Day 8 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: What’ll get you back in the swing of things? Try to drop and drive here with this Diamond gem

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From Chad Moriyama, in 2019, at DodgersDigest.com: http://dodgersdigest.com/2019/05/13/justin-turners-may-turnaround-powered-by-minor-adjustment/

The book

81qlKwOUP+L“Swing Kings: The Inside Story of Baseball’s Home Run Revolution”

The author:
Jared Diamond

The publishing info:
William Morrow/Harper Collins, $28.99, 336 pages; released today, March 31

The links:
At the publisher’s website, at Amazon.com, at BarnesAndNoble.com, at Powells.com, at the author’s WSJ home base.

The review in 90 feet or less

Craig Wallenbrock … where have we heard that name?

Flash back to a Tom Verducci piece for Sports Illustrated – March 21, 2018, headlined “Countdown to Liftoff: How Joey Gallo and Josh Donaldson Embody Baseball’s New Era

Verducci wrote: “A confluence of three forces has changed offenses radically: technology, analytics and failed ballplayers turned private hitting tutors —t he veritable garage-and-basement indy start-ups of this disruption. Among them: a 71-year-old college dropout cum surfer, a former high school coach, a failed independent league player, a self-taught Internet baseball junkie and a .204 hitter who was released from Class A ball after just two seasons and four home runs. Not a major league at bat among them.”

That would be Wallenbrock, whom Verducci would later refer to in the story as the “Oracle of Santa Clarita.”

You can hang more than 10 Southern California angles on him. Once the hitting coach for Art Masmanian at Mt. San Antonio College. A guy who Dodgers special assistant and former MLB standout Raul Ibanez persuaded the team to hire as a consultant in 2016, and immediately sent Chris Taylor to work with. Taylor then connects with Robert Van Scoyoc, who would become the team’s hitting coach in the dugout. (The same Van Scoyoc who went 1-for-10 as a senior at Hart High in Newhall in 2005.)

That’s how the pages of this go up and down like the Dodger Stadium escalator between the field level and press box.

Through Wallenbroch came Doug Latta, a former Fairfax High guy from UCLA and Cal Lutheran who had a batting cage in Calabasas. That’s where Justin Turner came upon Latta, thanks to former Mets teammate Marlon Byrd, who stumbled onto him first.

Before swinging from the heels to take in all that’s in this compilation by the Wall Street Journal scribe Diamond, you need to get the visual on pages viii, which is pre-prologue and introduction and subsequent 16 chapters. The chart of the “Swing Kings Family Trees” looks like the Swiss Family Robinson of baseball, with who begat whom, what  influenced what, and how it all whiffs together into what we have created in today’s game — a repurposed attack at the plate that, simply put, involves more of a upper cut than chopping down at a pitched ball.

The results can’t be denied.

The Dodgers, with an opening day record eight homers in a 12-5 win over Arizona in 2019, were part of an historic season where a combined 6,766 home runs were hit. One every 24.6 at bats. That shattered the mark of 6,105 hit just two season earlier in 2017.

“Of the five seasons that have seen the most total home runs in major league history, four were the 2016 to 2019 seasons,” Diamond writes. “There has been no indication that 2020 will be any different.”

Of course, it will be different. If the season ever gets underway.

unnamedWhat Diamond gives us here is a compilation of where and why the game has changed, what precipitated the new thinking and how it changed the plan of attack for hitters who may never thought they were going to get any better than their baseball cards showed them to be.

Players can improve their game at the Major League level — it’s not a place for those who’ve reached their zenith. With new swing philosophies, new technology to help, new facilities to advance theories, this where we are in the game’s evolution — on top of how defensive shifts have come into play, pitching outlooks have adjusted and why it takes more data now than ever to complicate the process.

And Diamond even goes back into history, with MLB historian John Thorn, to look at the influence someone like Babe Ruth and Ted Williams once had with the same sort of thinking about how to approach a ball coming at you with a piece of wood as your only means to redirect it.

How it goes in the scorebook

Swinging from the heels, it could have easily been a strikeout. Get into the box and swing too hard doesn’t work. This avoids all that and is more contemplative and explanative in its reader-friendly execution.

There has been enough done about this phenomenon over the last few years by the daily beat writers for major media companies – Diamond included, as this book was fleshed out from a 2017 story he did for the WJS in spring training. Those 1,100 words became this hardbound keepsake. But like many stories, there’s more behind it, and it’s a neat peek to see even more depth and context — what’s the past, and where is the future, not just a probe of the present.

71Q3GwMypiLBeyond other documentation, like Verducci’s piece, this really does go back to Ted Williams’ 1971 intuitive keepsake “The Science of Hitting” book, with John Underwood. Williams was all about swinging up on the ball, by about 10 degrees, to offset the fact pitchers were throwing from an elevated mound, and by definition, had an advantage of throwing down at a batter.

He tried to get that across to his players when he spent a few years managing in Washington and Texas. Some listened. Many couldn’t reprogram their approach that they feel got them this far, so why change?

So maybe it takes a new way of looking at it to make it not just fresh but also pertinent. Such as on page 78, when Diamond brings in a December, 2019 MLB-commissioned study by Alan Nathan at the University of Illinois. His conclusion that wind resistance on the current baseballs was responsible for about 60 percent of the spike in home runs. The other 40 percent was attributed to “a change in player behavior” — how the batter swings.

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Diamond gets good wood and barrels up with all this — and manages to include his own attempts at this in the process. He could apply this thinking to himself as a 15-year-old in high school, having one phenomenal day at the plate he still can’t explain, but then gets to revisit during a media game at Yankee Stadium in 2019 (above). What happens? We’ll let you discover it.

Because when you can feel the results first hand, and make it personal, the story resonates even more. You’ll want to head out to a batting cage as soon as you put the book down.

So what’s next? Plans for Pluto …

More to chop up

== Dial into Diamond’s newsletter,“The Thirty”

Day 7 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: Why? Why? Why? …

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The Los Angeles Times’ Robert Gauthier captures an aerial shot of an empty Dodger Stadium. He has more photos of the new normal of L.A. here: https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-03-26/looking-down-on-coronavirus-aerial-photos-of-southlands-new-normal

 

The book

61+KMteoDTL“The Baseball Book of Why: The Answers to Questions You’ve Always Wondered About from America’s National Pastime”

The author:
John C. McCollister

The publishing info:
Lyons Press/Globe Pequot/Rowman & Littlefield, 200 pages, $16.95, released March 20

The links:
At the publisher’s website, at Amazon.com, at BarnesAndNoble.com,
at Powells.com.

The review in 90 feet or less

Why isn’t the Major League Baseball season starting today? Why am I watching the MLB Network just to see a bunch of guys talking on video screens from their homes? Why is SportsNet LA showing a replay of the Dodgers-Giants Opening Day game from 2013 — Clayton Kershow throws and shutout and hits a homer?

Why do I have an Anne Lennox song haunting my brain right now?

Question authority, we were told. Answer the call, we’re encouraged to do.

Today, we have a lot of quarantined questions that lead to awkward answers.

This paperback from McCollister — a former Lutheran pastor, federal arbitrator and fan of the game who has done many history books about the Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers — isn’t going to blow your mind when it comes to taking up some 100 questions about why things happen in baseball as he lends his knowledge on explaining them.

It’s somewhat bias in what questions he chooses to answer — many have Pirates-centric references that seem a bit regional for a national-based publication. (Although, we admit we never knew how the Pittsburgh Pirates got their name, and now we do).

In a world of Google-the-question/quickly-find-the-result, a book like this may seem a bit naive, even outdated. It’s likely more geared for younger kids, read to them by their parent or older sibling, as a way to transfer information from one generation to another.

Still:

QQQQQ== Why are the Los Angeles Dodgers identified by such a strange name? That isn’t really answered here, other than “the name ‘Dodgers’ had to remain with the franchise” when Walter O’Malley moved them from Brooklyn to L.A. after the 1957 season. Did he really have to? It then explains the whole trolley dodging exercise and how sportswriters used it as a way to ID the team in the 1930s (after, of course, they were known as Bridegrooms, Grooms, Superbas and Robins before Dodgers evolved into the vernacular)

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QQQQQ== Why did the Chicago Cubs hold spring training on Catalina Island for almost 30 years? Owner William Wrigley Jr., was instrumental in developing the land.

QQQQQ== Why is the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s annual award to a broadcaster called the Ford C. Frick Award? Because the former commissioner is said to have “helped foster the relationship between radio and the game of baseball.” (Still, we’d lobby to see this changed to the Vin Scully Award)

QQQQQ== Why hasn’t Marvin Miller, the late head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, been inducted into the Hall of Fame? That actually happened last December by vote of the Modern Baseball Era Committee, to be part of the Class of 2020. But McCollister likely didn’t know that happened.

71TiPZvCFZLSo why have this book with its cool-to-look-at retro cover among our list of all those that might seem more procreative or compelling?

Because upon further research — the book’s back cover –McCollister never got to see this one come out.

He passed away on Dec. 19, 2019 at his home in Las Vegas.

How it goes in the scorebook

photo_001131_4100866_1_230490bb-cbf6-4e66-8ed6-54b9c77dc31e_20191228A moment of silence.

In 1983, McCollister published the book, “The Christian Book of Why,” trying to explain those burning esoteric religious questions such as “Why do Christians bake hot buns for Easter?” And “Why do Christians throw rice at weddings?”

McCollister also wrote a prayer that he called “The Baseball Invocation,” which is at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

It reads:

Almighty God,
you who are called the great umpire,
in this game of life we are unsure as to what uniform we should wear.

While we may be Angels in spirit, in reality we are Giants in pride,
Dodgers of responsibility, and Tigers in ambition.

When it comes to faith, we find ourselves in the minor leagues.
When it comes to good works, we strike out.
When it comes to knowledge of your word,
we are not even sure of the ground rules.

Therefore, we are thankful for your mercy when we are in foul territory,
for your forgiveness when we commit one error after another,
for your uplifting spirit when we are in the pitfalls of a slump.

Oh God, let our game plan be your will
and our response a sell-out crowd with standing room only.

And, when our number is retired here on earth,
may we head for your home base and rejoice to hear you call out “safe.”

In the name of Him who gives the final victory to all who believe,
Christ Our Lord, Amen.

If baseball is like religion, we can find even more potential quirks to work through. So, why are stadiums referred to as cathedrals? Why does baseball have so many “threes” in its vernacular — strikes, outs, bases — while the Bible has many references to things done in “threes,” including the Holy Trinity?

Maybe there are other books done on this “why?” theme in the past. From 1989, there’s “The Answer Is Baseball A Book of Questions That Illuminate the Great Game,” by Luke Salisbury. In 2003, there was “Why Is the Foul Pole Fair: Answers to 101 of the Most Perplexing Baseball Questions,” by Vince Staten.

But today, we’ll carry around this one. To honor McCollister, who didn’t live long enough to see where are struggling. Rest in peace with your number on earth retired.

Day 6 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: Emily Nemens’ cactus cooler, as spring training becomes just a novel idea from the ROY author/Ken Griffey Jr. fan

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A puddle in an empty parking lot reflects a closed Goodyear Ballpark, home of the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds, on March 12, 2020, in Goodyear, Ariz., when the MLB suspended the rest of the Cactus League in Arizona and Grapefruit League in Florida — all of spring training –because if the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The book

emily-nemens-3d-shadow“The Cactus League”

The author:
Emily Nemens

The publishing info:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillian publishing, $27, 288 pages, released Feb. 4.

The links:

At the publisher’s website, at Amazon.com, at BarnesAndNoble.com, at Powells.com;  and at the author’s website: emilynemens.com

The review in 90 feet or less

Today would have been the final day of spring training. Tomorrow, the regular season would start.

We grapple with that, as well as with the framework of baseball as an entry point non-fiction has historical successes mixed in with other questionable outcomes.

We dig the novel approach. But it depends on our disposition. And the author. And on what we’re trying to achieve. For example, Stephen King’s 2010 “Blockade Billy,” about the “greatest Major League player to be erased by the game,” got just more than 50 percent five-star reviews on the Amazon.com process, with an overall mark of four of five. We probably set the bar too high on expectations. We kind of sampled another last summer, with “The Proposal” by Jasmine Guillory, which uses a hook of how one those video-board moments at Dodger Stadium devolves into something that didn’t much hold our interest.

Finding a less-than-prickly way into “The Cactus League” started with catching wind of its inclusion in The Wall Street Journal’s “10 New Books You Should Be Picking Up First In 2020.” Then came a review in the L.A. Times by Kate Tuttle: “For a book about the notoriously languorous sport of baseball, this is a quick and often thrilling read. For a debut novel, it’s remarkably self-assured.”

Cool. Grap a Cactus Cooler and we’re in.

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Nemens, a 36-year-old first-time author and editor at the Paris Review, sets up nine somewhat independent stories – think of nine innings – that eventually interconnect around the Scottsdale spring training existence of the Los Angeles Lions.

It’s 2011, and the recession is still a thing. If you need a star player to pin any of this on, it’s outfielder Jason Goodyear, a recent American League MVP runner-up and Gold Glover. (It shouldn’t have one connecting dots to Mike Trout, if only because in this time frame, it would make Trout a 19-year-old, and Goodyear is divorced, addicted to gambling … naw, it can’t be).

Most is about his agent, the hitting coach, the fans, the ballpark staffers, the ones who chase players, the physical therapist … all their human frailties and desperation, trying to find a purpose and what defines oneself in survival mode.

An excerpt via the publishers’ website gets you into the first inning of work.

An author Q&A

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QQQQQ What was the goal of your book and do you feel it was met?

AAAAInitially, I wanted to write about the subculture of spring training, but even more than that, to write about a community and an ecosystem that was at once contained but also big and wild and endlessly fascinating. But I recognized those interests were a bit sociological and leaning toward reportage, so I had it in mind to overlay that exploration with the imagined stories of people who care about baseball and the spring season, for a whole myriad of reasons. Basically, I wanted to write a book that did several things at once. I do feel I met that goal—it took a long time to get all the plates spinning, but I did it.

QQQQQThere’s a great piece by Vanity Fair about your new role at The Paris Review as editor since 2018. Has this new position helped shape this book in anyway, if only in how to get a book done, or what you wanted to accomplish?paris ure

AAAAI started the book in 2011, and sold it in summer of 2018, right when I was starting at TPR. So the vast majority of the work was done already, though I did a big last edit in 2019 — and that required really tightening my belt to be efficient about my time, given all the responsibilities of the new job. At that point in the process, being a strong line editor by day really helped my evenings and weekends of that last big manuscript edit.
Also, at 36, it’s young, but feels a little “late” for a debut novelist. I’ve been busy with my day job, and tremendously proud of what I’ve accomplished at The Southern Review and now The Paris Review — that work has slowed down my writing life somewhat, and that’s OK.
It took a while to get this right — I first finished a version of this book in 2015, but then took it back to figure out the structure, the casts, and the momentum. Though in another way, TPR did help shape this novel: One of the first books I read when I started out on this sportswriting endeavor was “Paper Lion” by George Plimpton. I loved it, and I think George would be tickled to know that I’m carrying on the tradition of sport literature in my own small way. (Note: Plimpton was one of three who started The Paris Review literary magazine in 1953, established in Paris but based in New York City since 1973. Plimpton edited the review until his death in 2003).
Also, the TPR softball is going strong
Continue reading “Day 6 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: Emily Nemens’ cactus cooler, as spring training becomes just a novel idea from the ROY author/Ken Griffey Jr. fan”

Day 5 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: Chavez Ravine’s newest reveal, without dodging ancient interpretation (and note what’s intentionally missing from the title)

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From the website WalterOMalley.com, a timeline of how “Chavez Ravine” came to happen, then get changed: https://www.walteromalley.com/en/features/chavez-ravine/Overview

The book

51zzmJQGyDLStealing Home: Los Angeles, the Dodgers, and the Lives Caught in Between

The author:
Eric Nusbaum

The publishing info:
PublicAffairs/Hatchette, 352 pages, $18.99, released today, March 24.

The links:
At the publisher’s website, at Amazon.com, at BarnesAndNoble.com, at Powells.com and at the authors website

The review in 90 feet or less

We can reach out and grab this book that came out 20 years ago by photographer Don Normark, who had walked the hills of Los Angeles 50 years prior to that, in the late ’40s, and said he had discovered this place he called a “poor man’s Shangri-la.”

When musician Ry Cooder did a 2005 concept album called “Chavez Ravine,” he used that phrase as the title of one song.

That’s in Chapter 67 of “Stealing Home.” But before we get there, today, we have to acknowledge these truths to be self evident:

Chavez Ravine is a different kind of Shangri-la.

Chavez Ravine may have a Wikipedia page, but it isn’t marked on any L.A. map. Chavez Ravine has no geographic boundary.

Chavez Ravine is “a place, but it isn’t,” Eric Nusbaum writes in the intro. “It is really a code word for the mysteries and pleasures of baseball. It is the metaphysical plane upon which Dodger Stadium exists, slightly outside the realm of daily life in the city. It is a state of mind. It is a vibe. …

“The real history is less like a fable and more like the story of a crime that Los Angeles perpetuated on itself.”

Let that soak in like a long, muddy rain delay.

malvina

What is on a Google map, however, is a nub of Malvina Avenue that still exists going up into the Los Angeles Police Department Academy, right off Academy Road. It’s like an appendage.

There are things we know, and things we think we know about this area. There’s the famous array of photographs showing Abrana Archiga’s family being physically taken away from 1771 Malvina Avenue, a home she and her late husband had built in 1922. Online photo archives are full of these shots taken by newspaper photographers at the time.

5bbcd665d217300008df6da1-eightAnd now that house is “buried somewhere underneath the distant parking lots of what is now Dodger Stadium,” writes Nusbaum. “It wasn’t supposed to be this way. But it is.”

This is one of several entry points Nusbaum uses to re-introduce many of us to a story that’s been told in various ways, on various platforms, but perhaps not so much from this narrative.

As we have been conditioned, Chavez Ravine can sound like a great place that Vin Scully and others have described to us “in a sort of sweet, folksy way … when Vin Scully says something, it is like God speaking. His voice is ambient in the Southern California air. It is the voice inside your head.”

Perhaps Dodger Stadium is really “a heightened sense of being that you achieve when you visit,” complete with palm trees, and great sunsets and the San Gabriel Mountains … It’s not much different from the game itself, created from mythology by Abner Doubleday and Albert Spaulding, conjuring patriotism and capitalism into ingenuity.

But in L.A., the nasty history shouldn’t be covered over by dirt. And Nusbaum excavates it in a distinct, proficient and prolific manner.

Officially, we learn again that Chavez Ravine, named after a developer Julian Chavez (who didn’t even own that piece of land, but some others by the nearby Los Angeles River), came from an area assigned by the Stone Quarry Hills back in the early 1900s that was actually parts of five sections. It was never a community, per se. It now is something to generically covering what was once the neighborhoods of Palo Verde, La Loma and Bishop.

Neighborhoods that are long gone. Under asphalt, through many people’s faults.

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A 1960s overhead view of Dodger Stadium: https://www.hippostcard.com/listing/1960s-aerial-viiew-dodger-stadium-los-angeles-california-mitock-postcard-1242/10705697

“They were erased,” Nusbaum adds. “First, they were physically erased by powerful forces beyond the control of their residents. Then they lost their names: They became part of Chavez Ravine.”

And in those first few paces, the history lesson begins. Far from an academic lecture forcing the reader to trip over footnotes, citations and other pebbles in the way. It’s a non-fiction story as accurately portrayed as research allows and human empathy preserves.

Why was it this parcel of land used for the stadium, which opened in 1962? What was it originally intended to be? Why didn’t that happen? Each chapter is important in laying the concrete foundation for what came next.

72f86e7a-b6a3-42ad-8c0a-ff83f761938d.__CR0,0,1037,1037_PT0_SX300_V1___To Nusbaum,  it circles back to the importance of a man named Frank Wilkinson – someone who spoke to Nusbaum’s Culver City High School in 2002 at an assembly and flat-out said: “Dodger Stadium should not exist.”

Nusbaum adds: “There are a million reasons why, yet all those reasons are precisely what give the stadium its power.”

The heroic work of this victim of the Red Scare that who died at 91 in 2006 is the real prize find and personal link in this path, as Nusbaum says his intent is to “provide an intimate look at the journeys and motivations of its principal characters and a sweeping impression of a city and the two countries to which is belonged.”

EPiTGWYU8AAoGj3He feels, and really is, uniquely qualified as a journalist who has worked in the U.S. and Mexico, a native Angelino who believes the story of my city “has too often been told through the gaze of writers perched firmly on the East Coast and peering west as if through a pair of binoculars,” and his desire to work on this ever since that day Wilkinson visited his school.

“The story broke my heart. I struggled to reconcile that Dodger Stadium … which was a source of pain to so many people. … For all its magic, Frank Wilkinson was right: Dodger Stadium should not exist. This book is my attempt to tell the story9f2a3376-5786-452b-ab4a-69a45499a674.__CR0,0,1036,1036_PT0_SX300_V1___ of why it does.”

It breaks your heart and opens your eyes in the same organic time frame, moved along as well by the fabulous black-and-white dot illustrations by Adam Villacin add to the grit and soul. No photographs are needed as these add to feel of a novel and create an emotional attachment.

As Nusbaum reveals, if this all was creating a plotline for a script to be written about what really happened, we’d need to fill roles for people like Walter O’ Malley, the Arechiga family, Willie Davis, Duke Snider, the Cabral family, Norman Chandler, Clifford Clinton (who started Clifton’s Cafeteria), Ed Davenport, Victoria “Tolina” Augustain, Councilmen John Holland, Ed Roybal and Roz Wyman, Howard Holtzendorff, Joseph McCarthy, Monsignor Thomas O’Dwyer,  Jorge Pasquel, Emil Praeger, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and maybe even a lawyer named Phill Silver.

It will also make you think more than twice next time you enter or exit the ballpark when things get back to playing the 2020 season. As you cut through traffic and head down Bishops Road to get to Broadway and escape through the gates of Chinatown. As you maneuver through Boyston Street to enter through Gate C. As you cruise Solano Avenue or Solano Canyon Drive to find a parking spot near the Police Academy. As you go down the Golden State Freeway and look north to the L.A. River. It’s all still there. Echoing.

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A Q&A with the author

From his home in Tacoma, Wash., the L.A. native — born in West Hollywood, grew up in Culver City, came back to live here when his wife went to grad school at UCLA — Nusbaum explained how difficult it was to get any publisher on board with this project.
“They thought it was too esoteric, no one would care outside of L.A., but that’s what a book like this faces from those who decide things on the East Coast,” said Nusbaum. “I had been working on a different project, about the history of Los Angeles freeways and did a proposal. The editor liked it but wasn’t sure, but it happened to be they were looking for a ‘Dodger book’ at the time, so I had this one.”

As Dodger Stadium continues a reconstruction project to expand the pavilion seating and create a “front door” to the place, Nusbaum thought the timing was also perfect for the city leaders and team owners to reconcile this history. He explains more:phpThumb_generated_thumbnail

QQQQQAs you kept pulling out information about on this mountainside, did that compel you to keep digging deeper and deeper? What caused you to stop and then start on this story?

AAAAIt was hard to stop digging, to be honest. I was researching up until the very end of writing. I don’t think you ever reach a point where you know everything about a subject. But you also make choices when you’re writing a book — and I think a lot of the toughest choices are about what not to include. Continue reading “Day 5 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: Chavez Ravine’s newest reveal, without dodging ancient interpretation (and note what’s intentionally missing from the title)”

Day 4 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: Not to be a buzz kill, but need a new read on the Dodgers’ 2019 collapse? It’s more than ‘Baby Shark’ attacks and fumbled strategy

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The book

71WbrzbXv8L“Buzz Saw: The Improbable Story of How the Washington Nationals Won the World Series”

The author:
Jesse Dougherty

The publishing info:
Simon & Schuster, $28, 308 pages, to released Tuesday, March 24

The links:
At the publisher’s website, at Amazon.com, at BarnesAndNoble.com, at Powells.com; at the author’s internet home.

The review in 90 feet or less

There’s value in deconstruction.

Especially in the aftermath of what rubble Los Angeles may think it’s still under, and whether it falls under the recovery benefits defined by a National emergency.

We’re in a state of grace at the moment, right? Able to look at history and wonder: What if?

What happened last October blew in to Southern California was an act of the Baseball Gods, a force of nature with crazed momentum, leveling the Dodgers’ scheme of finally winning a World Series after its failed attempts in ’17 and ’18, giving the city its first MLB title (in L.A. at least, not counting the Angels’ 2002 trip) since that 1988 magic.

Yet, if you can appreciate the nature of the game, and unpredictable beauty of it, there are endearing parallels to draw between these fresh-brewed ’19 Nationals and that ’88 Dodgers vintage.

Why revisit any of this? Why not.

There are things to learn, appreciate and reinforce, and for the record, make sure our facts are straight versus what our emotions tend to define. In the compelling way Dougherty does it, there’s added enjoyment to show step by step how the Nationals achieved something that readers can’t help but admire and applaud. Especially since the seven game World Series tour included four wins in Houston. Harrumph.

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D.C.’s run may have looked superhero “improbable” – another word we recall Vin Scully pulling out of the sky 32 years ago, and used correctly in the book’s title. But wasn’t impossible,  considering what was already in place, how the current pieces really did fit, the psychology and balanced thought behind everything, and the methods used to achieve a championship that seemed to be going against the 21st Century grain.

Dougherty, the Nationals’ beat reporters for the Washington Post and a former L.A. Times guy who covered the NHL’s Kings, has all the proper power tools to chip away at how and why it happened, then yank off the white cloth and let us gaze upon what we see now to have a better understanding.

He writes that this was a seven-week project after the last out of the World Series, and it took 35 additional interviews to weave in more context during this short window of interpretation. This isn’t cutting and pasting daily stories together like some scrapbooking project some may take in this to capitalize on a moment. Nor is it done by someone who can’t turn a phrase or define a consequence when it’s needed. Continue reading “Day 4 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: Not to be a buzz kill, but need a new read on the Dodgers’ 2019 collapse? It’s more than ‘Baby Shark’ attacks and fumbled strategy”

Day 3 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: What’s so hidden about sign stealing if it’s so out in the open? A Dickson dissertation

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From TheRinger.com: “The Astros Sign-Stealing Scandal is Actually Good for Baseball,” by Rodger Sherman: https://www.theringer.com/mlb/2020/2/26/21153495/houston-astros-sign-stealing-scandal-baseball-fan-interest

The book

81ziTeJx+yL“The Hidden Language of Baseball: How Signs and Sign-Stealing Having Influenced the Course of Our National Pastime”

The author:
Paul Dickson

The publishing info:
University of Nebraska Press, $19.95, 200 pages, revised edition published in July, 2019. Originally published in 2003

The links:
At the publisher’s website, at Amazon.com, at BarnesAndNoble.com,
at Powells.com, at the author’s website

The review in 90 feet or less

It’s a sign of our times, and a symbol of what we don’t want to be.

Dickson’s latest edition of “Hidden Language” went out of print in 2017. The prolific baseball historian had the good sense to know it needed to be refreshed. For many reasons. But even then, he couldn’t have realized that this reboot would have overlapped with the fact the Houston Astros were about to claim their first World Series title that winter, against the Dodgers, and two years later, become the most anguished-about controversy clouding the game’s credibility.

bookcover(Hey, did you happen to notice: There’s a publication by Easton Press, a tricked-up commemorative book with the splashy title: “History Earned!” still available for sale. Too rich for our tastes — four monthly installments of $35 to have this cool leather-bound, hubbed-spined edition accented with 22kt gold and gilded page ends … There’s also Ben Reiter’s “AstroBall: The New Way to Win It All” that came out in July, 2018, and has demanded a reprint)

Revisionist history aside …

Dickson’s decision to rejoin the conversation and update all he knew through 2018 all came before the summer of ’19, when the banging of trash cans would take down the managers of the Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros and New York Mets before the 2020 season even began. Whenever that will be.

Dickson was more focused on what was latest controversy at that time — the infamous Apple Watch sign-sealing incident of 2017 — the Red Sox were fined for using technology to swipe information from the Yankees. In the 14 pages he dedicates to this new Chapter 9 entitled “Devious Digital Devices – from TV Camera to Apple Watch,” the foundation and context of what the Astros are now accused of doing should provide a better understanding when one would rightly be engaged as to the ethical pros and cons of what went down.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of history to go through:

But then there’s what Dickson lays out what’s happened in just this recent century: Continue reading “Day 3 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: What’s so hidden about sign stealing if it’s so out in the open? A Dickson dissertation”

Day 2 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: The girls still got game, or do we need to draw you a picture?

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The book

xe4uGf6QThe Incredible Women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League

The author/illustrator:
Anika Orrock

The publishing info:
Chronicle Books, $19.95, 160 pages, released March 10, 2020

The links:
At the publisher’s website, at Amazon.com, at BarnesAndNoble.com, at Powells.com, at the author’s website

The review in 90 feet or less

I asked my soon-to-be 80-year-old mom recently: So what do you remember about watching All-American Girls Professional Baseball League games when you were growing up in South Bend, Ind., back in the 1940s?

Didn’t you say you have a photo of yourself with a player named Lou Arnold?

She did. It’s still framed. Here it is:

Mom w Lou Arnold

Louise Veronica “Lou” Arnold was a pitcher for the South Bend Blue Sox for five seasons, posting a 23-16 record with a 3.02 ERA in 72 games. At 5-foot-3 and 125 pounds, the Pawtucket, R.I. native debuted in 1948 — my mom was 7, going on 8, and living in the city made famous as the home for the University of Notre Dame.

Arnold attended to a league tryout in ’48 with no baseball position. The league was desperate for overhand pitchers – when it started five years earlier, it was a fast-pitched underarmed style. It moved to sidearm in ’47 and finally evolved to overhand. Arnold she seemed like a good pitching prospect based on her high school athletic ability.

So while Arnold was there for ’48 and ’49, she did quit in 1950 for “undisclosed reasons,” according to the bio. She came back in ’51 (a 10-2 record, a no-hitter and 32 straight scoreless innings and nine complete games). Then she quit after ’52, deciding to live in South Bend the rest of her life working on brake lines at the Bendix Corporation.

The youngest of 13 kids, she wore No. 13. She died in 2010.

arnold sign

snapshots
My mom has photos and autographs inside a leather-bound small scrapbook that Arnold once gave her. It’s all still preserved in pristine condition. We can still make out the inscription: “To My Friend Theresa, Lou Arnold, 1949.”

More team photos and individual shots of the players are now all over mom’s coffee table. She’s holding them up with a magnifying glass, studying it all again.

Like this new book.

On page 47 of “The Incredible Women of the All-American Girls Baseball League,” a quote from Arnold appears:

“Wonderful umpire, Barney Ross … but I was pitching to this girl who wasn’t the best hitter and he called a strike a ball. Of course my catcher was yelling at him and I said, ‘Barney, I want to tell you something,’ and he said, ‘Yes, Lou?’ And I said, ‘You are going blind!’ He said, ‘Lou, I want to tell you something. You go back to that mound and I’ll show you how blind I’m getting.’”

Arguing+over+the+plate_PrintIt makes mom smile.

The quote is accompanied by an illustration of a woman in a catcher’s mask going face-to-face with a home plate umpire with his mask on.

That’s all due to our new favorite artist — Orrock, an Oakland native now in Nashville who characterizes herself as an illustrator above all – writer, designer, cartoonist, humorist and baseball devotee. But with all her talents, she figures out a way to piece together vignettes about the league with style and grace to reflect the sense of importance, excitement, competition and fun that was going on by those who were there.

Nothing gets skirted here. Continue reading “Day 2 of (at least) 30 baseball book reviews for spring/summer 2020: The girls still got game, or do we need to draw you a picture?”