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;  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 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 – 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

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”

Extra inning baseball book reviews for 2020: If those walls could talk at Mickey Mantle’s home in Commerce, Okla.

From our 2017 visit to 319 S Quincy Street in Commerce, Oklahoma. It’s still standing.

Mutt’s Dream: Making the Mick

The author:

Howard Burman

The publishing info:
Ascend Books
320 pages
Released June 16, 2020

The links:
At the publisher’s website
At the author’s website

The review in 90 feet or less

 We had a dream the other night about Mickey Mantle.

It was more a flashback, to a trip that a friend of mine and I took a few years back. We did a start-to-finish, Chicago-to-L.A. trek on what is still left of Route 66. Not quite halfway through, after starting the day in Carthage, Mo., we hit the part of the journey that sliced through Kansas and dipped into Oklahoma. Not far into the Sooner State did we hit a bend and come upon the water tower of Commerce.

It’s the hometown of Mickey Mantle, aka The Commerce Comet.
His high school was just off the main road. A statue of him, right behind Mickey Mantle Baseball Field.

With a Google search, we went just a few blocks away to the home — a sign posted on the front of it looked no worse for wear and confirmed we hit pay dirt in this unexpected discovery.

It also confirmed the story of “Mutt’s dream.”

Across the yard was a tin-covered shed.

Anyone home? Didn’t seem so. A wasp’s nest was formed in one of the window sills.

After paying our respects, it was time to move on. But we felt the need to have a piece of this to take home with us. We found a small branch of a tree on the property. That was enough.

Our own Wonderboy.


To have been on the property on a quiet summer day allows one to listen to the wind blow, the leaves rustle, the ghosts swirl. It provides something of a surreal context when we now come to an immersion of this book by Howard Burman.

BurmanBurman notes in his acknowledgements that there are “quite a number of books about Mickey. Most concentrate on his Major League Baseball career. Some delve into his public life after he left the game. Not a great deal has been written about the years before he became a professional. There are snippets here and there in various books, including some written (or ghosted) by Mickey himself, including “The Education of A Baseball Player: The Mickey Mantle Story,” as told to Ben Epstein (in 1967, a year before Mantle’s retirement), and “Mickey Mantle: The American Dream Comes to Life,” co-authored by Lewis Early (in 1996, shortly after Mantle’s death at 63). John G. Hall’s “Mickey Mantle Before the Glory” was a valuable resource for this book.”

All those may provide a foundation here for Burman, a Brooklyn native who eventually would get into theater production and chair the department at Cal State University Long Beach. But the sincere beauty of how this book is constructed as a theatrical production feels so real that Burman also has to clarify in here that the dialogue is “word-for-word accurate as recorded” in most parts, and other parts “invented but it is always consistent with the reality of the situation.”

That adds a deeper humanity far richer than simply reproducing facts and newspaper accounts that and gives clarity to more than just a “based on a true story” attempt.

Mutt Mantle Ground Boss
Mutt Mantle, center, ground boss of the Blue Goose Mine crew in ’50, shortly before his death. (Photo from

In the first two chapters, Burman establishes the life and struggles of Elven “Mutt” Mantle in the dustbowl of Oklahoma, at the dawn of The Great Depression. A fan of the somewhat nearby St. Louis Cardinals that he can reach through radio broadcasts, Mutt is a bigger fan of Philadelphia Athletics’ hard-nosed catcher Mickey Cochran.

The 18-year-old Mutt is courting Lovell, eight years older than him and the sister of a girl he’d been dating. She’s also divorced and with two kids.

“She is a hellcat; he is invariably polite,” writes Burman. Continue reading “Extra inning baseball book reviews for 2020: If those walls could talk at Mickey Mantle’s home in Commerce, Okla.”

Extra inning baseball book reviews for 2020: The baseball haiku / Straight out of Sacramento / by Johnny Doskow


Goodnight Em: Baseball and Life Through Haiku

The author: Johnny Doskow
The publishing info: Self published, $17.99, 200 pages
The links:  At the author’s website

The review in 90 feet or less

Scroll through Johnny Doskow’s Twitter timeline and eventually you hit this post from last March:

Then he did another.

By March 24 it was tagged #dailyhaiku. He was off and cooing, counting syllables and whatever wasn’t so supercilious in the grand scheme of the baseball life and how he affected his filters through the ancient Japanese poetry structure: Continue reading “Extra inning baseball book reviews for 2020: The baseball haiku / Straight out of Sacramento / by Johnny Doskow”