection of fields for teams.

Modern Woodman Park, from “Remarkable Ballparks,” page 10. Credit: Almay

If you can picture the par-3, 17th hole at the TPC Sawgrass Course, home of The Players Championship, the island green surrounded by water. So when the west bank of the Mississippi River overflows from heavy rain, that’s what Modern Woodman Park can look like. As shown first on full page 10 in the introduction, and then more fully explained on pages 144-145 where it shows better raised walkways that allow accessibility during times of flooding.

In 1993 during The Great Flood, the field was submerged. In 2004, a flood wall was installed, which proved to be successful when the next flooding in 2019 saved the field. They’ve even got a little daring by installing a 110-foot tall Ferris wheel behind the left field wall now.

A flood of memories can also be had with pages 87-89, where the Field of Dreams Movie Site is featured, including highlights from the 2021 Yankees-White Sox game played adjacent to it, with Kevin Costner involved as the connection to the 1989 film.

There are 67 ballparks in these picture-perfect pages, picked by Mansfield, a self-proclaimed Cubs fan who has edited a previous book for the publisher by Eric Enders, the 2019 “Ballparks Then & Now” (which we reviewed here and is now available in a cool hand-tooled leather cover, which was a follow up to Enders’ 2018 “Ballparks: A Journey Through the Fields of the Past, Present and Future.”)

Continue reading “Day 14 of 2022 baseball books: Ballpark beauty isn’t only in the eye of the seat holder”