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Extra inning baseball book reviews for 2020: Steve Dalkowski — the man, the myth, the true story (as far as we can tell)

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Steve Dalkowski, as he appeared at Dodger Stadium in July, 2009, before a first pitch ceremony.  (Photo by Keith Birmingham / San Gabriel Valley Tribune / Zuma Press / TNS )

Dalko: The Untold Story of Baseball’s Fastest Pitcher

Dalko: The Untold Story of Baseball’s Fastest Pitcher

The authors:
Bill Dembski
Alex Thomas
Brian Vikander

The publishing info:
Influence Publishers
$26.95
304 pages
Scheduled for release Oct. 27, 2020

The links:
At the publisher’s website
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com
At the authors’ DalkoBook website

 A review in 90 feet or less

OPENING SCENE:
EXT. NIGHTTIME – HIGH OVERHEAD SHOT:
The headlights from a caravan of four worn-out, late-model 1950s station wagons are snaking their way down a dirt road through the Utah desert. Zoom in to see a car with members of Class A Tri-City Atoms, a lowest rank of minor-league farm teams belonging to the Baltimore Orioles, as they are driving back to their home base in Kennewick, Washington. There is no team bus. The team can’t afford one. This is how they travel to games.
STEVE DALKOWSI, age 26, in his eighth and final year of his professional career, is sitting in the middle of the back seat, still in uniform and cap. He is downing bottles of beer. He throws an empty bottle out the window, missing a teammates’ head, before he cracks open another one from the case down between his legs.
On the car radio, the “Joe Garagiola Sports Show” is playing. The host says that the show tonight will be about “the legendary Steve Dalkowski.”
RADIO VOICE: “I don’t expect you to know who this person is, but you should understand his importance to professional baseball.”
CLOSE UP OF DALKOWSKI: Belch, another bottle out the window.
The driver of the car, a 22-year-old who looks to be about 15, asks the others to quiet down so he can hear the show.
TIM SOMMER, in the backseat next to Dalkowski, elbows his teammate in the ribs.
“Hey, Steve, they’re talkin’ about you.”
CLOSE UP OF DALKOWSKI rolling his eyes.
RADIO VOICE:Dalkowski is said to have delivered the fastest pitches in baseball history – some say more than 110 miles per hour. Astory in the July 1960 issue of Time magazine made mention of him as the ‘hardest thrower in organized baseball’.”
DALKOWSKI lifts his beer as a toast and nods. His teammates around him cheer.
RADIO VOICE: “But he was known to be, how can we say this, just a little wild. He once threw a ball through a backstop screen on a wild pitch, scattering the fans.”
DALKOWSKI nods again. His teammates roar in approval.
RADIO VOICE: “In one minor-league game – the second game he ever pitched in the pros – he ripped the ear off a batter after his pitch hit the guy in the head!”
DALKOWSKI scrunches up his face.
DALKOWSI: “I didn’t rip the guy’s ear off. I just hit him on the earlobe and there was a lot of blood!”
Teammates cheer again and high-five each other, realizing they are in the midst of a baseball legend.

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If someone ever does get around to making a movie about the life and times of Steve Dalkowski, they can use the above – taken straight from Chapter 14 in this new book. The story comes from former teammate Tim Sommer, whose 2014 book, “Beating About the Bushes: Minor League Baseball in the ‘60s” chronicles stories about his eight-year pro career.

Sommer was a 22-year-old teammate of Dalkowski on that 1965 roster, on his way up the ladder of the minor-leagues while Dalko was in a free fall from any more chance at fame.

The sad irony is that Garagiola was talking about Dalkowski in the past tense. But there was the man himself, listening to the show in what could have sounded like Tom Sawyer at his own funeral. If he was sober enough to understand it all.

Continued on page 166:

“Steve’s teammates were of two opinions about him by now. On the one hand, he stayed drunk and embarrassing much of the time. He was taking up a valuable slot in the rotation and also a place on the team roster. On the other hand, he was the friendliest and most honest person any of them knew. He still borrowed heavily between paydays, then every two weeks he would ask each player what he had borrows and return it on payday without questions. The wives of married players couldn’t believe the wild man they heard about was the quiet, polite Steve Dalkowski they met. At dinner at one player’s house, Steve was a good conversationalist, drank frugally, and absolutely charmed all the ladies. The wives later accused their husbands of being jealous so Steve’s polished personality.”

To get a true personality profile of this baseball legend – a label applied by Garagiola – it has taken a team of three writers, researchers and interviewers to piece the Dalkowski story together. Regrettably, it comes just five months after Dalko’s passing, a COVID-19 related death, at age 80 at a group home in his native New Britain, Conn.

As authors Dembski, Thomas and Vikander explain, each tapped into their own strengths to make this four-year project come to life, one they call “exhilarating and exhausting.” Dembski, author of more than 20 books with doctorates in math and philosophy as well as a Master of Divinity in Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, adds the soul into the project as he developed the idea as he was curious about the science of pitching.  Dembski had worked with Thomas, who had ghostwritten and co-authored some 20 books himself on a variety of subjects. They collaborated on “It Takes Ganas: Jamie Escalante’s Secret to Inspired Leaning” in 2016, based on the life of the high school math teacher from East L.A. Vikander comes at this as a pitching coach for 30 years in mental skill preparation and mechanics, working with former MLB pitcher Tom House at USC in bio-mechanics. Vikander is also a world-traveled photojournalist.

Driven to clarify myths that have often been passed along as facts, and plug facts into the holes that have existed for decades, the trio came to discover there had been no real in-depth research project done on Dalkowski despite several start-and-stop attempts at other books and movies, which were based a few long-form magazine pieces that seemed only to perpetuate inaccuracies for the sake of sensationalism.

Was Dalko the fastest pitcher of all time? There were no real accurate measurements, despite some flimsy attempts, to put a number on his fastball’s top speed. Only those who once hit against him and those who tried to catch him can express what it was like with a rough estimation.

What kind of special delivery or dexterity did this man of somewhat average size and weight have to result in this somewhat inhuman act? There exists no film or reliable description of his windup. “How the greatest arm in history could have escaped being captured in motion seems inexplicable,” they wrote on page 70. “Yet the effacing effects of time have worked their magic in scrubbing any video of Dalkowski.”

Even so, that “wasn’t a deal-killer for this book,” the authors admit. “The heart of the story wasn’t a technical analysis.” For that aspect that still fascinates some, they were smart enough to move that material to a complimentary website, http://www.DalkoBook.com, where they plan to catalogue such information.

Instead, these three are intrigued by how Dalkowski “combines mortality and myth … his story has it all: zenith, nadir and everything in between.” It then plays out like HBO’s “Eastbown and Down” meets the Loch Ness Monster, a too-good-to-be-true talent unfilled if only for the time it occurred — before the investment in mental coaches or Tommy John surgery — and the inability of those around him (including a long run with future  Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver or future Hall of Fame GM Pat Gillick as his roommate) to solve his demons. And to disprove the idea that he had a low IQ, except for an unwise decision to hang out too much with minor league teammate Bo Belinski at one point. Yes, once he even tried wearing glasses.

The introduction by former MLB fireballer Sam McDowell helps set a nice tone to where this book will go, having seen Dalkowski up close and now in the field of coaching such things that fix some of those pitching mechanics. McDowell is one of several “I saw it” contributors to the book that give the story a new voice. We find out more why Dalko was a very mild-mannered, quiet, self-effacing “choir boy” who transformed “into a human rocket launcher.” It wasn’t just the speed of his pitches, but the sound it created that turned heads – a buzz, a sizzle, a crackle – that had the illusion his pitches rose as they came into the batter (when truth is, they were thrown so hard, they rarely dipped as gravity is apt to cause).

We come across new true stories — Dalkowski’s time in Mexico (once with teammate Boog Powell as they dated Connie Stevens and Angie Dickinson!), his high school football fame, and more about his sad post-career journeys.  Also, in piecing together accounts and box scores from local Hartford, Conn., newspapers, as well as those cities from his travels in the minor leagues, there is finally a reconstruct of game facts to verify – yes, there was once an 24-strikeout, 18 walk game that he won 7-5, but that may not even be  the craziest – as well as track down childhood friends, former teammates and even his first wife to add far more context than what we assume was the wild idea for Ron Shelton’s character, Nuke LaLoosh, in the movie “Bull Durham.”

But wait, there’s more feats of Ripley’s that come to light — on page 37, a time when he was pitching in an exhibition at a fair near his home while in high school with two other local prep stars. Consider this as another scene in the Dalkowski movie:

“When his turn came, Steve threw a rocket that went over the catcher’s head, over the backstop and disappeared into the distance. A few minutes later a surprised and upset man walked into the nurse’s station at the fairground. He explained that he had briefly stopped into the woods to take care of some personal business and suddenly felt a sharp blow in his back. He’d heard no one, and nobody seemed to be around. Then he saw a baseball roll to a stop beside his feet. To prove his story, he held up the offending ball and lifted his shirt to show a big welt on his back. He wasn’t seriously hurt. Evidently neither he nor the nurse ever pieced together — or could have imagined — the whole scenario.”

dalkocard 1963


Dalko never made it to the major leagues, hurting his left money-maker in a final 1963 exhibition game for the Orioles against the New York Yankees in Miami after striking out Roger Maris and Elston Howard, who wanted no part of him. Earlier that spring, he struck out the Dodgers’ Bill Skowron, Wally Moon, Maury Wills, Tommy Davis and Don Drysdale in an exhibition — and even got a hit off Drysdale – during three hit-less innings.

By then, Topps already had him on a baseball card, No. 496, shared with the Dodgers’ Jack Smith and the Angels’ Fred Newman. The stats on the back of the card should have been a red flag about the trials and tribulations of Dalkowski to that point: A career 26-62 record with 1,099 strikeouts and 1,136 walks in 697 innings over 158 games, supported by a 6.15 ERA. No mention of the season records he had set in various leagues for wild pitches.

What added up to become Dalkowski’s final BaseballReference.com statistical profile is even less impressive.

DALKOWSKI

Here, we finally get a full-framed shot of the Dalkowski experience. We were fortunate as well to help journal his journey, when in 2009 he came to Los Angeles on what was likely his final road trip to accept induction into the Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals, and have Shelton give his induction speech.

DALKOWSKI

It was a glorious trip for Dalkowski, who also threw out a ceremonial first pitch at Dodger Stadium – a place that at one point was to be a proving ground that he could still be of service to someone in his late 20s as team after team was releasing him or turning him away. A Dodgers tryout camp was there in the early 1970s. Dalkowski never made it there.

mound1

At a time when Dalkowski’s tour through the minor leagues will all sorts of failed achievement — his lack of confidence, inability of coaches or managers to resolve his mental issues, and his alcoholism that always sidetracked any confidence he could instill into those in the front office trying to decide on how long to wait for his overnight success — it’s also interesting to picture his trajectory at a time that went parallel with Sandy Koufax’s Dodgers career. Koufax finally figured things out en route to a Hall of Fame career. Dalkowski never did. His journey through the Knoxville Smokies and Aberdeen Pheasants gave him a chance to pitch only once in a major-league park, at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, in the ninth inning of an exhibition game against the Cincinnati Reds — striking out Alex Grammas, Dee Foudy and Don Hoak on 12 pitches. The Angels had a chance to take the exposed Dalkowski in the 1960  expansion draft, but passed.

And that’s the story that finally gets told, in as total as possible, here for us to ponder “What if?” with as much new information, insight and context as could be extracted. Like the time Dalkowski struck out then No. 1 overall draft pick Rick Monday in a 1965 minor-league game, screamed at Monday about the money he reportedly signed for, and Monday had to restrain himself from charging the mound. Dalkowski was released by his team after that contest, tried to come back later at an Angels’ minor-league camp in Fullerton, got released again …

We could read these stories on and on …

How it goes in the scorebook

The story goes on page 41 that one high school scorekeeper during Dalkowski’s prep days left his scorecard “chock full of scribbled symbols that showed balls, strikes, walks, Ks, HBP, errors, players advancing on wild pitches and an occasional hit.”

We’ll go with that assessment, but tie it together with a complete-game account. Or as complete as one can be.

Don’t be a speed reader through this. Enjoy the journey through newspaper archives, first-hand accounts from those who remember and don’t need to exaggerate, and the dispelling of myths and half-truths.

More stories on Dalkowski, reference in the book

= From Ron Shelton, in the Los Angeles Times, from July 2009: “Stuff of Legends” which included this last paragraph: “He had it all and didn’t know it. That’s why Steve Dalkowski stays in our minds. In his sport, he had the equivalent of Michelangelo’s gift but could never finish a painting.”
= From George Vecsey in the New York Times also in July, 2009 as Dalkowski was to be enshrined in the Hall of the Eternals: “A Hall of Fame for a Legendary Baseball Pitcher”
= From Richard Goldstein in the New York Times – the Dalkowski obituary in April, 2020, as part of a series about people who have died during this coronavirus pandemic.
= From Tom Verducci for Sports Illustrated on the death of Dalkowski in April, 2020
= From Joe Posnanski for NBCSports.com: “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Dalkowski”
= From Pat Jordan for Sports Illustrated in 1970: “The Wildest Fastball Ever” which included a myth about Ted Williams facing him in batting practice that could not be verified.
= From Don Amore in the Hartford Courant in May, 2019: “Face to face with Steve Dalkowski, and baseball’s timeless tale”

From our own archive

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From own own archive, obtained in 2009 at Dodger Stadium.

== Our July 18, 2009 L.A. Daily News piece on Dalkowski, where we were told a book about Dalkowski was in the works:

The fragile fable of Steve Dalkowski takes a wonderful, curious detour through Hollywoodland this weekend, and nearly 50 years later, even those who make movies still can’t figure out what to believe any more about his life.
Based on a true legend? That might be the only thing you read beyond this point that actually can be verified.
Baseball’s quirkiest historians have embraced any archeological digs related to the man once referred to as “White Lightning,” tormented by a nine-year minor-league career so hell-bent that screenwriter Ron Shelton couldn’t help but use pieces of Dalkowski lore as the inspiration for the Tim Robbins character, Nuke LaLoosh, in the 1988 classic “Bull Durham.”
A fresh chapter of the Dalkowski epic is added Sunday, when the Pasadena-based Baseball Reliquary inducts him, along with Roger Maris and Jim Eisenreich, to their fan-friendly Shrine of the Eternals in a ceremony scheduled at the Pasadena Central Library. Shelton will introduce Dalkowski to the audience.
The eclectic group relishes those who have made the game fun, memorable and inspiring, many of whom are overlooked by the Cooperstown version on the other coast.
Maris, you know. Eisenreich, you should remember.
Dalkowski, once you get started on him, you never forget it. You simply elaborate. He’s  Hall of Fame material

– – –

The hard stats show that, between 1957-65, Dalkowski put up a miserable 46-80 record in the minors, with a dubious 5.59 ERA. In 995 innings, he struck out a phenomenal 1,396. And walked an egregious 1,354. And hit 37 batters. With 145 wild pitches.
He threw only 24 innings in Triple-A.
According to one story author Pat Jordan had in his book, “The Suitors of Spring”: In 1958, Ted Williams spotted this 5-foot-11, 170-pound left-hander — a shy teenager fresh out of high school with the Baltimore Orioles’ organization — throwing in a Miami, Fla., spring-training camp. The Red Sox legend got into the batting cage, signaled for Dalkowski to pitch — and then admitted he didn’t even see the ball that whizzed past his chin. Williams dropped his bat and vowed he’d never face Dalkowski again if he didn’t have to.
Did it happen? Doesn’t matter. Dalkowski never made it to a big-league game.
So curious were the Orioles about this insecure prospect’s abilities (and marketability), they took him to an Army base to try to see how fast he really threw. It was from flat ground, and he had just made 150 pitches the night before. Still, he hit 93.5 mph on the contraption they’d set up, but all who were there knew it was a failed experiment.
In an era where there were no radar guns but only educated guesses, Dalkowski still is considered to be the hardest thrower in baseball history. People such as his minor-league manager, Earl Weaver, insist it’s accurate.
According to some estimates, whatever Dalkowski could see squinting through his glasses, his pitches would reach 105 mph. Or 110 mph.
Or more.
“Once, they told me it was 120,” Dalkowski said. “Can you believe that? I didn’t believe it either until the guy timing me said, ‘You threw 120.’ I said, ‘You’re crazy.’”
That fact, Dalkowski seems to easily remember. He conveyed it during a conversation over the phone this week before he flew out to L.A.
It’s just that, as hard as he threw, he had an incurable lack of control.
Tragically, Dalkowski also could have been one of the game’s hardest drinkers. Again, uncontrollably.

– – –

Alcohol abuse, and the dementia that resulted from it, drove Dalkowski into a darkness that few ever emerge from, left him brain damaged and destroyed much of his ability to corroborate any of these tallish tales about himself. He tries. But the connections are tough to find.
Adding to his bizarre story, after he left the game, he became a migrant farmer in central California for a long time in his adult life. He has been married and widowed, once living north of Bakersfield in a town called Oilville, he he often can’t recall his former wife’s name, Virginia. A baseball assistance team finally tracked him down to offer help, but found he was spending their money on more booze and cut him off.
By some miracle, he made it to his 70th birthday last month, having spent the past 15 years in the Walnut Hill Care Center near his birthplace of New Britain, Conn. The facility is about a 10-minute drive from the home of Dalkowski’s only sibling, Patti Cain, a sister four years younger and once estranged. A hospital administrator, Patti is the self-proclaimed “biggest baseball fan who’s ever walked the face of the Earth” and a Boston Red Sox supporter since she was 6 years old. Just don’t get her started on what she thinks these days of Manny Ramirez.
The fact Dalkowski is alive and somewhat well at this point is news. Many assumed he’d simply disappeared, last seen on a ballfield in San Jose, the California Angels’ Single-A affiliate, before flaming out.  Some remember the headline in The Sporting News upon his exit in 1966: “Living Legend Released.”
Before this latest journey was approved by Dalkowski’s doctors, Patti says the last time her brother was in Southern California was in the early ’90s, when she found him at a halfway house in Hawthorne, after he’d received treatment and a health diagnosis at a Los Angeles hospital. Dalkowski abruptly left the Hawthorne facility, and was found four months later at a laundromat in Glendale. He moved with his wife to Oklahoma City a year later, and, after Virginia’s death, Patti eventually found him there and brought him back to Connecticut, where he could get a final shot at treatment.
“The doctors once told us he’d only have a year to live, so how remarkable is it that he’s here and has a run of the place?” Patti said from the care facility. “Of course, some days are better than others. Same with me. When he wants to talk baseball, he’s still full of stories. But nothing’s easy. He’s laying down now. He needs his rest.”
Patti said her brother receives constant mail from all over the country, inquiring about his health and asking for an autograph. The owner of the local Minnesota Twins’ minor-league affiliate, the New Britain Rock Cats, is a former teammate of Dalkowski and invites him out frequently.

– – –

A brief Q-and-A with Dalkowski over the phone continued:
How have you been feeling these days?
“Pretty good. I try to go to ballgames, work around the yard, see a lot of family. I don’t know.”
Are you able to understand what this honor by the Shrine of the Eternals is all about?
“Sorta. I don’t know. It sounds pretty good.”
What memories to you have most about your baseball career?
“Well, when I was goin’ good, I don’t know. The good times. The guys. I remember the guys.”

– – –

A new book is in the works on Dalkowski’s seemingly larger-than-life existence. A crew making a documentary on him will be at Sunday’s ceremony and put the finishing touches on a project that started 17 years ago.
To date, no one has uncovered any kind of film of Dalkowski pitching. In a way, he’s almost like a Sasquatch sighting. What do you believe? Did he really exist?
The Shrine of the Eternals had Dalkowski on its ballot for 10 previous years before its members voted him in this past spring.
“Maybe that was a blessing,” Baseball Reliquary curator Terry Cannon said. “If this was five years ago, there’s no way his health would have allowed him to come out. Eleven years ago, I’m not sure we’d even know where to find him.”
Friday, there he was – “Stevie,” as Patti loves to call him – getting out of his wheelchair and standing on the Dodger Stadium infield, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch after arriving by cross-country plane just hours earlier.
Today, the brother and sister act plans to do some sightseeing. Sunday, Dalkowski receives his loving induction. Monday, he’s back home, hoping to remember much of what’s happened to him these past few days so he can tell everyone who continues to take care of him.
And, truth be told, those who’ll see him now won’t soon forget it.

Fact or fiction: Among the embellished tales – some actually documented – about Steve Dalkowski’s pitching career that started in 1957, at age 18, in the Baltimore Orioles’ Class-D team, and ended in 1965, at age 26, with the Angels’ Single-A San Jose squad:

==In high school, he had an 18-strikeout, 18-walk no-hitter.
==On Aug. 31, 1957, in an Appalachian League game, he struck out 24, walked 18, hit four batters, threw six wild pitches, and lost 8-4.
==In one Northern League game, he threw a one-hitter, striking out 15, but walked 17 and lost 9-8.
==In the California League, he threw a four-hitter, striking out 19, and lost 8-3.
==In an extra-inning game in the Eastern League, he struck out 27 and walked 16, throwing 283 pitches.
==One time he was pulled in the second inning after throwing 120 pitches.
==A Dalkowski pitch once tore off part of a batter’s ear. Another time, he struck a batter on the helmet and the ball rebounded to second base.
==In one game, Dalkowski threw three pitches that penetrated the backstop screen, sending fans scattering.
==On a bet, Dalkowski fired a baseball through a wooden outfield fence. Also on a bet, he once threw a ball from second base over the roof of a clubhouse beyond the center-field fence.
– Source: Hardballtimes.com

A sidebar to that story posted on insidesocal.com/TomHoffarth that was used as a reference in the new “Dalko” book:

If there’s someone who deserves more than a little credit in helping Dalkowski reach a point to where his current health condition is far better than it was years ago, it’s Tom Chiappetta and his pursuit of trying to tell the Dalkowski story.
The executive director of the Fairfield (Conn.) County Sports Commission had left his job as a media relations director at Fox Sports Net in 2005 when he decided he wanted to try to finish a documentary he had started a decade earlier on Dalkowski’s life.
The project goes back to when Chiappetta was working at an Equitable Old Timers game in Baltimore, where he was, as he said, “an unofficial Orioles historian, as well as a memorabilia collector” who knew of Dalkowski’s story — and the fact they are both Connecticut natives.
He brought up the documentary idea to a former Orioles catcher, Frank Zupo, who happened to be one of Dalkowski’s friends and teammates from his days in the minor leagues.
Chiappetta contacted a film production partner about the idea, and, with Zupo, they flew to Oilville, California, just north of Bakersfield, to meet with Dalkowski and his wife, Virginia, in August of 1991.
“We interviewed him, talked with both of them and before we left, Frank ultimately asked them if Steve wanted help,” said Chiappetta, noting that Dalkowski was in trouble with alcohol abuse. “He said he did.”
Chiappetta and Zupo contacted the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT) to get him initial help, which started with having Dalkowski hospitalized in Los Angeles in Oct., 1991, to start with getting him nourished properly, diagnose his ailments, and begin detoxification — which lasted three months.
Dalkowski was then sent to a halfway house in Hawthorne called the Rickman Center — but in late ’92, he walked out and disappeared for about four months. A woman in Glendale found him in a laundromat, got enough information from him to contact his wife, and the Rickman Center, and he was readmitted.
Eventually, he moved to Virginia’s hometown of Oklahoma City in Jan., ’93. When Virginia suddenly passed away, Dalkowski’s sister, Patti, went out and brought him back to his home in New Britain, Conn., in 1994, entering him into an extensive care facility where he’s been the last 15 years.
And that’s what laid the groundwork to Dalkowski’s current rehab and his unlikely arrival back in L.A. this weekend — a first visit to Southern California since his days at the halfway house, and throwing out the first pitch at Friday’s Dodgers-Astros game at Dodger Stadium.

Update: Only 30 years in the making, Chiapetta has finished his documentary, and it will debut Saturday, Oct. 10, on Connecticut Public TV (7 p.m. EDT/4 p.m. PDT). The premiere can be views nationally on streaming at this website. Connecticut Magazine has a story on the film linked here.



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
$27.95
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.

Curious?

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.

Also

== The Pandemic Book Club did a Q&A with Gilbert at this link.

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
$18.99
240 pages
Released Sept. 8, 2020
Paperback

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

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 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
$35
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

1954-montreal-royals
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

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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
$49.95
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”