Extra inning baseball book reviews for 2020: Calling BS on baseball’s storied history

How Baseball Happened:
Outrageous Lies Exposed! The True Story Revealed

The author:
Thomas W. Gilbert

The publishing info:
David R. Godine, Publisher
384 pages
Released Sept. 15, 2020

The links:
At the publisher’s website
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com
At Powells.com
At Indiebound.org
At the author’s website

The review in 90 feet or less

There’s the quote attributed to W.C. Fields: “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”

The story of baseball’s brilliant genesis through the centuries has carried with it a stench of baffling bullshit, infrequently challenged, often lazily perpetuated to make the game more palatable to those who wish to know just enough of its origins to sound efficiently educated.

As the 2005 book by Harry G. Frankfurt came out called “On Bullshit,” and became a New York Times bestseller with the investment of just $8.95, we learn more about the who, what, when, where, how and why bullshit occurs.

In the opening stanza of this nine-chapter dissertation project by Gilbert, Frankfurt’s words resurface. There are lies about baseball happened. There are even damn lies. Then there’s complete bullshit.

“As central as baseball is to the American experience, you might expect that basic questions like where baseball came from, who first played it, and why would have been settled by now. But they aren’t …the majority of Americans who are not trained historians remain confused by the layers of bullshit burying baseball’s true origins.”

Furthermore, in a dedicated sidebar labeled simply as “Bullshit,” Gilbert continues to question how the myth of Abner Doubleday doing many things in his life but never claiming to invent baseball somehow “persisted for decades even though it couldn’t have withstood the most superficial fact-checking.”

The Doubleday story is, in essence, a bullish tale we really need to wipe clean, because it has become, as Frankfurt wrote, the result of a “lack of connection to a concern with truth – this indifference to how things really are.”

Gilbert is so not indifferent to this subject, he’s going to make us sit down, listen, and try to fix it.

In a grand fashion.

In a tone that’s courageous as it is concise, Gilbert does his research – again, stuff that’s been out there before that doesn’t seem to matter – and presents it in a scholarly approach that’s as enlightening as it is entertaining.

Starting with a timeline to show how he would cover the game’s evolution from the time John Stevens launches a ferry service between Hoboken and New York City in 1821 through the considered launch of the modern National League in 1876, our nation’s centennial year, Gilbert’s portrait of an amateur game that should be celebrated and held in higher regard to any myth making stands as the newest test of time-honored traditional mishmash. In between all that, and also duly noted, things such as a cholera epidemic happens, the first penny newspapers came into being, the Astor Theater Rio kills 30 people, the end of volunteer firefighting in New York City and Brooklyn occurs, and Octavius Catto is assassinated on Election Day in Philadelphia.

Gilbert can both lecture and become playful with how we should reconstruct history without rewriting it. He can reference other attempts to make the game’s origins more clear, such as David Blocks’ 2005 book, “Baseball Before We Knew It,” but still add more layers and combustion to push the train of knowledge forward.

There are reasons of truth and justice to honestly flesh out the stories of the Brooklyn Exceliors,  in chapter five flowing into chapter six about the game’s first star pitcher, James Creighton, who died at age 21in 1862 from “strangulation of (the) intestine,” as Gilbert notes from the Death Certificate #3586 in the city of Brooklyn archives as handwritten by J. Byrne, M.D.. Gilbert even adds: “A bad way to go.”

We need to acknowledge how journalists created baseball for its newspapers to fashion a need for more readership. There’s a desire to find out more about the social group known as the “emerging urban bourgeoisie,” and why, “not an elegant phrase, … it is accurate,” and a cause to make Gilbert shorthand it to EUB in subsequent references.

As it says on page 181 about why and how New York was the game’s true center point:

The rivalry between New York City and Brooklyn clubs is the oldest, longest and most important of any sports rivalry in American history. It sold the first tickets to a baseball game. It lives on today in the Dodgers-Giants rivalry on the West Coast and the Mets-Yankees rivalry on the East. It is the watershed event to which we can trace the triumph of the American sports movement and baseball’s arrival as a national sport … Was Brooklyn the real birthplace of baseball? If by baseball you mean baseball as the modern sport, and by birthplace you mean the home of the first fans and the first ballpark, then the answer is yes. It happened in Brooklyn – not the 1947 film with Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Durante, but the beginning of modern professional sports.”

The essence can be captured by a masterful graphic spanning pages 230 and 231 about “How Baseball Expanded,” from its New York foundation in Brooklyn and NYC out to Chicago (1856), to Boston and Detroit (1857), even to San Francisco (1858) before it landed in St. Louis (1859).

In the same vein, a chart on page 229 shows how there are at least 13 men who have been called “The Father of Baseball” in some way, shape or form.


Aside from Doubleday, or Alexander Joy Cartwright, Jr. (see his official Baseball Hall of Fame plaque), or sportswriter Henry Chadwick (with a famous tombstone in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery), there is also Robert Ferguson, Billy McMahon, John Joyce, Doc Adams, Duncan Curry, Harry Wright, T.G. Van Cott, Albert Spaulding, Louis Wadsworth and William Wheaton.

Wait, Wil Wheaton, the actor? Was it a big-bang theory?

No. But at this point, why not throw him in among the stars.

How it goes in the scorebook

In this book’s forward, MLB historian John Thorn might best summarize why this is necessary, and how it comes to be, even as he has done some exploration into this topic before:

“My own ‘Baseball in the Garden of Eden‘ (as the game moved from Europe and Africa to America … addressed the what, i.e., the facts surrounding the game’s beginnings rather than what the self-annoited fathers of the game wished us to believe. Gilbert addresses how baseball happened and, delightfully, its anagram of who.
” ‘How Baseball Happened’ is a brilliant new approach to our game and its author tells a hundred stories you haven’t heard before … How is baseball history to be written henceforth? Like this.”
Note, Gilbert tells you stories. He’s not selling you on them.
How we value that is worthy of expressing our thanks.

And while we’re here, can we also give credit for a typeface? Jerry Kelly, the book’s designer and typographer, picked Miller, Myriad and Scotch fonts to give is a masterful historical feel. It matters when it’s done correctly.

More recent books one may want to pursue in this journey

== “The Making of Modern Baseball: Over 100 Years of Change That Formed America’s Favorite Pastime,” by Frank P. Jozsa (Feb., 2020)
== “The Workingman’s Game: Waverly, New York, the Twin Tiers and the Making of Modern Baseball, 1887–1898,” by William H. Brewster (Nov. 2019)
== “Baseball in Europe,” by Josh Chetwynd, a former staff writer for The Hollywood Reporter, who revises his 2008 book

Extra inning baseball book reviews for 2020: Throw, catch, repeat, listen, learn

On the official website for actor Dwier Brown, who played John Kinsella in the movie “Field of Dreams” with Kevin Costner, this autographed item is available for $24.99.

A Year of Playing Catch:
What A Simply Daily Experiment Taught Me About Life

The author:
Ethan D. Bryan

The publishing info:
Zonderveran Publishing
240 pages
Released Sept. 8, 2020

The links:
At the publisher’s website
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com
At Powells.com
At Indiebound.org
At Target.com
At the author’s website

The review in 90 feet or less

There isn’t much else at the intersection of sports and religion — specifically, of baseball and the soul — that evokes such a deep emotional response like a game of catch.

Of course, the “Field of Dreams” aspect of a father and son having a moment of mystical qualities has made this even more powerful. It led to actor Dwier Brown coming out with his own book in the summer of 2014 to explain how he’s been affected by those who’ve been affected by his brief moment at the end of the 1989 movie.

“They are like confessions,” Brown once told us, looking at the age of 55 pretty near the same now as he did as when he was 30, “and I start to feel like a priest when those moments happen.”

Ethan Bryan’s confession is he didn’t do this book on purpose.

This “Catch365” project involved him meeting up with more than 500 people from all walks of life.

“Thankfully, God seems to have a place for whimsey in this wonderful world,” he writes in the preface, expanding on how having a toss with each of his two daughters on Jan. 1, 2018 led to another, and another, and …

Bryan, a Kansas City Royals fan from Springfield, Mo., packed up six Wilson gloves and ended up on a road trip in quest of not just having a catch with someone on every day of the calendar, but also finding out what it means to connect with people in such an intimate, otherwise taken-for-granted activity.

From finding catch partners who are from his own family – his wife, on Valentine’s Day; his mom on Mother’s Day – to sports writers, preachers, kids, school teachers, musicians and comedians, his trip also went to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, his college alma mater, some minor-league baseball parks and whatever else might draw him to a destination – covering 10 states, 12,000 miles and a sense of faith.

From the start of Chapter 12, page 113:

The catch-playing year grew into a project of the heart. Each day, I gave all my attention to my catch-playing partners, learning their stories while delighting in shared time tossing a ball. In the early days and weeks, I was concerned I would burn out halfway through the year or never want to play catch again if I actually succeeded in completing every day. Neither one could be farther from the truth. As the year progressed, I grew more passionate about playing catch, about discovering fun each and every day. Throughout the year, I felt as if I was discovering the real me, the me God whispered into creating, with each and every game of catch. Play is that sacred space where we can best join in and the divine laughter and delight in who we were made to be. No wonder we lost track of time playing: we are dancing with one foot in eternity.

At a certain point, you have a book, even if it doesn’t reveal itself to you until the process begins, and then unfolds are you decide not to write it as a journal, but connect dots, soak in the experience and start penning chapters — starting with his own journey to Dyersville, Iowa to the Field of Dreams site, with his dad, on Day No. 206.

“I could live in Iowa,” dad admits. Bryan even connected with Brown to relay the experience.

One more story from Jeff Passan, author of “The Arm,” whose research on those who had Tommy John surgery even made Bryan think about what would happen if his project got derailed by an arm injury he didn’t see coming.

“My favorite story was my biggest screwup,” Passan admits to Bryan, “saying (eventual Angels free-agent signee) Shohei Ohtani couldn’t hit. It reminds me how fallible I am and how incredible baseball is. Some of the brighest minds in the game can look at someone and see something and be incredibly wrong. To me, that encapsulates the beauty of the game.”

How it goes in the scorebook

If “Eat, Pray, Love” is one method for someone in search of clarity, God only knows a glove, ball and time works too.

Consume the activity. Play to pray. Love every aspect of it. And be thankful for the experience.

We don’t need to complicate things. It’s about the ability to stay in the moment, and find impact on how it can ignite pure joy.

And here’s the catch: When you come across this book by accident, as we did browsing the shelves at the local bookstore, it feels far more organic, much like the exercise Bryan did. Perhaps telling someone else about this book takes away some of that magic, but we’re willing to take that chance.

If not on the spot where other baseball books are found, also look for it on places designated for  inspiration & spirituality or Christian self help.

It may not have a profound impact on this reader for awhile. Until I’m comfortable getting the glove out again, finding someone to social distance with, and let the experience take over. For now, I’ll let it simmer.

OK, one more quote for the road from Bryan, from page 36:

“Playing catch was an education with the best curriculum: stories. It was not only physical exercise, it was a daily workout in empathy, communication and compassion. Thanks to my catch partners, I received first-rate instruction in being a better human.”

More baseball-related work by the author

= “America at the Seams: 50 Stories in 50 States of How Baseball Unites our Country,” released in 2017, with Nathan Rueckert. If you have not yet connected with Rueckert’s Baseball Seams Co. website — he crafts pieces of art out of old baseballs — it is a must-visit site for unique gift ideas. Yes, Rueckert is a catch partner in this new book as well and has a blurb for the book: “Ethan’s whimsical, fun-loving journey, told beautifully, combined with his take on life and relationships is a breath of fresh air. It also took me on my own unexpected journey of self-reflection that inspired me to once again chase my dreams, to make room for play, and to prioritize listening to people with experiences much different from my own.”

= “Dreamfield,” released 2017: Bryan tries to relive high senior year of high school at 41.

= “Striking Out ALS: A Hero’s Tale,” released in 2013. Bryan goes to the Kansas City Royals’ Fantasy Camp in Surprise, Arizona, to raise money and awareness for high school baseball coach Howard Bell, a Springfield, Missouri legend recently diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Extra inning baseball book reviews for 2020: Topps’ uncommon 1952 vintage set remains the calling cards even in today’s refreshed and rebolstered marketplace

 A Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps EX+ 5.5 grade sold for $55,000 at a June auction.Compare that to a Mint 9 grade that sold for $2.88 million in 2008. Photo: Associated Press


Baseball & Bubble Gum: The 1952 Topps Collection

A17XOrt6PoLThe authors:
Thomas and Ellen Zappala, with John Molori and Joe Orlando, plus photography by Christina Good

The publishing info:
Peter E. Randall Publisher
248 pages
Released Jan. 1, 2020

The links:
At the publisher’s website; at Amazon.com;  at the author’s website

The review in 90 feet or less

It’s time you know how life works.

Your mom was part of a grand conspiracy, to deftly dispose of all your baseball cards. Except they didn’t really throw them away.

They put them in a different hiding place, with their all-knowing ability that sometime in the 21st Century, those cards’ value would fund their golden years and give you reason not worry about their financial security.

At least, that was the plan.

Some forgot where they hid them. Others sold them too early and were embarrassed on the return.

Yet, if they were truly nimble, they figured out how to bottle up and preserve the 1952 Topps set.

You got the gum. They squirreled away that extra cardboard.

How did this set even come about? As writer Scott Pitoniak explains in a new story posted on the Baseball Hall of Fame website:

“Marketing whiz Sy Berger, with a huge assist from graphic artist Woody Gelman, began designing a set of cards they hoped would encourage kids to chew more Topps bubble gum. Up to that point, baseball cards had not been overly popular among kids. But the gorgeously designed 1952 Topps set changed all that. Boasting colorful, up-close photographs of the players, facsimile autographs, team logos, hard-to-come-by statistics and mini-biographies, this 407-player set impacted the hobby like a fastball off the barrel of Willie Mays’ bat.”

1952-Topps-37-Duke-Snider-Baseball-Card-208x300At least Mays was included in that set, in his second major-league season. Ted Williams, Stan Musial and Whitey Ford are not. Williams and Musial had a contractual obligation to the other card company, Bowman. Ford was off in the Korean War and didn’t play that season. But 26 other future Hall of Fame were in that set, highlighted by Mickey Mantle. And Jackie Robinson. Bob Feller. Duke Snider (in action, when that often isn’t what is used for players in this set). Also are the rookie cards for Eddie Matthews and Hoyt Wilhelm.

In this glorious, simplistic portrait that looks postage-stamp ready for perpetual adulation.

Continue reading “Extra inning baseball book reviews for 2020: Topps’ uncommon 1952 vintage set remains the calling cards even in today’s refreshed and rebolstered marketplace”

Extra inning baseball book reviews for 2020: SABR rattles us with 50 big ones

A Dodgers’ 1954 team photo of the Montreal Royals includes Roberto Clemente (bottom left), and the reason for his inclusion on this team instead of the Dodgers’ Major League club in Brooklyn is the subject of one of the 50 contributions to this new SABR 50th anniversary book.

SABR 50 at 50
The Society for American Baseball Research’s Fifth Most Essential Contributions to the Game

The editor:

Bill Nowlin

The associate editors:
Mark Armour
Scott Bush
Leslie Heaphy
Jacob Pomrenke
Cecilia Tan
John Thorn

The publishing info:
University of Nebraska Press
632 pages
Out today, Sept. 1, 2020

The links:
At thepublisher’s website
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com
At Powells.com
At Indiebound.org
At the SABR website

The review in 90 feet or less

What 50 things did we learn about the Society of American Baseball Research from this book put together by one well respected editor, six associate editors, 51 contributors, 53 photos, 57 tables and a deceiving light three pounds later?

It’s more like 50 times 500. Divided by many filters and opinions.

When SABR was first conceived by a group of 16 people who convened in Cooperstown, N.Y. in August, 1971, we had already seen the first real push toward how to harness more accessible statistics provided by the launch of the Baseball Encyclopedia in the summer of 1969.

With that book’s 50th anniversary celebrated in 2019 with those still around to enjoy the recognition – as we described in this Los Angeles Times story a year ago and posted on the SABR site and which we expanded on TheDrillLA.com – it was inevitable that SABR get its golden anniversary party as well with something that may not even be enough to satisfy a true seam head.

Or simply a “baseball nerd,” as MLB official historian (since 2011) John Thorn lovely calls the collection that could be estimated at around 6,000 these days. Continue reading “Extra inning baseball book reviews for 2020: SABR rattles us with 50 big ones”

Extra inning baseball book reviews for 2020: Ever met Mr. Met? The wit and wackiness of Being Jay Horwitz

In a story published in June, 2013, the New York Daily News mapped out how many “extra miles” Mets PR man Jay Horwitz had to travel to help new pitcher Zach Wheeler get acclimated with the team and prep him for how to deal with the New York media.

Mr. Met:
How a Sports-Mad Kid from Jersey Became Like Family to Generations of Big Leaguers

Mr. Met Cover
The author:

Jay Horwitz

The publishing info:
Triumph Books
272 pages
Released May, 2020

The links:
At the publisher’s website
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com
At Powells.com
At Indiebound.org

The review in 90 feet or less

A few years back, Jeff Pearlman wrote a profile on New York Mets public relations man Jay Horwitz for the Wall Street Journal — this is spring training, 2011 — that began poetically:

Mets vice-president of media relations Jay Horwitz is, self admittedly, ‘a little bit of a schlump.’ He’s wrinkled, he’s baggy, he’s disheveled. His glasses are slightly crooked. His head is a little bit large for his shoulders. He talks with a thick New York accent. He’s lost or broken at least 10 Blackberries over the last few years, including two that plopped into the toilet.

A piece in the New York Post in 2009, when Horwitz was celebrating his 30th season, included this from writer Filip Bondi:

He is 63, a lovable, frazzled soul among young millionaires from very different cultures. He could be the father to these players, and talks like their proud, protective grandpa. … Everybody is a saint, or at least a mensch. … The stories he can tell . . . and the ones he must censor just a bit, because after all that is his business.

Another piece on Horwitz in the New York Post in 2018, includes these quotes from then-Mets captain David Wright: “You naturally think of players or managers when you think of Mets history, but in my opinion he’s right up there on that Mount Rushmore of the organization.” Team co-GM Omar Minaya adds: “I don’t want to say he’s Mr. Met, but he’s as close to Mr. Met as possible.”

In 40 years as the New York Mets’ PR man, Horwitz served a purpose. He could have revived the rules of Dodgeball — Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive and Dodge — by adding Damage Control and Divert Attention. Even when the team was winning World Series titles in 1986 or NL pennants in 2000 and 2015.

Public relations, after all, is about relationships. He knew the process, the deadlines, the marketing side to how everything was interrelated.

Continue reading “Extra inning baseball book reviews for 2020: Ever met Mr. Met? The wit and wackiness of Being Jay Horwitz”